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Werris Creek, NSW

Significant railway town on the North West Slopes of NSW.

Many inland Australian towns owe their existence to the arrival of the railway. They were towns that sprung up because large numbers of railway navvies needed to be housed while the railways were being built. Mittagong, Moss Vale and Bowral all owe their existence to the building of the railway through the NSW Southern Highlands. But no town has a greater claim to be a pure railway than Werris Creek which came into existence when 500 railway workers descended on the area in 1877 to build the railway line from Murrurundi to Tamworth. The town's continuing existence was assured when it was decided that there would be a junction at Werris Creek and a branch line to Gunnedah. As a result Werris Creek is now a very proud and historic railway town with street signs shaped like railway signals; a huge and elegant railway station; an important railway museum; a monument to the workers who lost their lives on the railways; and an impressive collection of statues celebrating the railway workers.

Location

The township of Werris Creek is located off the New England Highway 373 km north of Sydney, 44 km south-west of Tamworth, 19 km north of Quirindi and 384 m above sea-level.

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Origin of Name

It is believed that, although it sounds English, the town's name comes from a Kamilaroi Aboriginal word which, in the nineteenth century, was variously written as 'weia weia', 'werres', 'werries' and even 'weery's'. No one knows exactly what the word meant but it was used as early as 1841 as the name of a large local property.

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Things to See and Do

Australian Railway Monument
The Australian Railway Monument is a unique tribute to the lives of the railway men and women of Australia, killed on duty, or as a result of injuries sustained on duty. To emphasise the national importance of the Australian Railway Monument the national flag, flags of six states and two territories, the Aboriginal flag, and the Torres Strait Islander flag, are all flown. Over 2700 names are inscribed on a commemorative wall.

There are a series of three-metre high stainless steel statues by artist Dominique Sutton which depict aspects of railway work. They are located in the railway station grounds and nearby park. In the park beside the main street is The Fettler with a description of his importance "laying and repairing tracks along the thousands of kilometres of railway lines in Australia". As you enter the railway station grounds there is the statue of the Gatekeeper - a job which predates automatic crossing facilities and which was usually done by women; the Flag Lady, the Shunter, the Fireman and the Signalman.

Railway workers from throughout Australia are honoured by a Path of Service  where each brick on the path records the name of a railway worker. There is a special plaque to Ben Chifley who, before becoming Prime Minister, was an Engineman with the NSW Government Railways from 1902-1928. The Australian Railway Monument is open seven days a week 10.00am to 4.00pm. Enquiries (02) 6768 7929.

Rail Journeys Museum and the Railway Station
The Rail Journeys Museum is located in the Werris Creek railway station which was designed and built by John Whitton, a noted railway engineer, as part of the Great North Railway. It is a huge and elegant building and a powerful reminder, particularly when the small Citylink train arrives, that there was a time when Werris Creek was a important railway hub. The station itself is huge with three linked two-storey buildings which are characterised by Victorian elegance. The station is the third largest in NSW.

The New South Wales Rail Heritage Unit has described it as "a remarkable building that could easily grace a city … yet, incongruously, a lonely citadel in the middle of the bush". The building is worth looking at very carefully as the refreshment room, now the museum, is constructed in the Victorian Free Classical style and built of red bricks in tuck-pointed Flemish bond with crisp stucco embellishments, pronounced cornices with paired brackets and moulded, grouped windows.

The building has a cedar staircase which used to lead to a floor of bedrooms for those travellers who had time to sleep between their connections. Amusingly Rail Heritage has observed the railway station was "not unlike a city bank … until it was covered in its first of many layers of soot".

The Rail Journeys Museum has exhibitions - electric staff instruments, memorabilia, miniature trains amongst other things - which tell the story of railways in Australia. It is open seven days a week from 10.00am to 4.00pm. Many of the volunteers are former railway workers eager to tell their stories. Enquiries (02) 6768 7929.

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History

* For thousands of years prior to European settlement the Kamilaroi lived in the area.

* By the 1830s European squatters were in the district. Drovers and teamsters passed through the area on their way north and west and they stopped at a water hole near a crossing over Werris Creek.

* By 1841 the Reverend Francis Vidal was working a 13,000 ha property which he named Weia Weia Creek Station.

* Development of the district was slow. By the early 1870s there were still only 20 pastoral families and they were mostly grazing merino sheep. One of these graziers was John Single, after whom the main street is named, who owned the Summer Hill station to the east of the town.

* 1877 saw the town develop rapidly because of the arrival of 500 workers, all of whom needed to be housed, who were working on the railway line from Murrurundi to Tamworth which was part of the Great North Railway. The decision to build a branch line to Gunnedah saw the town become both an important rail junction and a railway maintenance centre. A post office was opened in 1877 and the railway was officially opened in 1878.

* 1888 - an extreme drought resulted in a number of local properties being sold and subsequently subdivided resulting in a change from sheep grazing to more dairying and wheat farming.

* In 1925 a coal mine started operating to provide the steam trains with fuel. It closed in 1963 when steam was replaced by diesel.

* In 1930 the completion of the North Coast Railway Line saw a decline in the rail traffic through the junction.

* In 1951 a major wheat storage terminal was built in the town. It was demolished in 1973 and rebuilt on the same site.

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Visitor Information

There is no Visitor Information Office in Werris Creek. However 19 km south at Quirindi is the Quirindi Visitor Information Centre, Railway Station, Quirindi, tel: (02) 6746 1096 and the Liverpool Plains Visitor Information Centre is 18 km south of Quirindi on the  New England Highway at Willow Tree, tel: (02) 6747 1226.

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Useful Websites

 

There is a local website with a small amount of information and advice concerning eating and accommodation. Check out http://www.visitquirindi.com.au/werris-creek/

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Got something to add?

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10 suggestions
  • My father Arthur Pickard was employed as a fitter on the railway around 1930 was a good worker was unfortunately made redundant. The reason being he could not say he had had any military service. I want to know do have you any more information? Many thanks Eleanor Moody Daughter. I know he was very musical and played the piano.

    Eleanor Moody
  • My late father in law was based at an air force base in Werris Creek for induction/ training as an aircraft engineer during part of WW2. Would you kindly advise where in Werris Creek this base is/was located.
    Thank you

    John Harris
    • Hi, reading your post was interesting, I’m not too sure but living in Werris Creek up till the age of 22, I have read that the library was some kind of military base, I can remember as a child looking in a crack in the back room which was still locked, there were a lot of old military items and clothing

      Vanessa
  • My grandparents owned the newsagency in Werris Creek during the Depression. They spoke of the swagmen who came to the back door, asking for food which my grandmother would give them.
    Would the newsagency have been at 54 Single Street at that time?
    Would you have any other information please? My grandfather was Harold Riley..
    Many thanks

    Helen Carroll
    • Helen,
      My family lived in the house and were responsible for the Railway Level Crossing Gates on the Southern End of Werris Creek, between Werris Creek & Quirindi. My grandfather’s name was Charles McLellan. I will try to find out about the Newsagency address for you. My mum & dad were Joan & Ken McLellan. I had 43 years service on the Railway and now live in Grafton. Mobile 0429 462 036. Bye for now, catch you later.

      Peter McLellan
  • My dad laurie marker was the caretaker and supervisor of the grain silo, then called grain elevator board. We all lived in the little silo cottage and in the bumper wheat seasons, the trucks would be lined up all the way from the silo way out the gap road and up the tamworth road. I do have an old photo of us as kids when it snowed here in the 60s withe old silo behind us. I do remember a fire that broke out in town, i think it was robbos pub on the corner across from the signal hotel, and dad and mum and us kids climbed up the elevator belt of the silo and watched the fire in town over the top of the north west railway tracks. We used to play around those old concrete bunkers that used to be part of the military base. Dad told us about them but I didn’t believe it as a kid. I remember us kids getting chased by a goanna coming out of a pit and we ran in all directions. I remember across the railway down behind the silo the local dog pound. Every so often we’d go over there and let the dogs out. There was never any food and little water but did we get into trouble from dad. A lot of our old friends from in town used to come out on the weekends and we’d run amok. All day until it was time for tea. It was a great town when we were kids and i could tell u heaps more as its all coming back to me. Times have changed a lot here as elsewhere, and the law has changed a lot the fun, oops i mean mischief we got up to. Starting from my grandchildren we go back 6 generations in the creek, and we had a huge family of markers, morans, jones and they spread as pioneers as far as piallaway, tamworth, goonoo goonoo etc. I have lots of memories here and a huge family tree. If only the good times came back as i am the only marker, (wallace) here now as my family has sadly passed on and moved on. I’m still here with my hubby bill, and my 3 grown up children and 3 grandchildren and a few cousins. hopefully one of us will carry on after we’re gone. I could tell heaps more if anyone is interested in asking questions. It’s been good remembering. Who remembers these things along with me.

    Kathy wallace (nee marker)