- Land reservations
- First race trains
- Survey and construction
- Formal opening
- 'Connewarre' station
- Other uses
On August 1 1864, a 250 acre site was temporarily reserved for a racecourse and other public recreation on the banks of the Barwon River near Lake Connewarre. On March 29, 1870 two further portions of land were added to the reservation, on the condition that the larger portion be planted with trees. The area now covered approximately 630 acres, but was not made a permanent reservation until July 21, 1890.
First race trains
The first racecourse platform was located on the main line to Colac, probably located at the Reserve Road level crossing.. The first race trains stopped there for a meeting held Friday January 26, and Saturday January 27, 1877. The same platform was used for the Winter Steeplechase meeting on Saturday July 21, 1877.
For the first meeting in January, a train ran from Melbourne directly to the Racecourse platform carrying 400 patrons, with another train from Ballarat carrying 30 or 40 people and arrived at 11.30am. Five local trains also ran from Geelong throughout the morning, and returned at approximately 30 minute intervals after the meeting.
Survey and construction
On July 12, 1877 the racing club officials met with the Commissioner of Railways, presenting statistics that the line if extended to the racecourse would soon pay for itself. A train ran with a single first class carriage to the racecourse, where the part was met by a representative of one of the large tanneries in the area, who pointed out the desirability of a siding at Marshalltown to service the industries along the Barwon River.
Two surveys had already been produced by the railways. The first left the main line 10 chains from the Marshalltown platform, and ran into the racecourse from the north - east. The second left 30 chains from the platform and entered the racecourse at the back of the saddling paddock. Before the Commissioner left he indicated that the best point for the industrial siding was at the point of divergence for the racecourse branch.
On October 31, 1877 the Government authorised the construction of the line with the passing of the Railway Construction Act 41, Vict. No. 580. This had the point of divergence for the line to be 4 miles 41 chains 68 links from Geelong, and the railway was to follow the line of the first survey. A deviation of 40 chains was permitted, and when actual construction commenced this was used to enable the line to be built to the route of the second survey. The act limited spending to 5750 pounds per mile, with a total cost of 11,500 pounds for the estimated 2 miles of track.
Construction begun in late 1877, and was expected to be completed by January 1878. Construction was carried out by day labour which cut the cost of the line. Second-hand materials were also used were possible. Ballast for the line was obtained from gravel pits in Chilwell, totalling of 4500 cubic yards for a cost of 900 pounds. It was carted to the railway line near Moorabool Street, then transferred by train. 3000 sleepers were supplied for the line for a sum of 855 pounds. A post and rail fence was also erected alongside the line. Plate laying was completed on January 9, 1878 and ballasting by 50 labourers was completed the next day. Delivery of sleepers had been delayed, so the line was not finished until January 18, 1878.
The railway gates on the line at Barwon Heads Road were 13'6" wide - those further along the road on the Colac railway were 18' wide. Local farmers complained to the local council, as large loads of grass and hay were almost prevented from passing though the narrower gates.
A inspection of the line and racecourse was carried out on Saturday January 12, 1878. On the train were the racing club secretary, architect, and railway officials.
The line left the main line 10 chains from the Marshalltown Road level crossing, ran straight for just over over one mile, crossed Barwon Heads Road, then curved north into the racecourse grounds.The siding could accommodate 12 carriages and an engine, and was located behind the grandstand. A platform 340 ft long and 25 ft wide was also provided, with a small office for the sale of grandstand tickets located at the back of the platform. Telegraphic communication with the racecourse had also been completed.
For the formal opening of the line a special train left Geelong at 2.00pm on Tuesday January 22, 1878. Carrying the Commissioner of Railways, Geelong Racing Club officials, and other guests, the train took 15 minutes to complete the journey to the racecourse platform. The line was completed for 5850 pounds, while Parliament had authorised 12,450 for the works, a saving of 6600 pounds.
The first race meeting to use the line was held on Friday February 1 and Saturday February 2, 1878. On both days a special train left Melbourne at 10:15am, stopping as required in both directions. Trains also ran from Ballarat and Colac to Geelong. On the first day about 1000 passengers travelled on local trains from Geelong to the racecourse.
On the first day of the race meeting there were various delays in the departure of trains, by the second day they had improved, but improvements were still required.
When the racecourse line was opened, there was not station at the junction with the Colac railway. 'Connewarre' (later Marshall Station) was opened as a flag station on July 14, 1879 on the up side of the Marshalltown Road level crossing. The siding the had been requested in 1877 was installed between December 1885 and April 1886. A carriage dock had also been provided some time after 1887, with it removed in June 1897.
In 1883 trains were run on three occasions to the racecourse: February 1 and 2 (two trains from Melbourne and five from Geelong), and August 9th (two trains from Geelong).
A typical race meeting was that held on Saturday August 2, 1884. Five local trains ran from Geelong to the racecourse, departing at 11.05am, 12 noon, 12.17pm, 12.32am and 1.15pm. The first two trains and the last stopped to pick up at South Geelong as well. Two special trains also left Melbourne at 10.25am and 10.50am for Geelong. Finally, a special train left Ballarat at 10.20am and arrived at 12.20pm.
In spite of the large number of local trains, only 500 passengers boarded from Geelong or South Geelong, possibly due to the high fares of 3/- first class return, or 1/6 for second class single.
The line used Train Staff & Ticket safeworking, with the section being Marshall - Geelong Racecourse. The arrival of trains was to be telegraphed or telephoned to the station in the rear, and in all classes of engine could run on the branch. In 1908 the VR General Appendix mentioned home signals provided at Marshall and Geelong Racecourse.
In the 1890s the Geelong Racing Club was deep in debt and verged on insolvency multiple times. It was also felt that the racecourse was too far from the city proper, and in 1905 the club had paid its debts. The club lobbied the Premier Thomas Bent for the racecourse to be moved. The plan was for the racecourse and showgrounds to be combined on a site in Breakwater, which is where they are sited today, and the old sites to be sold. The passing of the Geelong Harbour Trust Act on December 12, 1905 finalised the move.
The last race meeting at Marshalltown was held on Saturday January 13, 1906. Two trains ran from Melbourne to the racecourse, the first stopping all stations for passengers and horses, and a second stopping only at Werribee for passengers. Five trains also ran from Geelong, departing at 11.25am, 12.30pm, 12.50pm, 1.15pm, and 1.22pm. A total of 560 people travelled from Geelong, and a further 325 from South Geelong. A special train also left Queenscliff at 1.40am, and departed Geelong at 7.00pm that evening.
The land of the now closed racecourse was not sold, but handed over to the newly formed Geelong Harbour Trust on July 1, 1906. The roadmaster at Geelong was instructed to lift the line on December 29 1908, and completed by May 28, 1909. The Weekly Notice of June 7, 1909 closed the line, but the line was not officially closed until the Railway Dismantling Act of 1955 (which closed many other long dismantled lines) was passed.
In 1908 material that could be recovered from the line included:
- one set 78lb points
- one set 70lb three throw points
- one set 75lb points
- 522 yards of 75lb iron rails
- 2098 yards of 72lb iron rails
- 277 yards of 60lb iron rails
- 1034 yards of Barlow (100lb?) rails,
- 15 yards of 66lb steel rails
From 1906 to the 1930s the Geelong Harbour trust operated a number of narrow gauge tramways at Sparrowvale Farm, on the former racecourse site. It sold the farm in 1936.
From 1912 to 1916 Stone and Siddeley also operated a narrow gauge tramway on part of the former racecourse line formation, in conjunction with their contract to build Geelong's outfall sewer to Black Rock (near Barwon Heads). At Marshall Station itself the remains of the branch line was converted into a loop siding off the main line, to serve a their pipemaking factory opening in the station yard. The tramway ran along the former alignment for about a kilometre, where it met the path of the sewer. It was used to haul pipes from the factory, as well as remove spoil for the excavations.
- 'Geelong Harbour Trust Tramways' by Norman Houghton (Light Railways, July 1981)
- 'The Geelong Sewer Tram' by Norman Houghton (Light Railways, April 1983)
- 'Horses, Shows and Trains' by Richard Aitken (Investigator, September 1978)
- 'South Barwon 1857 - 1985' compiled by John Pescott (ISBN 0 949583 53 7)