|Apparent pathway with handrail and large chunks of concrete breaking down|
|River bank to the right lined with concrete and bluestone|
The reason for the diversion however, dates back millions of years to the Miocene period when much of the surrounding land was covered by seawater. As a result, large deposits of limestone built up, formed from the shells of millions of sea creatures, some of which are still found in fossilised form today. European settlers arriving in the 19th century were quick to realise the potential of these deposits and in 1880, Peter McCann (whose descendants still own much of the surrounding land) registered the Australian Portland Cement Co Ltd and commenced production at nearby Fyansford. Struggling to make a profit in the face of cheap imports and using inefficient production methods, the company went into liquidation in 1895 and again in 1904. Peter died in 1908, leaving the nucleus of a profitable enterprise which, under his youngest son Wesley B McCann who acted as manager, was modernised and overhauled. By 1911 the company came under the control of a group of investors and in July, 1912 as part of the move to modernise the company, a ropeway constructed to carry limestone from the quarry to the cement works (then located at the bottom of the deviation). It was officially opened by the Premier on 12th July, replacing horse-drawn wagons and a section of horse-drawn tramway.Initially, lime used in the production of cement at the works was quarried from a site just north of the Moorabool River (by my reckoning on a line roughly south of Pennsylvania Ave in Batesford). Lime was crushed on the quarry floor and transported to the works via the ropeway.
|Concrete-lined channel above the site of the first quarry|
|Image of the Vulcan Engine #4 crossing the trestle bridge 28th November, 1964.|
Image from Weston Langford Railway Photography
In 1931, operations were moved to a second quarry site, which had been developed south of the Moorabool. This is the quarry which is still in use today. To service the new facility, a second section of line was constructed, including a branch which allowed for the dumping of overburden and a 1.3km tunnel - the longest in Victoria until the Melbourne city loop was built - which followed a curving path up from the quarry floor to join the original line west of the second river crossing.
|Remains of pylons which supported the trestle bridge|
|Diagram showing the rough layout of railway line running between the quarries and the cement works, taken from Light Railways, vol 120, April 1993 which also contains a more comprehensive history of the quarries.|
|The floor of the new quarry, showing the diesel and one of the Vulcan engines|
as well as the entrance to the tunnel
|Remains of the conveyor belt crossing the Moorabool River with the |
cement works in the background
In the end, a 2.6km diversion of the Moorabool was created with - the company claimed - due consultation as to the needs of flora, fauna and water quality and included measures such as natural curves, tree plantings and pools which would provide habitat for platypus. With these measures in place, the diversion went ahead and to the present day, the river runs through a concrete-lined channel in varying states of repair, along its new course and it was this section of the river which we now found ourselves paddling through in relative comfort. In some places the river was a shallow trickle over a concrete bed, in others, the concrete had broken and fallen away in chunks and there were occasional patches which seemed to have returned to a more natural state.
|Outflow chute from the nearby quarry|
Immediately below the outflow, the channel is much more formed, with high walls rising to at least a couple of metres - giving the impression of paddling through a drain - for several hundred metres before returning to lower, concrete-lined banks.
|Paddling down the channel|
|A series of five small weirs in the channel below the walled section|
I will finish this post at the end of the channel and with the end of an era. In 2001, the owners of the Fyansford Cement Works (by that time, Adelaide Brighton Cement Ltd) decided to close the plant. But what to do with the quarry? Operating for over 100 years and with more than 100 million tonnes of limestone and overburden extracted by 2001, there remained enough limestone to keep the quarry operational for at least another thirty years.
Other markets had to be found, so Adelaide Brighton Ltd in conjunction with the McCann family developed new products and sourced new buyers. Today, according to their website, they supply a range of lime products both for construction and agricultural purposes and have also taken the opportunity to develop a range of crushed rock toppings and several fine sand products, which come from a layer of sand underlying the limestone which was not previously utilised during the cement works era.