History of the Railway

Research by Gordon Freegard

By the mid 1880’s, new railway lines were linking outlying parts of Perth to the Capital and to the Ports. The Guildford-Perth-Fremantle line was opened in 1881 and suburban settlements were established around railway stations along the route.

The Timber Industry was one of the first industries to be established in Western Australia. On May 1st 1864 a carpenter named Benjamin Mason acquired a license to cut timber over an area of 260 hectares near the head of the Bickley Brook in the locality of what is now known as Carmel. Mason joined Francis Bird to form the Mason Bird Company. Mason and Bird built two sites, one on the Canning River, set up in 1860, and one near Carmel, set up in 1864 known as Mason’s Mill (along the existing Mason Rd and in the vicinity of the Heritage Rose Gardens). In 1889 Lionel White and Edward Keane built a sawmill at Karragullen known as Canning Mill and established a large settlement (at the turn off of Canning Mills Rd).

By 1871, Mason’s timber concession had expanded to 40,000 hectares, subject to the construction of a 15km tramway from the Darling Range to Cannington on the Canning River. It was this partnership that built a wooden tramway to the Canning River, nine miles away, completing it in January 1872. Mason Mill was then connected to a station on the Canning River known as “Mason’s Landing” from which timber was sent by barge to Fremantle. Horses were used to pull the huge log trains down the escarpment of the Darling Range.

By 1866 there were one hundred men and their families living on the timber mill. Mason had installed a steam engine driving a circular saw to replace the old saw pit sawing method.

Despite his initiative, transport difficulties and competition brought Mason’s venture to a close in 1882. However, Mason and Bird made a significant contribution to the development of the early timber industry and the growth of the Kalamunda district.


Edward Keane, engineer and manager of the Midland Railway Company, proposed the construction of a railway down the escarpment linking the hills to Midland and through to Fremantle.

In 1889 Edward Keane took up the timber license that had been granted to Mason and Bird, with the sole right to cut timber on the leased area. The State Government approved the license over the Mason and Bird concession subject to the construction of a railway down the escarpment. Keane and White built the Upper Darling Railway in 1891 to serve the new mill run by the recently incorporated Canning Jarrah Timber Company. This line was built to supply railway sleepers to Perth’s growing railway system. It ran from Midland Junction through to the Darling Ranges and up into Kalamunda, via the Zig Zag section to climb the Darling Scarp. This line was later extended to Pickering Brook and then onto Karragullen. From Pickering Brook the line also ran onto Barton’s Mill, however this was only a logging train. As part of the arrangement with the State Government, Keane’s Zig Zag railway was to carry the public and the general freight of the area. This agreement was to continue in force until the end of 1899, at which time the Government would have the right to purchase the line.

At the time of construction it was the only section of railway in Western Australia to have had a zig zag formation, the line was so steep (1 in 30 grade) that the engine would alternate between pushing and pulling the load. Three trains, each way per day traversed the full length of the Upper Darling Railway, and at peak periods an additional “special” was run to cope with the heavy loadings of sawn timber and firewood produced in the area.

In 1902, Archibald Sanderson formed the Upper Darling Range League, to lobby the government to take over the railway. In a submission to the Western Australian Premier, the League claimed that commercial enterprises along the line made the take-over an economically viable proposition, as cartage revenue for transport from the area to Midland for the previous year equated to the agreed take-over from the Government, a sum of 20,000 pounds. The Railway League also drew attention to the natural beauty of the area serviced by the line and its recreational potential for the people of Perth.

Finally towards the end of 1902, the Government agreed to purchase the Rail line, with the matter concluded the following year. In 1903 the line was taken over by the Western Australian Government Railways and became known as the Upper Darling Range Branch, which ran until 1949 when it was closed.


References: Article: Kalamunda of the Dreamtime- F.J.McNamara

Images: 1, 3, 4, 27, 28 Cala Munnda a Home in the Forest
12, 40, 51 Carmel Adventist College
2, 21 Unknown
5 Westralian Newspapers
6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29 Rails in the Hills K.D.H.S.
10 W.A.G.R. Achives
13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 30, 33 Tom Price
20, 22 Gordon Freegard
18 Mac & Pam Beard
19 Peter Skehan
42, 43, 44 Kalamunda & District Historical Society
45, 46 Rails Through the Bush by Adrian Gunzburg & Jeff Austin