…Of Trains and Cane and Places to Stay

…Of Trains and Cane and Places to Stay

WHEN YOU survey today the sheer depth of quality accommodation across the Sunshine Coast Hinterland it is fascinating to realize that it all started with a failed sugar cane enterprise!

Let me take you back to about 1903. The sugar mill in Nambour had extended the train/tram line out to Dulong with a view of growing cane throughout this area. To transport the cane back to the mill for processing they purchased their first steam driven Shay locomotive in 1904, the “Dulong”.

Shay locomotives are not of the effeminate Thomas the Tank Engine lineage. The Shay is a tough little bugger built to handle steep and twisting mine sites. A clever device with vertical pistons that drive through a crankshaft. This in turn powers the front and rear bogies (wheels) which allows it to go round really tight corners where a conventional steam train breaks wind and falls over.

(At this point the ladies might be considering putting the paper aside and catching up on the latest episode of B & B so perhaps we had better ditch the technical stuff and move on sharply).

Suffice to say the Shay locomotive meant that you could now climb steep hills and thus unlock the potential of the Hinterland. Not surprisingly cane growing in Dulong and the Hinterland was a bit of a disaster. One wonders what they were smoking when that idea was approved!

The Mill now found itself with a track and a train but a lack of cane. Then a “Road to Damascus” moment! They decided to move freight and the good folks of  the area back and forth to Dulong. This worked well if you wanted to go to Dulong, (not great if your destination was Woolloongabba). But for some reason people patronized the service and flocked to and from Dulong!

The mill were greatly encouraged! The future was in cane, freight and people. Meanwhile up in the Hinterland the farmers were muttering strange oaths and sploshing through thick mud when it was wet, which was often. Getting goods to market was not for the faint hearted. Presumably armed with scythes and pitchforks in a sort of “Les Mis” moment they leaned on the Maroochy Shire Council. (a damp, wet, pissed off farmer with scythe can certainly get your attention!)

The Council promptly agreed to extend the train/tramway line to distant  Mapleton some 18 km from Nambour. Farmers could now get their harvest off the Range, to the rail head end down to the Brisbane markets without the hindrance of excessive bog and mud.

In 1915 the Council purchased a second tough little Shay and named it, with considerable imagination “The Mapleton”. One cannot say that these were the genesis of the bullet trains of today. Regular services began but it took 2 hours to cover the 18 km. You could almost catch the train in primary school and get off in year ten!

The Shays would zig- zag their way up the escarpment. In fine weather travelers would hop off, pick flowers, walk up the slope and hop back on as the train completed a zag. It is not clear what transpired in the wet and cold.

This however was a fundamental change for the Hinterland as now it was possible to easily, if slowly, access the coolness and beauty of the area. You could travel up from the heat and dust of Brisbane, catch the “Mapleton” or the “Dulong” and in reasonable comfort, with a bunch of limpid wild lowers and a fair smattering of soot, find yourself marginally grubby but triumphant in our piece of paradise.

The “short break” concept had yet to be invented. Nothing happened with any sense of pace. You needed somewhere to stay and thus the famous hinterland guest houses were born.

These were something special. There was tennis, bowls, swimming and croquet. Singing around the piano in the evening with people who said “jolly good show” or “what a topping sport you are” or words to that effect.

Marmalade for breakfast with tea, toast and starched serviettes in the dining room. A time of long cigarette holders, full length white tennis dresses, beads, boas, jazz and His Master Voice. The tradition of top quality Hinterland accommodation was born.

So it is to this day. From five star to basic family friendly  you will find a quality place to call home immersed in this very special place. And what of the Shays? Well they ran the Hinterland service until 1944 when road transport finally put them to rest. They went back to the mill to work out their final years. You will find one restored in the Nambour Museum. Over 100 years ago a failed cane crop and a brilliant little steam engine gave birth to today’s magic of a Hinterland stay!

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