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On the main Adelaide - Melbourne railway line through the picturesque Adelaide Hills there are several sleepy country towns with disused railway stations that have been closed for many years.
Balhannah railway station is one of these, built in 1883 and used until the 1960's, it now only wakes as the Overland thunders by on its ponderous journey from Melbourne to Adelaide.
Once part Balhannah's central nervous system for transporting vital goods and people to Adelaide, the State heritage listed station is slowly succumbing to the weather, white ants and the wearing passage of time.
A friendly and helpful man at the local mower shop explained how to find the station, shaking his head sadly at his community's inability to make use of the historic structure and save it from further damage.
He recalled the days when the train was a part of life in the town, and hundreds of passengers would alight at Balhannah to walk the few kilometres to Oakbank for the races. Of course the more wealthy would have been able to hire a horse and cart to take them so that their shoes and clothes would not be soiled.
Race Goers Walking to Oakbank from Balhannah Station - courtesy State Library of South Australia
Indeed in 1890 the Launceston Examiner reported: Great complaints were made yesterday over the railway management. Most inadequate provision was made for the holiday traffic, and the result was disgraceful scenes. Windows were smashed and doors unhinged. The people were crowded together to almost suffocation.
The Chairman of the Railway Commissioners, on attempting to enter the train at Balhannah station, coming from the Onkaparinga races, was publicly hooted, and had to ride on the engine. Groans were given for him on arrival at Adelaide.
In 1913 the Barrier Miner reported: A posse of plainclothes and uniform police were detailed for duty at the Oakbank races on Monday (says the "Advertiser"), but the large crowd was particularly orderly, and there was little cause for interference on the part of the officers of the law.
On the way from the Balhannah railway station to the racecourse at least four men were entertaining racegoers with exhibitions of the three-card trick, but their assistants were exceptionally vigilant, and at the sight of a police officer the manipulators picked up their stock-in trade - three cards and an umbrella - and mingled with the crowd. However, the detectives caught two men red handed at this illegal game, and they will be asked to explain their conduct before magistrates today.
Several men were also arrested on charges of betting on the flat, and a man, who is alleged to have been acting suspiciously in the crowd near the totalisator windows, was taken into custody. He will probably be charged with being a rogue and a vagabond.
Steel Manufactured in South Australian Railways Workshops October 1913
By 1937 transport arrangements had changed, and the wealthy were able to travel by car to the Oakbank races. Even the hoi polloi were now able to go as far as Oakbank on the train. The sporting Editor of the Mail was able to recall fondly the good old days: But it is doubtful if the enjoyment obtained from the trek to Oakbank nowadays is as great as it was in the early days. Then it was all thrill and excitement, whether the trip were made by road or train. People did not mind if they had to stand all the way in the train to Balhannah after having to fight their way into the railway carriages.
And, whereas train passengers today are deposited a stone's throw from the racecourse, the older brigade entrained at Balhannah Railway Station, a couple of miles from the course. They could take their pick from a motley collection of vehicles, and ride to the course, or they had to walk the two miles.
An alternative was to pay a toll for the privilege of shortening the walk by going through a private paddock.
The Adelaide Hills railway stations experienced a steady decline in patronage over the years, and Balhannah finally closed in the early 1990's. Only the Melbourne to Adelaide passenger service passes through now, but it does not stop.
Balhannah is on the Onkaparinga Scenic Drive, an attractive tourist route that meanders through the charming rustic towns of Oakbank, Woodside, Charleston and heritage listed Mount Torrens before reaching Birdwood.
The area is well worth a day trip, it is an easy drive without uncomfortable twists and bends. There are plenty of things to do for adults and children, so perhaps take a look out there during the school holidays?