House debates

Wednesday, 25 October 2017


Puffing Billy Railway, Horatio Jones's House

7:35 pm

Photo of Jason WoodJason Wood (La Trobe, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta, as an avid trainspotter you'll be greatly interested in my speech regarding Puffing Billy Railway. Puffing Billy, Australia's foremost tourist railway, is located in my electorate of La Trobe and is one of the most popular steam heritage railways in the world. It was completed in 1900. The original intention was that the line would run from Upper Ferntree Gully Station and serve the local farming and timber communities. It was one of five narrow-gauge lines that were opened around the beginning of the 20th century by Victorian Railways. Puffing Billy stopped running in 1953 after a landslide blocked the line between Selby and Menzies Creek, and was formally closed in 1954.

However, in 1955, the Puffing Billy Preservation Society was formed to reopen the line and keep it running indefinitely, and since then it has been kept in operation largely due to the efforts of society volunteers. We thank them so much for their vision and passion to keep the iconic Puffing Billy going. The society aims to preserve and restore the line as near as possible to how it was in the first three decades of its existence, with particular emphasis on the early 1920s. There are now 400 incredible volunteer members of the preservation society, ably directed by John Robinson and the members of the Puffing Billy board of management. I congratulate John, his board of management and the volunteers. It's always so nice to go out there and be greeted by the volunteers. They do such a wonderful job when it comes to greeting tourists who go there each day.

Nearly eight million international visitors come to Australia each year, and an increasing number of those visitors are beating a path to my electorate of La Trobe, in particular to experience the delights of Puffing Billy and the Dandenong Ranges. This iconic attraction has experienced an increase in the number of international passengers by an incredible 65 per cent over the past two years. Most trains start from Belgrave station and travel to Lakeside in Emerald.

When passengers alight at Lakeside in summer or on a nice day, there is a fantastic walk around Emerald Lake and there are so many things for children to do. However, in inclement weather it is very tough for people. When they get off at Lakeside they just stand in the rain; that's pretty much what happens. Hence the decision to build the Puffing Billy Railway discovery centre, with a $5.5 million project announced in the lead-up to the 2016 election. I sincerely want to thank the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. We all had a fantastic day upon that announcement; I think it was one of his more enjoyable occasions during the election campaign. It was great to see all those volunteers at Puffing Billy and the excitement about this $5.5 million of funding. In total, I believe, the project will cost $15 million.

The discovery centre will enhance visitor enjoyment of Puffing Billy and will provide orientation and reinforcement of the Puffing Billy experience and place this historic railway in context. The discovery centre will heighten the desire to revisit the railway. All the passengers will receive an entry ticket to the centre as part of their fare. It will include exhibits, audiovisual programs, a railway diorama, a cafe and an auditorium. Exhibits will trace the prehistory of the area, the movement of Aboriginal people through the region, the arrival of Europeans and the impact these changes had. I believe they might even have a bit of the history of Ned Kelly, who actually visited the area of Emerald.

This goes hand in hand with something else I've been working on for a number of years, and that's the national heritage listing of Horatio Jones's house in the Dandenong Ranges. Horatio Jones was a First World War veteran whose guests after the war in his house, which he built out of kerosene tins, included Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Eugene von Guerard and CJ Dennis, who wrote The Sentimental Bloke. I'm trying to get the house a national heritage listing and am working with the shire at Yarra Ranges. It will be part of a ridge walk from Upwey to Montrose. It is a very exciting project, and this is a very exciting time in La Trobe.