Tram to Nowhere
Kiama’s first basalt quarry was at Pike’s Hill on the western fringe of town. The extraction and transport of the rock was a very labour intensive process. After the stone was blasted from the quarry face, it was crushed, mostly by hand and then loaded manually onto drays. The drays hauled the stone down the hill to the jetty in the harbour where it was shovelled by hand into wheelbarrows, wheeled across planks and tipped into the ship’s holds.
In the late 1880’s the owner of a local quarry, situated about half a mile from the wharf, decided it would be better to bypass this slow and inefficient process and have a tramway built. As a result he applied to the local council for permission to lay a line. According to Australian Town and Country Journal, Saturday, 29th November, 1890 “the sagacious municipal magnates, however, came to the conclusion that if it would pay the quarryman to have a tramline it would pay the council to have one and lease it to him”.
It was at this point that their brilliant idea began to go terribly wrong. As the distance from the quarry was short, the aldermen decided that the entire cost would not exceed ₤250. The next step was to get parliament to pass an act sanctioning the construction of the line and the erection of shoots on land belonging to the Crown. It then dawned on the Alderman that while they were about it they should lay a double line of rails, and accordingly got another bill passed through parliament. Being the wise and astute men that they were and wanting to do the job properly, the aldermen sent to England for steel rails and a locomotive engine. One alderman, while visiting Sydney, purchased some cheap axles for the trucks, but unfortunately the axles were too large and replacement ones had to be purchased.
Amidst great rejoicing the locomotive engine arrived from England, but this enthusiasm soon turned to disbelief when it was realised that the engine couldn’t get through a cutting that was on the line. The cutting was enlarged but while the work was being carried out the engine was exposed to the sea air to such a degree that it got rusty and had to be repaired before it would work. Further troubles followed but the worse was still to come. It was found that the two rail lines had been placed too close together and it was impossible for the rail trucks to pass. There was not help for it and one of the lines had to be taken up and relaid.
Now came the most serious blow of all. It their anxiety to circumvent the quarryman and convert the council into a tramway syndicate, the unlucky aldermen had forgotten one small but essential detail. They omitted to get the quarryman to enter into a contract for the conveyance of his stone to the wharf. When told that the council was at last ready to truck the stone, he coolly told them he would have nothing to do with them or their tramway.
Having no use for the tramway, the council sold their locomotive engine and pulled up their tramlines just in time to learn that the Government had purchased the accursed quarry and this would have enabled them to have recovered at least some of their loss.
The scheme that originally was to have cost ₤250 and return a handsome profit, ending up costing a cool ₤8,000.