Freight train at Kendall
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Kendall and the Railway

The opening of the railway in Kendall on 12 April 1915 contributed greatly to Kendall’s commercial and social activity.

The first government-owned railway in New South Wales opened on 26 September 1855 with lines to the Hunter and the west of the state following very soon after. The treacherous bars of the swollen coastal rivers caused so much loss of life and property that it is not surprising that railway surveys began on the north coast as early as 1872. In addition to surveys to determine the most economical route, in 1905 a Department of Public Works Standing Committee heard evidence from local land owners and business people to establish the route most advantageous to the local economy. Kendall residents were jubilant when their village (then called Camden Haven) was confirmed as the local railhead. Work began at West Maitland in 1908 and by 1914 the seventy-nine mile section between Taree and Kempsey that passed through Kendall was being built at a cost of £660,625.

Kendall Railway Statiion prior to opening
Kendall Railway Station immediately prior to opening in 1915

The coming of the railway offered commercial opportunities that had previously only been dreamt of. At last perishable goods could arrive at markets in Sydney and Honeysuckle in Newcastle within twenty-four hours. Families could visit each other in neighbouring villages and farther afield and holiday makers could come by train to visit the nearby beach-side villages.

The railway was the largest employer in Kendall but it also made other important contributions to the village. It contributed to the success of other businesses and created a situation where financial, medical and other services were viable. It was also a remarkable social entity. It provided a framework bordering on familial, a framework that extended beyond those who were directly employed and their families to the entire community.

Numbers of today's Kendall people had grandfathers, fathers and uncles who worked on the construction of the railway. Many later worked, or had relatives who worked, either directly for the railway or in association with it. For more than seventy years the railway and its station was a vital part of Kendall's life. Local residents describe it as the traditional meeting place for social and commercial activities. From its opening in 1915 until the 1970s and ‘80s when railway activities were drastically reduced, the station served the entire district, from Comboyne at the headwaters of the Camden Haven River to Dunbogan at the mouth of the Inlet.

For much of that time a twenty-four hour office service was provided at Kendall by a Station Master, two Assistant Station Masters and at least one Relief Assistant Station Master. There were two or three Station Assistants working in the Goods Shed, a couple more in the Parcels Office and two or three Junior Station Assistants.

During the 1970s, the demise of many timber mills and the consolidation of others, together with an increase in the use of road transport, dramatically reduced railway traffic and diminished the income that traditionally supported passenger rail. In 1981 State Rail announced that they were closing Kendall Station athough it was 1989 before the last members of staff had either retired or been transferred. The Camden Haven community deplored the removal of railway staff but became furious when they discovered that the station was to be completely closed. They had been under the impression that it would still be a pick up and set down point.

It was the most controversial issue the area had seen. In late 1989 over two and a half thousand people signed a petition demanding that the station be kept open and more than 400 very angry residents and business people crammed into Kendall School of Arts to meet railway officials. They won an initial six months reprieve and, after further negotiations, when a ‘railway enhancement program’ was announced, Kendall remained a ‘stop on demand’ station. When the new and expanded service commenced in 1992, Kendall was included.

For a brief time the station was a quiet, lonely place where travellers waited in dusty isolation for an unheralded train to stop. When it became obvious that it would not again be staffed, the Camden Haven Learning Exchange applied to become the tenant of the station building and in June 1990 it began a second life as Kendall Station Craft Centre. In April 1991 the Kendall Craft Co-operative formed as an autonomous organisation and became the station’s tenant.

The establishment of the National Rail and Freight Corporation in the mid 1990s saw an increase in goods trains on the railway lines through Kendall. This was greatly expanded when a privately-owned company, Pacific National, purchased the Corporation in 2002 and that company now operates the goods trains on the North Coast Line. They are a welcome sight in the Kendall landscape, many of them more than 1.5 kms long.

Freight train at Kendall Station
Freight train pulling into Kendall Station

All six daily Countrylink passenger services, up and down between Sydney and Grafton, Sydney and Casino and Sydney and Brisbane continue to stop at Kendall Station. The Grafton train makes a scheduled stop, the others stop as required. Tickets may be booked at the Kendall Community Centre.

The trains are all well patronised and passengers often go early to browse at the Craft Co-op. Many people visit solely to ‘catch some craft’. Kendall Railway Station is again lively and busy all day.

Photographs – Beryl Ritchie, Wendy Lentz;
More reading: Elaine van Kempen, Kendall A Railway History, pub. by Kendall Craft Cooperative and available at Kendall Station.

© Elaine van Kempen 2006


© Kendall Community Centre May 2006