Plotting History: Amanda Witt

Plotting History: Amanda Witt


I use the PMI collection for research and information for the historical walks that I do with my friend Simon along closed train lines, both in Melbourne and in the countryside.

Many books about the suburb/town show maps of the original line and alignment. These are essential because most lines have now been closed and have houses or factories built on it, or are walking/riding trails.

Simon also downloads the 1880-90’s era parish maps from the State Library, and we compare the landscape and alignment with the present environment.

I have been interested in trains most of my life, thanks to my late father who came out here from Germany in 1952, with a job secured on the Victorian Railways. A portion of his wage was deducted to pay for his ship fare.

As a child in school holidays we would ride the different lines, I’d ridden on the entire suburban network by age 12, and we would also go to the old Spencer Street station, standing on the bridge, watching the trains in the yard.

Victoria has one of the biggest network of former lines converted to bike/walking trails. Some of these that I’ve walked, and used materials from PMI to research over the last two years include:

Port Melbourne and St Kilda – now tram lines


Lilydale to Warburton

Trentham – we discovered the former racecourse here


Red Hill- Merricks

Wonthaggi and the former coal mines

Inner circle – Fitzroy/Carlton

Outer circle – the Alamein line is the remnant of this, that originated at Oakleigh

Rosstown  – went from Elsternwick to Oakleigh

Ballarat- Buninyong



Williamstown pier station – closed in the 1980’s

Sometimes it’s educated guess work as to where the railway did run. Simon looks for ‘industrial archaeology’, such as remnants of wooden sleepers and/or metal, now rusted, dog spikes in the ground. Or where the alignment might have gone, if no other traces remain and grass/trees now grow over the area.

Many of these outer suburban and country lines were used primarily for transporting coal and/or wood for freight, with a single passenger car added onto the train almost as an afterthought. Many of the books on all these areas have photos of trains ‘in the day’, loaded with wood, fruit, coal, etc.

We have also noticed two main groups of years when lines were closed.

  1. The 1890’s bust, when land in East Malvern/Waverley areas was not built on because people couldn’t afford it, so the Outer Circle line was not used.
  2. The 1950-60’s, when cars became more common, goods were beginning to be transported by truck,  and items like logs/wood and coal were slowly going out of fashion.

Some sections of the lines have since reopened as tourist railways, which is great. These include: Puffing Billy at Belgrave, Mornington, Daylesford, Healesville and Queenscliff.

Ursula and Steven know that this is what I borrow the books for, and I am always asked where my next walk will be, based on what I am getting each time. Then I am also asked about the previous walk, what was seen and learned.

Steven shares an interest in trains which can be a dangerous thing – I think I’ll pop into PMI to get my books, and sometimes end up talking for half an hour about train related things.