architecture, cement history

Beneath a Moving Ropeway at Kandos

There was something magical about the ropeway. A continuous stream of buckets gliding across the landscape, sliding against those imperial towers, over rugged hills, atop deep gullies, above sheep grazing in paddocks or a plough turning the soil. Bucket after bucket. One line carrying limestone, the essential raw material for cement making, from the quarry to the works; another line of empties returning.

The ropeway was a showpiece for the cement industry, on view from many parts of the town; on entering or leaving; by road or train. While the cement works was hunkered beneath the mountain, a secretive and mysterious mass of buildings, noise and smoke, the ropeway was out there, showing off product and industry.

Now the ropeway is gone. I’m sad. Terry’s sad. At the time of closure, he suggested it could be remodelled as a tourist experience. Get a big paint company like Dulux, he said, to promote their paints. Imagine bright coloured buckets of visitors gliding across that landscape. Better than hot air ballooning, probably safer. But no chance now.

I was surprised to discover, that during the life of the cement works, there was not just one ropeway but three. The first one took about six months to erect in 1915, though there isn’t a great deal of information about it. The Mudgee Guardian reported at the time that it ran for about three miles and could carry a ton and a half of limestone per minute at a cost of twopence per ton per mile – all of which makes little sense to me, but some of you will be able to process that. You might ask, as others did at that time, why a ropeway, not a tramway. The answer is in the terrain – too precipitous, a one-in-three gradient in parts.

One thing I’ve learnt from trawling through early local newspapers is that the cement industry at Kandos was continually expanding and improving – more kilns, more silos, more mills, more dams, more machinery, more stacks, more tramways. So why not another ropeway? The fact was, number 1 was not carrying enough, fast enough. And the quarry workers were getting jack of having to work so much overtime (that came as a surprise!).

So tenders were called in October 1920 for supply and delivery of a monocable aerial ropeway over 3 ¼ miles. From tender to completion was eighteen months. Both ropeways would operate together and be known as No 1 and No 2. The latter had a capacity of 120 tons per hour as against 40.

Just imagine the work that went into its construction by 50 men. The first job, to survey the route, was carried out by G Watson working for the successful tenderer Gibson Battle. He prepared plans, submitted them for approval and ordered the machinery which arrived in April 1921. The next job was to set out the position of each of the 68 towers (No 1 had 50), followed by clearing the route and constructing a “well-formed” road, for transport of materials, installation of the rope and general maintenance. Lorries and tractors were used for transport; bullocks with scoops and men with picks and shovels were used for clearing and construction. And there was a great deal of invention and ingenuity.

For the towers themselves the ground had to be excavated and concrete foundations laid. The next job was to install the driving plant and machinery for automatic loading and unloading of the limestone. Did they use the original protection bridges over the railway, Anzac Avenue and the Sydney road or build wider ones? I’m not sure.

One other task was to make application in the Warden’s Court to build the ropeway on public and private land. The warden made a judgement that rent for private land should be five pounds per annum with ten pounds compensation. Rent on Crown land was set at one pound per annum.

So that leaves No 3 ropeway, which came into commission on 22 December 1989, a bi-cable ropeway, with 130 clam shell buckets, not just fully automatic but computerised.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing across the landscape. Over the years there were quite a number of what were euphemistically called ‘mishaps’. These usually involved some part of the mechanism breaking and buckets tumbling into each other or into towers or tumbling onto the ground or careering down the cable. Mr Anderson, assistant chemist in 1923, would recall, if he was alive, driving his motorbike into a lowered cable and being thrown into the air. “What might have happened,” questioned the Lithgow Mercury “if the rope had caught him across the neck?” Editors were more ghoulish in those days.

At the time No 2 ropeway was built, it was said to be the finest ropeway in Australia…or was that in the southern hemisphere? Yes, I know, promotion by the company, but still impressive.

As far as I know all that’s left of Kandos ropeway history are protection bridges, a single tower, No 35, at the beginning of Cooper Drive and a couple of towers in a paddock that you can see as you drive along the Bylong Valley Way. No 35 tower is accompanied by a nicely designed plaque produced by David Fuller, giving the history of the ropeway, especially of ropeway No 3. It’s worth a visit.

Aerial_Ropeway Kandos Museum1 copy

This image and the featured image, with thanks to Kandos Museum. It too is well worth a visit.

15 thoughts on “Beneath a Moving Ropeway at Kandos”

  1. Enjoyed this well researched story. Terry’s Dulux paint idea was a good one. Sorry the ropeway is gone. This story will help it “live”

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  2. You are doing a fantastic job as I love reading your history of where my father grew up. Makes me home sick for the country . Takes me back to when I was a small girl living in Kandos .

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  3. Great to see the photos of the old ropeway there was another ropeway which crossed the Bylong valley way, back from the quarry turn off approach 1 kilometre back towards Clandulla it was similar to the No1 ropeway with a single rope running on “wheels” I think it went to the Charbon works before Brogans Creek quarry was established. There used to be a tower just beside the road and another tower near the Reedy Creek dam near Charbon works. Charbon works had another ropeway which came from Brogans Creek which operated until Charbon closed in 1977

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  4. Our company, CA & DB Martin, helped maintain and supply parts for Charbon Ropeway and Kandos 1, 2, & 3 ropeways. We maufactured the new buckets for No.3 and many of the other parts. The protection structures under No.3 were fabricated & erected & maintained by us.We were involved in No. 3’s construction. All of the No.3’s disastrous crashers were rectified by us. Most of the latter crashes on No.1 & 2 were fixed by us. We assisted at Charbon incidents. 1 to 2 years(?) after Charbons’ closure we were hired to get the rope going again to remove the buckets which had been left hanging along the whole 9km. If you want info on these ropes, feel free to contact me. Regards, James Martin.

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