Brian Ayling's Home Page
From 1883 to about 1913, Kerosene shale or torbanite was mined in the vicinity of Airly, a small village near Capertee about 120 miles from Sydney. Transport of shale to the nearby railway was initially handled by a system of roads and horse tramways, but with increased production and the establishment of an oil works at Torbane, some spectacular cable haulage inclines were employed to cross Airly Mountain.
The Airly mines closed after shale production was concentrated in Newnes, and today just a few remarkable relics remain, in fairly secluded bushland.
All photographs on this page were taken in the vicinity of Airly in late 2006 and early 2007.
Here is a map of Airly area, reproduced from The Shale Railways of NSW (refer to Acknowledgements at the foot of this page).
Shale was carted from the Airly mines by horse-drawn tram to this point at Airly Gap, where a self acting incline was used to lower laden skips to a dray loading staith, for transfer by road to Capertee railway station. Today a few old timbers and broken cable mark the site of the incline bankhead.
Body of a skip used for carting shale on the tramway system lays overturned along the route of the self-acting incline. Remains of several other skips can be found in this area.
Cable drum and handbrake
This overgrown apparatus comprises a cable pulley and screw handbrake, firmly anchored to a timber post and tram rails. Perhaps it was used at the bankhead of the Airly self-acting incline, in which case it seems to have been relocated a short distance, some decades ago.
Remains of a plough and other farm machinery lie scattered around the area that was once Airly village.
Small stone dwellings can be found adjacent to the route of a horse tramway that served shale mines along the eastern slopes of Airly Mountain. Careful exploration either side of the tramway formation reveals numerous hidden gems like these, the example at right being neatly concealed beneath an overhanging rock.
Genowlan Mountain forms an impressive backdrop to this ruin that was reputedly the Airly mine manager's home. Remains of bottles and crockery decorate the fireplace.
Then and Now
An undated Gifford Eardley sketch from The Shale Railways of NSW (left), and current day photo of the same ruin (right).
Abandoned shale mines
From about 1896 the New South Wales Shale Oil Company developed mines in the Genowlan Creek area, along talus slopes to the north of Airly. Shale won here was conveyed by cable haulage across Airly Mountain to the company's new oil retorts at Torbane. Today several mine entrances are still evident, as are other relics such as this chimney.
This primitive boiler supplied steam to the Genowlan-Torbane cable haulage winding engine. There is no firebox as such; it appears that heating gases were ducted around the vessel by a single chimney flue formed by the brick base.
Torbane cable haulage
Beyond the winding engine site, path of the original cable haulage tramway to Torbane can readily be traced across the eastern side of Airly Mountain, where this culvert remains. As built the incline proved troublesome, and was later deviated to pass through a tunnel beneath the mountain top.
Oil works site
Reward for a climb to the crest of Airly Mountain is this spectacular view overlooking the Torbane oil works site. Farm house is the original works manager's residence, and the access road approaching from right uses an abandoned standard gauge railway formation.
Not far from the winding engine, a group of cables runs southwards up a very steep slope towards the crest of Mount Airly. This might be the remains of a ropeway that was used for bringing materials such as timber props down from the mountain top.
Although uncertain, the presence of two heavy and two lighter cables suggests that this could have been a self-acting aerial ropeway (flying fox). A difficult climb to the upper reaches of the cableway revealed breathtaking views to the north-east over Genowlan Creek, the Capertee Valley, and beyond.
Mountain top mystery
Investigation of the top station of this cable-way revealed remains of a pulley system, with sundry bolts and tools scattered about. Beyond here roads or perhaps tramways appear to have served mines atop Mount Airly, evidenced by low rock embankments and at least one unprotected mine shaft (right). These might be remnants of diamond prospecting conducted in the area, but I have thus far been unable to find any information about these workings!
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