INDOMITABLE PLUCK AND ENTERPRISE – COMET MILL VILLAGE SETTLEMENT
That was the description made by the Kilmore free Press Journalist in April 1887 as he described the trip to the Derril and the sawmilling village created by the Wandong Timber Company. Few had made the arduous journey up the tramway to the distant sawmilling village of the Comet Mill and the group from Kilmore were in awe of what they saw upon reaching the settlement.
Describing the journey – ‘the horse drawn tram is on a single line leading up to the winch engine-house. ‘From this point there is a descent of half a mile the grade being about one in five and horse work is out of the question’. The 10 horsepower engine with wire rope is utilised for traffic and for passengers going down or returning, the roadway being mostly over trellised bridgework high in the air is exciting and in some cases taxed the nervous system.‘
‘Quiet a large township met our view and some of us were really astonished to find a community of one hundred inhabitants all engaged in the timber trade. Circular saws and other appliances are driven by powerful engines, the boilers are provided with water from a beautiful rippling rill on the mountain side. The large trees are reduced in a remarkably short space of time to the size required and refuse is sent by truck to a deep natural pit where it is being continually reduced by fire’.
100 horses are constantly employed on the works in addition to a locomotive all drawing timber. Water drives the engines at the mill with the surplus steam being drawn off and fed underground through pipes to the horse stables where the feed for the animals was kept in optimum condition.
The settlement consisted of 200 people – some living in streets with houses built for married couples and their families; a boarding house accommodated single men and a Manager’s house overlooked the operations. Photographs of Grainger and Mackay Rows provide a glimpse of the married couple’s houses and the surrounds in which the families worked and played, while a small school house was built nearby with some 30 students attending in any one year.
The settlement provided for most of the needs of its workers and families, a general store, blacksmith and veterinarian, butcher, daily fresh bread, entertainment and sports. The Cricket team played on large boards cut at the mill, regularly competing against other teams in the district. Children were given religious instruction and education and enjoyed their intermittent trips to Wandong to join their township cousins on picnics.
The timber company eventually created four mills – The Comet, Planets 1 and 11 and the Bump, all connected by the 11 mile long tramline. Originally there was an additional mill, acquired from Abraham Neill. Located adjacent to the Strath Creek the mill was referred to as the Derril Mill. Robertson bought the mill in 1884 and spent a considerable amount of money to upgrade it however it was burnt to the ground in 1889 leaving only a couple of circular saws and was never rebuilt as far as we know.
Robertson’s mills were said to have been the highest producing in Victoria, more than those of Gippsland and Ballarat.
Establishing the settlement was truly that of indomitable pluck and enterprise for which Robertson received great praise and recognition.