Kaniva community members left devastated and shocked after a suspicious fire destroyed the town's historic railway station

KANIVA residents are devastated after the town lost its historic railway station in a suspicious fire on Saturday morning.

Local historian and West Wimmera Shire Council councillor Bruce Meyer operates the Kaniva Historical Museum with his wife Wendy.

Mr Meyer said the loss of the train station had shocked the entire town.

“When I found out, I was in shock; it was totally unexpected and it’s a big loss,” he said.

“This building has been a part of the community for more than 100 years and you always expect it to be there when you wake up, then the next moment it’s gone.”

The station was built in 1887 and opened on June 25 that year.

It was placed on the Victorian Heritage List in 1982.

The site featured a hip-roofed, timber station building with classical decoration, a timber posted platform, roadside verandahs and a projecting porch with decorated gable. 

“It is only one of two stations of this style – called the Kaniva style – ever built,” he said. “It was the most used station for the Overland between Melbourne and Adelaide.

“There would be very few people in the community older than 40 wouldn’t remember using the train station at some point.”

Kaniva resident Robert McKeown, 79, recalled memories of the railway station.

“My father was station master here in 1921 and that’s one of the reasons why I felt sad – for him,” he said.

“Everyone in Kaniva, even those who are new here, are devastated because the building had only just been done up not that long ago by the railways. They really did a great job and it was used as a restaurant at one point.

“I understand that the people in the hotel were thinking about having afternoon teas in the building.”

He said his father shared many stories about the train station’s history.

“One of the stories he used to tell me was that a circus would come through here many year’s ago and they would come by steam train,” he said.

“One of the locomotives came off the line and my father, along with the circus workers, lifted the elephants off the siding, lifted the engine back on the railway line and off they went to Nhill.”

Police investigating suspicious fire

POLICE are investigating the suspicious fire that destroyed the railway station.

The Heritage Listed building went up in flames between 2am and 2.30am on Saturday. 

Kaniva Senior Constable Adrian Hoggett said police were treating the incident as suspicious.

“It is clear that either a person or persons have set fire to the building,” he said.

“It is quite a significant building in town and it is heritage listed. A lot of people are quite upset that this has happened. Any information regarding the fire would be greatly appreciated.”

Horsham Crime Investigation Unit Acting Sergeant Travis Kerr said investigations into the fire would take time.

“It is yet to be determined how the fire started; but it does however appear that it was deliberately lit,” he said.

“We are currently investigating into the matter and seek any information from the public that may lead us to find out what happened.

“We will be doing follow-up inspections at the site over the next few days.”

Acting Sergeant Kerr said the fire could have been far worse. 

“It took the Country Fire Authority several hours to contain the blaze,” he said. “There were concerns about the interstate freight trains coming through.”

The fact that there was a substantial amount of goods coming through, and not know what they might be, meant the CFA and Police on the scene had to secure the site to ensure the flames weren’t over the tracks.

“That was out major concern as well as the flames possibly reaching nearby houses.”

He said the fire had been a major loss for the Kaniva community.

It is yet to be determined how the fire started, but it does, however, appear that it was deliberately lit.

Horsham Crime Investigation Unit acting sergeant Travis Kerr

“It’s so disappointing for the local community that such a lovely old building has been destroyed,” he said.

“I understand that VicTrack, who owned the building, are already looking at getting the site cleaned up.”

He said anyone with information regarding the fire could contact Kaniva Police Station on 5392 2244, Horsham CIU on 5382 9200 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

History up in flames

THE Heritage Listed Kaniva Railway Station was constructed by Cashin & Turner to service on the Dimboola-Serviceton line in 1887. 

Local historian Bruce Meyer said the train hadn’t been used for its original purpose for some time.

“It’s been at least 25 years since the last official passenger train stopped,” he said.

In 2016, the town welcomed 150 rail enthusiasts who traveled by steam train for the day.

Two diesel engines pulled vintage carriages from the 1940s and 1950s from Melbourne to Kaniva and back in a day-long journey.

Vintage Rail Trail-707 Operations in conjunction with Steamrail Victoria organised the trip to celebrate the 2016 leap year.

The trip was a chance for vintage rail enthusiasts to travel on both Victoria’s broad and standard gauge rail network.

It was the first time Vintage Rail Trail-707 Operations had organised a trip on the state’s standard gauge network.

The Kaniva Railway Station was historically significant as a key contributor to the character of the Western line. 

The site comprised of a small, hip-roofed, timber station building with classical decoration, a timber posted platform, roadside verandahs and a projecting porch with decorated gable. 

It was an intact example of the 'Kaniva' style of station building design that arose from the 'Octopus Act' of 1884.

This design was developed to cater for the heavily trafficked western line to Adelaide, and consequently included a large booking lobby and waiting room.

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