Historical marker honours rail pioneers

 

A pioneering local couple from Melbourne’s west has been honoured for their contribution to the Victorian railways.

A historical marker near the site of the former level crossing has been unveiled by the Level Crossing Removal Project celebrating the Hopper family and its 140-year legacy in the area.

Paul Hopper is one of about 15 descendants who attended the unveiling and said it was a thrill for the family to be recognised in this way.

“The fact that we’ve got such a deep connection through the railways means a fair bit to our family, and to have that generation, five generations ago, honoured in an ongoing way like this,” he said.

“It’s something as a family that we’re pretty proud of.”

In particular, the marker pays tribute to the contribution women made to the state’s early railways.

“Ma Hopper, as she was known among the family, was the real generous hearted person who worked at the crossing,” Paul said.

In the nineteenth century, the Victorian Railways employed a significant number of women, who mostly worked as level crossing ‘gatekeepers’ or ‘women in charge of stations’.  These women were usually the wives or daughters of male employees.

In 1887 a staggering 471 women were recorded as ‘gatekeepers’ in Victoria.

Elizabeth Hopper was one of these and as ‘gatekeeper’ she was responsible for manually opening and closing a set of large wooden gates at what was thought to be one of the only railway crossings in the area.

“My grandfather was born in 1913, he had memories that go right back from talking to people who would have known that original couple, Stephen and Elizabeth,” Paul said. “The stories and the references that he had, just how hospitable she was, was really a story our family always told.”

Together with her husband Stephen, a ‘ganger’ who conducted maintenance work on the railways, the couple devoted more than 60 years of combined service to Melbourne’s railways.

In the nineteenth century the crossing came to be known locally as ‘Hoppers Gate’ and evolved over time to be known as ‘Hoppers Crossing’.

“It’s a bit unusual, there wouldn’t be too many townships around where you’ve got a boom gate named after a couple of railway workers,” Paul said. “Not anyone of major landholdings or of outstanding significance in any other way, but rather that they served with great loyalty.

“That’s what I see when I see the marker – remembering the people they were, not just the roles that they held.”

Elizabeth and Stephen had 11 children and lived in the Werribee area all their lives, on a remote farm near the railway crossing.

In 1911 the community named the township around the railway crossing ‘Hoppers Crossing’ after the family.

The name still lives on – at Hoppers Crossing Station – and in the name of the suburb that grew around it.

A boom gate from the old crossing was also presented to the family in recognition of the Hopper’s contribution to the area.

The dangerous level crossing was removed in December 2021 and replaced with a new road bridge that directly connects to Princes Highway, creating safer and more reliable journeys for locals and visitors.

It freed up the local area for better access to important facilities such as hospitals, shopping centres and schools, with around 18,000 vehicles a day using the intersection.

As part of the project, a new overpass was opened at the station in February this year, providing a safe connection over the rail line for pedestrians, cyclists and passengers.

The boom gates in Hoppers Crossing were down for up to 36 per cent of the morning peak, when up to 25 trains would pass through, while the level crossing carried around 18,000 vehicles each day.

Landscaping and finishing works will wrap up in the coming weeks.

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