Farewell to Steam in Queensland

The year 1969 saw most steam locomotives in Queensland drop their fires for the last time. These machines had been a part of life in Queensland for over a hundred years. Harnessing the elemental forces of fire and water they had carried foreign armies on their backs, fed entire cities and made countless awestruck children late for school. But by the end of that year, most Queensland steam locomotives stood cold and silent. Booming voices issued from brass vocal chords no more and steel once burning to the touch contracted and went cold. Lines of locomotives sat at the Ipswich Workshops waiting to be dissected and rendered like the carcasses of whales.  Their metal sinews sent across oceans and fed to foreign factories, perhaps returning to Queensland as shiny new consumer goods. Could the ghost of a 137-ton Beyer Garratt haunt the body of a transistor radio? Wouldn’t it be just a little uncomfortable in such a small space?

Blog Image 1Locomotives sit idle and unwanted at Ipswich in the mid-1960s
(Image courtesy of QR/TWRM)

This is a story about progress, farewells, and maybe even a little heartbreak for those that really cared. It’s the story of steam’s final curtain call, the end, and what came after.

The Queensland Railways had emerged from the Second World War bruised but triumphant. The population of Brisbane had doubled overnight with the arrival of American troops, ambulance and munitions trains crossed the state and workshops juggled war work with keeping the trains rolling. By the wars end the railways were worn out and a new transport landscape was emerging. Air and road travel was beginning to muscle in on territory traditionally dominated by railways. To remain competitive and mend a railway wounded by the pressures of wartime, QR made the decision to modernise their ailing systems. Inevitably this would mean farewelling steam locomotives in favour of more efficient forms of traction.

Initially, it seemed steam might continue to play a dominant role for decades to come. In fact, some of Queensland’s most iconic steam locomotives were commissioned in the immediate post-war era. The Ipswich Workshops built their last steam locomotives in the late 1940s. Designed to haul Brisbane commuter trains and constructed using modern techniques these bulky tank engines were painted in a cheerful blue hue and became known as Blue Babies. The Beyer Garratt’s – the largest steam engines to ever run in Queensland – arrived in the early 1950s from Britain and France. Painted crimson and measuring 27.4 meters long they found work on all sorts of trains but were banned from the Toowoomba range due to the excessive heat they generated in the tunnels on that line. Despite their modern features, these shiny new steam locos would struggle to compete with what arrived next.

Blog Image 2Beyer Garratt No. 1001 being tested in Manchester, England, before being partially disassembled and shipped to Queensland (Image courtesy of QR/TWRM)

The age of the Diesel Electric Locomotive was ushered in with the unloading of 10 new locomotives from a ship in October 1952. Built in Pennsylvania U.S.A, the engines went to work immediately hauling wheat from the Darling Downs into Brisbane. Over the summer of 1952/53, they reduced the number of trains needed to haul freight between Toowoomba and Brisbane by 106 trips. They were stronger and more efficient than their steam-driven peers. They also offered far greater comfort to their crews, with cabs fitted with fans, padded seats, and even cooking facilities. It became clear that the future of QR was with a fleet of these impressive new machines.

Blog Image 3One of Queensland’s first Diesel Electric locomotives, a 1300 Class, is unloaded off
a ship in 1952 (image Courtesy of Keith McDonald)

Steam was increasingly displaced by diesels as the 1950s rolled into the 1960s. Each diesel could effectively do the work of 2 to 3 steam locomotives. In the west of the state where water supplies were poor a diesel locomotive could venture without concern. They placed less stress on the tracks than steam engines and weighed less. This allowed them to haul longer trains over lightly laid tracks where the strongest steam locomotives were too heavy to travel. As a new decade beckoned steam had almost been completely eliminated from Queensland’s Railways.

Blog Image 4Diesels quickly replaced steam on the railways more prestigious passenger services. Locomotive 1302 is seen hauling the Inlander at Gailes (image Courtesy of Keith McDonald)

Many locomotive crew members were pleased to see the decline of steam and with it the uncomfortable and dirty working conditions of a steam locomotive cab. Others were sad to see them go. It seems that to some the shift in technology also signified a change in the social dynamics of their work. Some men didn’t feel the same comradery with their colleagues working diesel as they did with steam. Others shunned the relative comfort of diesel power in favour of the ‘honest’ hard work associated with steam. For all crews, regardless of their personal opinions, the end of steam bought to a conclusion a way of life practiced in Queensland for generations.

Blog Image 5The comparatively clean and modern conditions of a Diesel Electric Locomotive cab,
seen here in 1967 (Image courtesy of QR/TWRM)

Whilst there were varied opinions about steams passing amongst railway personnel, Queensland’s railway enthusiast community was dismayed by steam’s looming extinction. This passionate group contributed much to our archives on steam’s twilight years. Notes were taken, photographs snapped and even sound recordings made of locomotives hauling trains. The Queensland Division of the Australian Railway Historical Society (established 1957) had even grander ambitions to document and preserve. Working closely with the railways the society successfully lobbied for the establishment of a museum that would display retired steam locomotives out the front of the Redbank Railway Workshops. The society also began running railway tours in the mid-1950s, with special trains hired from QR. The society continues this tradition today.

By 1969 steam had retreated almost entirely. Plans for the new museum at Redbank were well advanced and candidates nominated for display. One of these engines was A10 No. 6. This diminutive locomotive – built in Glasgow in 1865 – had been only the 8th locomotive to operate in Queensland. The Glaswegian was sold out of QR ownership in 1896 and found a new life hauling sugar cane in Bundaberg. Miraculously it remained in use with the mill until 1965, when the mill owner offered it back to QR as a 100th birthday present. It then became something of a goodwill ambassador, being used on a variety of special tours. The ARHS Queensland Division scheduled a final farewell trip for the engine in July 1969. Entrants in that year’s Ipswich Colour City Queen competition formed a guard of honour for the engine as it left Ipswich Station. Hauling six coaches, and accompanied by a Beyer Garratt on another train A10 No. 6 headed to Shorncliffe. The elderly engine needed assistance from a diesel to climb Albion hill on the outward journey, but a further indignity was to come. Just like Don Bradman was out for a Duck on his last test, old No.6 failed at Northgate on the way home, and the Garratt had to haul both trains combined back to Ipswich. The eldest of their number had fallen, for the rest of Queensland’s steam fleet, there were less than 6 months to go.

Blog Image 6A10 No. 6 seen gallantly hauling its 6 coach train near Nudgee on its final run
(Image courtesy of Brian Martin) 

Blog Image 7A10 No. 6 retired to display at the Redbank Locomotive Museum
(Image courtesy of Keith McDonald)

Ipswich – where generations of families had thrived with the presence of steam – set the stage for the final steam-hauled service in South East Queensland. Railway enthusiast Ron Thirkill – at that stage just a young lad- was amongst those to take one last trip by steam. It was the 28th of November 1969, and C17 No. 917 hauled a mixed train from Ipswich to Yarraman, where it would meet up with sister locomotive No. 997 and double head back to Ipswich. On the outward trip a number of passengers, including Ron, decided to leave the comfort and safety of their coach and ride an empty log wagon up the Blackbutt Range. Fellow passenger Stan Moore snapped a photo of these daredevil passengers. Sitting in the front row was a future curator of The Workshops Rail Museum. The train returned in darkness and the sun set on steam in the city which had been its cradle. The last steam revenue service for the entire state would take place in Mackay a few days shy of Christmas 1969.

Blog Image 8Enthusiasts ditch the comfort of passenger accommodation to ride South East Queensland’s last steam-hauled train in the open air! (Image courtesy of Stan Moore) 

Blog Image 9The final steam-hauled train in South East Queensland pauses at Esk as the locomotives take on water (Image courtesy of Stan Moore) 

With the stroke of a pen, the Queensland Railways went from having 178 steam locomotive on the books in 1969 to just 15 in 1970. Most of these remaining engines were residents of the Redbank Locomotive Museum. 3 were kept at the Ipswich Workshops and maintained in operational condition to run at special events and haul charter trains. Through this initiative, vital skills were preserved and passed down. Eventually, the Queensland Rail Heritage Fleet would be formally established working out of the Ipswich Workshops in the early 1990s. The Redbank Locomotive Museum was closed and its residents returned to Ipswich, where several were rebuilt to operational condition. The Heritage Fleet is a remarkable legacy of those final days of steam. Maintained and restored by a dedicated team of Queensland Rail employees it represents one of Australia’s best collections of heritage locomotives, railmotors, and carriages.

Blog Image 10AC16 No. 221A undergoing overhaul work in the Ipswich Erecting Shop in July 2019  (Image courtesy of David Hampton) 

Even old No.6, the elderly Glaswegian that didn’t quite make its final curtain call in 1969 got a second chance. Rebuilt to operational condition in 1991 No. 6 has toured the state, participated in Queensland Rails 150th birthday and hauled Santa from Ipswich Workshops to the Riverlink shopping mall at Christmas. Since 2002 No.6 has been proudly displayed on behalf of Queensland Rail at The Workshops Rail Museum as the oldest operating steam locomotive in the Southern Hemisphere.

Blog Image 11A10 No.6 seen crossing the Stoney Creek Bridge on the Kuranda line north of Cairns after rebuilding.  (Image Courtesy of Keith McDonald)

Whilst the age of steam is long gone, it lives on in the hearts and minds of people from all walks of life. From those who vividly remember daily commutes hauled by some smoke breathing behemoth, to those born well after its demise but still drawn to steam’s unique charm. In Ipswich, if you listen carefully, you might still hear an otherworldly song rise up from the workshops as a locomotive heads out on a charter, or catch the smell of coal smoke on the breeze. A comfort no doubt, to those who couldn’t bear to think those times forgotten.

David Hampton
Curator
The Workshops Rail Museum

 

 

THE WHEELS ARE IN MOTION

Many expressions we use today date back to the era of ‘horse and cart’ transport. Cars feature 21st century technology like sat-nav systems, but they also have reminders of travel in the 1800s. The dashboard was originally a timber or leather panel in front of a buggy which stopped mud from the ‘dashing’ horse flicking onto passengers. On rainy days buggy owners also rode with the hood up like modern convertibles.

Buggy drivers wore gloves when handling the leather reins to keep off leather oil and dust. These were stored in the glove box. What is too big for the glove box goes in the boot. The boot box on a coach was under the driver’s seat, behind his boots. The boot is still for luggage, but is now at the back. The driver on a coach was in control, sitting up on the box seat. People still use the term to describe a position of power.

Horses and carriages were dark colours. Accidents occurred in towns at night if buggies did not have headlights and taillights. A bit of red glass in the back of coach lamps showed which way a vehicle was going, that is which way the horses head and tail were pointing. If an accident was likely the driver hoped the brake shoes stopped the wheels. Brake shoes were made from old shoes nailed to the brake block. The leather gripped the iron tyre.

And we still refer to the horsepower.  And even the term car can be traced back to cart, carriage and the Roman words carrum or carrus, and the even earlier Celtic word karros, meaning cart or wagon.

Travel is central to our way of seeing the world. Consider the following expressions.

From the horse era we have…

  • In ‘the box seat’ driving the project
  • ‘Reining in’ the troublemakers
  • Like the horse team we need to ‘pull our weight’ or we will be ‘dragging the chain’
  • We won’t ‘put the cart before the horse’
  • We hope with a favoured project the ‘wheels don’t come off’
  • You can ‘jump on the bandwagon’ like everyone else
  • And after partying hard we might ‘go on the wagon’, but then hopefully not ‘fall off the wagon’.
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Bogged down in a sticky situation. A Cobb & Co coach on the banks of Mary Ann Creek, Yuleba – Surat road, 1011.

We don’t want to be…

  • Bogged down
  • Caught in a rut
  • Pushing it up hill
  • Going downhill
  • Getting off track
  • Letting the grass grow under our feet
  • Facing a hard road ahead
  • Going nowhere
  • Going round in circles

We do want to be…

  • Going forward not backward
  • On the straight and narrow
  • Chasing the light on the hill
  • Taking the road less travelled
  • Achieving the milestones
  • Moving on
  • Facing new horizons
  • Moving up in the organisation
  • Climbing the corporate ladder
  • Have a career (but not downhill or into a truck!)
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It’s all gone wheels up. A capsized loaded wool wagon near Blackall. Image courtesy State Library of Queensland.

We say…

  • Life we say is a journey.
  • ‘You can’t stop progress!’

We think in spatial and often linear metaphors, even if we are not physically moving anywhere. Western thought has been dominated by ideologies of ‘progress’ for centuries. There may be ‘no going back now’, ‘the wheels are already in motion’.

Jeff Powell, Curator, Cobb+Co Museum

On this day: Queensland Prisoners secret radio revealed

On the 12 November 1945, the day after Remembrance Day, an article appeared in the Telegraph highlighting a fine example of Australian ingenuity.

Remembrance Day is celebrated on the day World War I ended but commemorates all those who died in war. An estimated four million people died during the World War II Japanese occupation of Indonesia, including 30,000 European civilians.

queensland-radio

The secret radio

Two Queensland brothers, Ernest and Charles Hildebrandt, built a secret wireless radio receiver which they operated in the camp near Bandoeng in Java which was overran by Japanese soldiers in 1942.

Constructed of parts scrounged from the internment camp where they were held prisoner in Java during the war, the transmitter was built into a Dutch gas-mask container and hidden under a square of concrete measuring 12 by 7 inches.

For the last sixteen months of the war, they secretly shared news from the Australian Broadcasting Service, the British Broadcasting Service, United States and many other stations.

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Seventy-four years after her uncles, Ernest and Charles, donated this radio transmitter to Queensland Museum, Pamela Robinson visited the Museum to see the set and to fill in some missing details for our records.

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12 November 1945

Explore the Anzac Legacy Gallery

Are you interested in seeing war artefacts that tell the fascinating story of the First World War in Queensland? Visit the Anzac Legacy Gallery on Level 1 of the Museum.

Foundations of Remembrance in Ipswich

In 1920, General Sir William Birdwood, warmly known as the ‘Soul of Anzac’ or the ‘Digger-in-Chief’, toured Australia to meet and present medals to soldiers who had served in World War I. An Englishmen who could relate to and appreciate the Australian character, Birdwood was greatly admired by the Diggers he commanded in Gallipoli and on the Western Front.

Birdwood arrived in Ipswich on Tuesday, May 4th to much fanfare. A procession was formed from East Ipswich Station where he was met by soldiers on parade and then taken by motor car to Queens Park to present medals. Such was the importance of the visit to returned soldiers that the President of the Ipswich Branch of the Returned Sailors’ & Soldiers’ Imperial League Australia asked employers to grant their soldier employees leave to attend all the various functions.

Before leaving for Brisbane, General Birdwood was given the great honour of laying the foundation stone for the Ipswich Soldiers’ Memorial Hall, which would be built in the central gardens (also known as the Pump Yard). This photograph, by Bert Roberts of AE Roberts Carriage Works, was taken from inside the Technical College and gives an impression of how significant and well attended Birdwood’s visit was to the city.

Photo: General Sir William Birdwood laying the foundation stone of the Ipswich Soldiers’ Memorial Hall, 1920. Queensland Museum Network Collection.

Rob Shiels
Collection Manager
The Workshops Rail Museum

Cowboys in the Museum

This blog post is part of an ongoing series titled Connecting with Collections. The series offers readers a peek inside collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, highlighting objects and their stories.

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Like most Queenslanders, I grew up knowing that Rugby League was a central part of life. I remember sitting with my dad watching the Friday Night Footy, the entire family wearing jerseys or team colours as good luck charms.

North Queenslanders – dare I say it – might even be some of the most passionate out of all rugby supporters. You can’t walk down Townsville’s main street without noticing the Cowboys Leagues Club situated right in the centre of town, and on a game day it’s completely normal that 80% of people hanging around town are wearing some sort of Cowboys merchandise.

While the Cowboys didn’t quite make it into the NRL Grand Final this year, the rugby league spirit was still alive in Townsville in the lead up to the match last week. In tune with recent finals season, have a look at something we have tucked away in our collections – a very different kind of museum object.

WHEN ART AND RUGBY COLLIDE

Around the same time that the Museum of Tropical Queensland was being developed, North Queensland formed its first every official rugby league team: the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys.

These two icons – the Museum and the Cowboys team – have a longstanding relationship aimed at assisting the local community, and advocating for education, accessibility and innovation.

As such, in 2006, a project between the two was developed: the Sports Star Art Torso Casting Project. Sports Star Art was a world-first, contemporary concept in sporting memorabilia. Six local Cowboys players had their torso’s cast in plaster, to raise funds for the development of the ‘Archie’s Shipwreck Adventure’ children’s exhibition at the Museum of Tropical Queensland.

Matt Bowen – affectionately called Matty by his fans – a former Cowboy and one of the teams most valued and popular players, was one of the six immortalised in plaster.

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The plaster casts were made at the Museum in March 2006. The players were positioned in a hospital bed, their arms and torso’s coated in dental alginate, for 45 minutes while the casts set.

That was the easy part – the casts then had to be removed from the players’ bodies, slowly so that (hopefully) only a minimal amount of body hair would be removed with the plaster.

Matt Bowen commented that the removal, “pulled every bit of hair I had on my chest – and it hurt”.

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Once the cast was removed, the museum displays preparator dried the cast, and applied both fibreglass and resin. Once set, the plaster was broken away from the outside, the cast was sanded, and then airbrushed to match the Cowboys uniform.

The final contribution for this item was Matty Bowen’s signature. Bowen’s torso then became a permanent part of the museum’s collections, and the five remaining casts were auctioned off at the Museums fundraising event for the new exhibition.

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People often assume they’ve seen it all when it comes to museum collections. But I guarantee they’ve never seen Matty Bowen’s torso at another museum.

 Sophie Price, Assistant Curator Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland

The worst Rugby League team ever?

September means football finals. Expectations are high for teams that have been up the top all year and fans of these teams are cautiously optimistic. But for everyone else, it’s just another wasted year and the fresh promise of next season cannot come soon enough.

In the 1940s a Rugby League side from the Ipswich Railway Workshops experienced the highs and lows that are all too familiar to football fans at this time of year.

In 1944 the Moulders’ Shop fielded a side in the Ipswich Rugby League (IRL) Juniors competition. Success was instant. They dominated the competition and achieved back-to-back wins in both the 1944 and 1945 Grand Finals. The team’s performance was so impressive that for the 1946 season, the Moulders’ applied to the IRL to play in the Seniors. Oh, how the mighty would fall.

Accepted into the Seniors and facing teams such as Tivoli, Swifts, West End, CYMS (Catholic Young Men’s Society) and Laidley, Moulders’ suddenly found themselves uncompetitive, taking out the 1946 wooden spoon without a win or even a draw all season. The Moulders’ again played in the Seniors for the 1947 season and hopes were high when they beat the reigning Premiers, West End, with a score of 14-11 in a trial match under lights at the North Ipswich Reserve.

But for all the pre-season optimism, the Moulders’ (also known as the Maroons) started 1947 much like they’d ended the previous season – anchored to the bottom. Halfway through 1947, the team got their first-ever premiership points in an 11-all draw against West End. Ultimately, however, it would be another winless season.

I’ve always subscribed to the belief that there’s a certain romance supporting a rubbish football team – it’s good character building. But in 1948 the IRL top brass, who were obviously not romantics, kicked the Moulders’ out of the Seniors. Their only crime? Being one of the worst sides to have ever played in the history of the IRL competitions.

So, take heart my fellow football fanatics; even if you support the worst team in the league, there’s a good chance they’ll at least be there to let you down again in the future. Remember, there’s always next year… unless you’re a Moulders’ supporter, that is.

Photo: The 1946 Moulders’ Senior Rugby League side from the Ipswich Railway Workshops. (Photographer: Whitehead Studios. Queensland Museum Collection)

Rob Shiels
Brisbane Lions tragic/Collection Manager,
The Workshops Rail Museum

Railway Carriage Secrets

Here at The Workshops Rail Museum, we’ve been working hard to clear the backlog of little jobs necessary to keep our locomotives and rolling stock looking clean and well maintained. Whilst polishing brass on a steam locomotive is something even a curator can do, many of these jobs require outside knowledge and expertise.

This was the case with one of our passenger carriages – BV 269. This timber coach, built-in Maryborough in 1882, is the oldest one in our collection. It spent much of its working life on the line west of Townsville, and before being retired to the museum was used regularly on the Kuranda tourist service. In the last 18 months, we have opened it up to visitors for the first time since the museum opened. Unfortunately, a number of rips had developed in the seats. We decided we couldn’t have our visitors sitting on torn vinyl, so we removed them and took them to Brian at B&B Trimmers and Upholstery for restoration.

When we returned to collect them there was a surprise waiting for us. Not only were there a set of beautifully reupholstered seats, but Brian had also set aside a stained and tatty looking piece of canvas uncovered during the process. On it was scrawled the names of two employees of the Townsville Railway Workshops and the date 14/11/1949. These men, B. G. Delowery and H. W. Hoit, had signed their work! Giving us an insight not only into the last time the seats had significant work done to them, but the pride that these men had taken in their jobs a few months shy of 70 years ago.

Many of our trains hold secrets like this, but rarely do we get to encounter them. Who knows what other messages are hiding in amongst our locomotives and rolling stock…?

By David Hampton

We are custodian of Queensland's natural and cultural heritage, caring for more than a million items and specimens in collections that tell the changing story of Queensland.