All posts by The Workshops Rail Museum

You could build a railway carriage for that!

What do manual arts students, dentists, domestic science students and leprosy patients all have in common? At one point in Queensland’s history they have all had custom railway carriages built for them.

When railways were the most dominant means of transporting goods and people on land, some of the rolling stock used had to be customised to accommodate all sorts of passenger and freight needs. Sometimes standard carriages and wagons were not suitable. The Queensland Railway Department during its long history designed and built a number of these special carriages.

One of the earliest needs for a special carriage was to transport people suffering from Hansen’s Disease (leprosy). The general public was very fearful of traveling with leprosy patients so a special carriage was designed and built to allow patients to travel in their own cabins (usually with two nurses to look after them) while keeping them isolated from the rest of the train. The carriage was used throughout the state. Patients travelled to Brisbane, with the carriage coupled onto an existing service. Patients were then transferred to the lazaret (the name given to leprosy hospitals) at Dunwich on Stradbroke Island. From 1907 a newer lazaret was opened on Peel Island where leprosy patients were housed in isolation until 1959.

1. Carriage diagram of Hansen’s Disease Carriage

As there was no known cure for Leprosy until the 1940s, Government policy around the world was to keep sufferers isolated from the rest of society. This railway carriage was used to transport patients throughout Queensland to be isolated on islands off Brisbane.

Another area of public health where special railway carriages were used was dentistry. In the mid-1920s the Queensland Department of Public Instruction recognised the difficulties that rural and regional children experienced in getting dental care. It also recognised that the best chance that a person had for having healthy teeth into their adult years was to receive proper dental care in childhood. These observations led to the building of the first traveling dental clinic carriage at the Ipswich Railway Workshops in 1928. The carriage consisted of a small treatment area, a waiting room and a living area for the dentist, and was described as being ‘a lesson in the economy of space’ by The Telegraph.

Although small, the carriage was full of modern conveniences including an electrical generator, spot lights, a wash basin with a high pressure water system, a steriliser for the instruments and a filtered water system. A trailer with a motor vehicle coupled behind the carriage was also provided so that the dentist could travel to patients who could not attend the local railway station.

2. 1928 Traveling Dental Clinic

Queensland’s first traveling dental clinic carriage was only six metres long and two and a half metres wide with just enough room to spin the chair around.

The traveling dental clinic was upgraded after 1945 and included two carriages and a trailer for a motor vehicle. There was even enough room in the newer version for the dentist to bring along his wife.

3. Photo of dentist and wife, child in chair

Mr and Mrs Kilby were a husband and wife dental team who operated on the post-1945 dental carriages. Photo courtesy of Mandy Rounsefell

The traveling dental clinic was adopted due to the success of an earlier traveling endeavour initiated by the Department of Public Instruction, traveling classrooms. In the early 1920s the sparseness and vastness of distance in Queensland was a major hurdle when it came to educating the State’s youth. In an attempt to improve rural education, the Department requested that the railways build custom teaching carriages. The idea was to install the carriages on railway sidings throughout the state in order to teach children for up to six weeks.

The first carriage to be built, a domestic sciences carriage, was launched in 1923 and students were taught dressmaking, millinery (hat making) and cookery. A second carriage was built and sent to Townsville in early 1924. This carriage had a wood stove, kerosene refrigerator, shelves packed with aluminum saucepans, and a dresser full of cups, saucers, plates and various other dishes – all held in place with special devices to stop the items shifting while the carriage was moving. The carriage also had a Singer sewing machine and enough bench space for 14 pupils. There was also a small living quarters for the teacher.

4. Domestic sciences carriage   

A classroom on wheels, the interior of the domestic sciences carriage. Courtesy of Keith MacDonald. 

The success of the domestic services carriages led to the Department of Public Instruction requesting that the Railway Department build them a traveling manual training classroom in 1925. The new carriage would travel along with the domestic science carriage in a pair. Twelve students could be accommodated in the manual training carriage, and would be taught wood, steel and leatherwork. The ingenuity of the classroom’s design was credited to the Railway Department’s Chief Mechanical Engineer’s branch who did amazing work in housing all the materials and tools needed to teach such a class in a small amount of space.

5. Manual training carriage

A manual training carriage was designed and built because of the success of the domestic sciences carriage. Courtesy of Keith MacDonald. 

Specialised railway carriages started being phased out in the 1960s when it became easier to travel by motor vehicle and to fit out trailers for specialised services (who remembers Harold and the Life Education van visiting their school?). But the history of these carriages shows us how adaptable the railways needed to be in meeting the needs of the community. In a state as large as Queensland these carriages were a way of bridging vast distances so the lives of rural communities were improved by public health and education initiatives. These carriages are only four examples of the wide range of specialised vehicles the Queensland Railway Department designed. Prisoners, explosives, maternity clinics, cheeses, army hospitals and even circus animals had specialised vehicles designed for them so they could travel on the railways safely.

Rob Shiels
Collection Manager, The Workshops Rail Museum   

Season of Adversity – The 1942 Brisbane Rugby League Season

With the museum temporarily closed and with many of us now having to work from home, I decided to do some research on a large donation of old Queensland Railway Institute (QRI) sporting trophies that we received last year. The one that instantly caught my eye was a 1942 Victory Cup Reserve Grade Rugby League Premiers trophy. As I started looking into how the Brisbane Rugby League (BRL) association tried to run a competition during war time, I recognised parallels with today and how Australian sporting competitions have struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the Brisbane Rugby League management committee met in February 1942 to discuss the upcoming season, the world had just become a lot more menacing in the eyes of Australians. The Japanese army was advancing on Singapore while the bombing of Port Moresby had just begun. The war was on Queensland’s doorstep. There was considerable debate about the appropriateness of staging sporting events during such a critical time of national emergency.

Despite the concerns, the BRL announced that although the 1942 season would be ‘without precedent in rugby league history’, they would strive to keep the competition running as best as they could as long as it’s continuance was “in line with the needs of the nation.” (The Telegraph, 11/2/1942, p6.)

A large part of the league’s desire to host a season was to provide entertainment for members of the armed forces, but perhaps this can also be seen in terms of defiance; not letting the threat of a Japanese invasion completely dictate how the people of Brisbane would traditionally spend their weekends in winter. In today’s age of national competitions and huge television broadcasting deals, we may forget how immensely popular and important the BRL was. The Brisbane and Sydney city competitions were the top Rugby League competitions in the nation and would continue to be for many many decades.

Thumbing your nose to the enemy aside, the BRL did have very real obstacles to overcome if they were to complete a season in 1942. One major issue was the inability to hire grounds. The Brisbane Cricket Ground (Gabba), the home for the past 10 years of the league’s most important matches, had become unavailable as it had been taken over by the military. The league then lost the use of Lang Park, and Davies Park in West End. Before the season even started, the BRL only had access to a handful of grounds, Oxenham Park in Nundah, New Farm Park and occasionally matches at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground (RNA). The lack of access to first choice grounds also had a significant financial implication to the administration.

Finances became a real concern for the league. Though in the black at the start of the season, there was a fear that the administration would be unable to make sizable takings from the gate at these lesser grounds.  As these were ‘open house’ grounds where spectators couldn’t be fenced and charged for the privilege of watching, there was a fear that the league would quickly burn through its capital and end the season deep in the red. The only turnstill ground the league had access to was Oxenham Park, but it was so far out from the centre of town that it was considered too unappealing for many spectators to travel there for games. The games at other venues would likely have to be run as entry by donation. It was declared in Truth that “it takes real money to run Rugby [and] Rugby won’t take real money from the please-give-a-penny aim seeking at free-for-all football.” (Truth, 3/5/1942, p7.)

As well as the grounds looking different, the teams themselves would be virtually unrecognisable as 90% of regular players were in the armed forces by this time. The teams would have to consist of younger players and senior men not required for military service. Many of the teams had to start building their player lists from scratch but as the season was set to open in April, the participating clubs were announced in March. The 1st grade competition would feature teams from Easts, Norths, Souths, Wests, Valley and Past Brothers. (‘The Telegraph’, 12/3/1942, p5.) Reserve grade was to comprise teams from Past Brothers, Wests, Norths, Valley, Easts and the Queensland Railway Institute.

By the beginning of April it was starting to look like the season might have had to be scratched. Other leagues around the state such as Ipswich and the Darling Downs were looking at canceling their planned seasons. The Brisbane clubs themselves were starting to get cold feet. The difficulties already faced by teams in having to reconfigure their line-ups with so many new players was compounded by the lack of suitable fields to practice on during the week. But in mid-April the decision was made to push on with the season, “until war or law stops it.” (Truth 12/4/1942, p7.) In a concession to the clubs, the league announced that they would put back the start of the season until the weekend of May 22 to give teams the opportunity to play a good number of trial games against each other before the season officially started.

The BRL felt it important to keep the league going to provide entertainment to men in uniform and in another concession to the clubs, it was announced that if required or desired, men in the armed forces were allowed to play for any of the teams in the competition (The Telegraph, 30/4/1942, p5.) That way if clubs got word of a good player on leave, or he had permission to play from his superiors, teams could get some fancied veterans in their sides if the timing was right.

Finally, after months of planning and negotiations, the season started. The team from the Queensland Railway Institute in the reserve grade competition got off to a flyer, racking up wins against Easts and Norths before having a bye. They then beat Wests 14-0 at Toowong Memorial Park (which had now become available for the league to use). QRI experienced their first loss of the season at the hands of Brothers, 20-3. The competition was often affected by player shortages, particularly in reserve grade, with teams sometimes playing with only 10 or 11 men or having to forfeit games outright because they couldn’t field a team. But despite these challenges, QRI finished the regular season on top of the ladder.

The BRL finals for both 1st and reserve grades were announced at the start of August. There would be three weeks of semi finals (principal, major and special semi-finals) played by the top four teams and then a Grand Final at the end of the month.

QRI started their finals campaign at New Farm Park going down to Valley 15-7. They then had to play in a major semi-final again at New Farm Park the following weekend, this time against Brothers on Saturday 15th August. They lost this match too, going down 7-0. This victory gave Brothers a spot in the Grand Final and the next weekend off, while QRI would now once more play Valley in a special semi-final, who had won by forfeit against Norths in their major semi-final, for the final spot in the Grand Final.

After dominating the reserve grade competition all season, QRI was staring down a straight sets exit in the finals, a huge disappointment for any Minor Premier in any league during any era. They had their last shot on Saturday August 22 on the No.2 oval at the Showgrounds. In a close and hard fought match QRI beat Valley 5-3. They had made the Grand Final the hard way.

The BRL tried to secure the use of the Gabba for the most prestigious games of the year but were unable to book it. (Courier Mail, 26/8/1942, p6.) The showgrounds were also booked out due to Rugby Union finals so the league was forced to play the Grand Finals at one of the suburban grounds.

QRI faced Brothers in the reserve grade Grand Final at Oxenham Park. With scores 8 all at full time an extra 5 minutes was played but with scores still deadlocked, the game was ended and a replay scheduled for the following weekend. This reserve grade Grand Final was played as a curtain raiser to the 1st grade final between Brothers and Souths, so it’s likely they couldn’t extend the game time any further to get a result due to time constraints. It was Souths’ first 1st grade Grand Final appearance in 10 years and as they had the youngest side of all the 1st grade teams, the match was billed as a ‘David v Golitath’ scenario against a Brothers side who had one of the largest forward packs the competition had seen in years (The Telegraph, 28/8/1942, p8.)

Despite the difficulties the league faced throughout the whole season, the day was a success, with a new crowd record set at Oxenham Park and a huge gate of £85 taken. Brothers were too good for the young Souths side and won 20 – 11. After the Grand Final it was announced that a special Brisbane V Ipswich representative match would be played the following week at the Showgrounds, with the reserve grade Grand Final replay as the curtain raiser. (Sunday Mail, 30/8/1942, p9).

The replay was played on the No. 2 oval at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground with QRI winning 18-14, denying Brothers the double premiership. The QRI side was christened the ‘Three-don’t-team’ by a clearly impressed Truth after their Grand Final victory:

“The three don’ts are: They don’t turn up to practice, they don’t train and they don’t lose matches [they must have forgotten those two semi-final losses]. Here’s a final don’t, R.I. Don’t lose the services of mentor-coach, Jack Olrich.” (Truth, 6/9/1942, p7.)

The BRL hosted their presentation night in late October 1942 where the QRI side was awarded the Victory Cup Premiership trophy that we now have at the museum.

Football Blog - Image 2The recently donated Premiership trophy awarded to the side from the Brisbane Rugby League association in October 1942.

The 1942 Brisbane Rugby League season is a fine example of determination overcoming significant adversity, an adversity that, at the time, Australia had never previously come close to experiencing. As I’m writing this now, we are in the midst of the greatest challenge faced by many of us in our lifetimes. Perhaps the only thing we have in our soon-to-be-extinguished living memory that we can reference is how Australia overcame the challenges it faced during the Second World War.

Although obviously a completely different equation to what we’re facing now, I found learning about how these administrators managed to stage these competitions during such difficult times an inspiration. There are greater things at stake than football at the moment, but through history we might learn a bit more about ourselves and how we overcame great obstacles in the past. Whether we see football again in Australia this year remains to be seen, but our clubs and codes have overcome countless challenges over the years, and if history tells us anything, they’ll overcome this most recent challenge too.

*A note on scoring: Many of you younger readers might be thinking that with all the odd number final scores in this article that these teams must have been field goal happy. That’s not the case. In the past rugby league had a different points system – tries were worth three points with conversions, penalty kicks and field goals all awarded two points.

Rob Shiels
Collection Manager, The Workshops Rail Museum

Title image caption: The all conquering Queensland Railway Institute Reserve Grade Premiership team photograph. Queensland Museum Network/Queensland Rail Collection.

Remembrance Day… Ipswich Railway Workshops Memorial

Written by: Geraldine Mate, Senior Curator, The Workshops Rail Museum

In the last two months, the grounds at The Workshops Rail Museum have been reminiscent of scenes almost 100 years ago. Our heritage listed War Memorial has been undergoing a face-lift, with the installation of new paving and walkways. Watching the transformation, the busyness of the construction workers has evoked the activities that would have surrounded the construction of the Memorial in 1919.

The monument was conceived of in 1915 and from there plans were put in place to raise funds for the memorial. The collection of monies was overseen by management at the site and, from the outset, the plan was to make a memorial for “shop-mates” who had gone to the front from the Workshops. In order to give it due importance, the memorial was to be placed in a prominent position outside the Dining Hall[i].  By 1917 the fund was well advanced, and on the 15th of July 1919, construction commenced[ii].

Queensland Railway Architect Vincent Price designed the monument and the memorial itself was made by several firms. The base and column were made by Andrew Petrie of Toowong, the commemorative plaques, including the railway coat of arms, were cast by Charles Handford of Brisbane, and the statue was sculpted by John Whitehead and Sons, London.

On the 27th of September 1919, a crowd of over 2000 people assembled at the Ipswich Railway Workshops in North Ipswich to witness the unveiling of a memorial dedicated to “the Officers, Non-commissioned Officers and Men who left these Works to fight for King and Empire” in World War 1. There were over three hundred names on the memorial, including the thirty-one men who did not return. The Memorial was unveiled by the then Governor of Queensland, Major Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams and his wife, with other guests including Mrs Lily Ryan, the wife of Premier T.J. Ryan, the Mayor of Ipswich Alderman Easton, Archbishop Donaldson, the first Archbishop of Brisbane, and the Commissioner of Railways J.W. Davidson. The Governor’s wife, Lady Goold-Adams, was presented a posy by Bella Martin, the daughter of one of the men from the Workshops, Private Martin, who had lost his life in the war. Along with a day of speeches and activities, the event was also marked by a printed program given to attendees.

Unveiling Ceremony of the Memorial at the Ipswich Railway Workshops, September 1919.
Unveiling Ceremony of the Memorial at the Ipswich Railway Workshops, September 1919.

Official Souvenir Programme of the unveiling of the Memorial.
Official Souvenir Programme of the unveiling of the Memorial.

In itself, the erection of a war memorial in 1919 was not a particularly unusual event. Over 280 similarly styled memorials with obelisks, plinths and/or statues were constructed to mark the Great War, and opened with attendant ceremony. What made this memorial important at the Railway Workshops was the commitment of workers from the Workshops to the erection of the monument. In 2016, workers at the Ipswich Railway Workshops continue to mark the contributions of their predecessors with Queensland Rail workshops staff restoring the commemorative plaque as part of the work being conducted on the Memorial.

This week another Remembrance Day is commemorated. As we stand in the shadow of the “Digger” statue at the Workshops, it is worth reflecting on the strong public sentiment that surrounded the efforts of those that went to war. In 1915 that public view was strong enough to encourage railway families in Ipswich to contribute to a memorial when they had little to spare, and in 1919 enough to see a remarkable unveiling ceremony to commemorate their sacrifice.

Memorial at The Workshops Rail Museum.
Memorial at The Workshops Rail Museum.

[i] Queensland Times 16 June 1915, p 7 “Ipswich Railway Workshops: Memorial for Fallen Soldiers”.

[ii] Queensland Times 15 July 1919, p 5 “Ipswich Workshops: memorial”.

Pompey’s next chapter

Written by: Rob Shiels, Assistant Collection Manager, The Workshops Rail Museum

In July 2016, Pompey, the black locomotive in the grounds at The Workshops Rail Museum will be moved to an undercover area at the Museum.

Pompey has been a popular display item since the Museum opened in 2002 and has been climbed on by thousands of adults and children alike in the last 14 years. Pompey has also held pride of place at the front of the Ipswich Railway Workshops complex since the early 1970s (only periodically being removed for restoration work).

Pompey out the front at the Ipswich Railway Workshops, 1985. Collection of The Workshops Rail Museum/Queensland Rail.

However, 14 years in the Queensland weather will have an impact on even the sturdiest of objects. Therefore in the best interests of preserving Pompey, the locomotive will be moved from the grounds and put undercover. Eventually a full cosmetic restoration on Pompey will be completed but in the meantime the locomotive will be housed in the 8-9-10 road section of the Museum where visitors will be able to see it on display (and Pompey will remain an active participant in the Day Out with Thomas events).

Pompey is a very significant object to the Ipswich Railway Workshops site as it was used as The Workshops shunter between 1953 and the early 1970s. We believe it was affectionately named ‘Pompey’ because it threw sparks when shunting, reminding the men of a volcano, and the locomotive was thus named after the site of the famous volcano Mount Vesuvius that erupted in Ancient Roman times at Pompeii.

Pomepy shunting at IRW 1970_SM
Pompey shunting at the Ipswich Railway Workshops May 1970. Photographer Brian Martin.

Museum practice has changed since Pompey was last restored and installed in front of the Museum in 2002. In more recent times Museums aim to display and store objects in areas that have some environmental controls. The Museum is dedicated to restoring Pompey and when this work is completed Pompey will likely remain inside the Museum rather than return to the grounds. As a Museum it is our job to protect and care for Queensland’s treasures and by restoring and caring for Pompey inside will help us to preserve this very significant locomotive so future generations can continue to enjoy its story.

See Pompey’s record on the Queensland Museum’s online collections here.

Pompey 2002
Pompey being installed in the grounds of The Workshops Rail Museum, 2002. Photographer David Mewes.

See a snapshot of Pompey being moved:


Anticipation in Ipswich

Written by: David Mews, Curator, The Workshops Rail Museum

Whenever I drive over the Bremer River bridge on the Warrego Highway, I imagine the little paddle steamers as they chugged their way to Ipswich or back to Brisbane. This year celebrates the 150 years of Queensland Rail and my imagination takes me back in time trying to picture what it must have been like.

Ipswich residents had witnessed the turning of the first sod on 1 February 1864 at North Ipswich to mark the beginning of construction of a railway from Ipswich to the Darling Downs. Regular updates on construction progress would appear in the local newspaper, the Queensland Times.

There was a significant increase in traffic on the Bremer River as the many paddle steamers busily plied back and forth between Brisbane and Ipswich transporting the material and equipment necessary to build a railway and the hundreds of migrant workers from Ireland and Britain to act as navvies to build the railway. Skilled engineers were also to be found amongst those coming from the Mother Country.

A busy industrial complex appeared almost overnight during 1864 as the first railway workshops were built on the north bank of the Bremer River where the Riverlink shopping centre now stands. It would have been a hive of activity with the paddle steamers arriving at the Railway Wharf to unload their cargo of railway material. Buildings were erected while workmen assembled the locomotives and rolling stock needed for the railway. The first of the four locomotives had arrived from England in November 1864 aboard the Black Ball Line ship Queen of the South. This locomotive was first placed in steam on 11 January 1865.

The Queensland Times for 17 January 1865 reported on construction progress for a number of bridges including the major bridge over the Bremer River which would create a rail and road link between the Ipswich central business district, North Ipswich, Toowoomba and the Darling Downs.

Paddle steamer, ‘Emu’, docked at the wharves at Ipswich around 1870. Image sourced from Picture Queensland, State Library of Queensland.

The regular steam whistles of the paddle boats had by now been joined by the whistles of the four small A Class locomotives as they were tested and placed in service to transport track and bridge material from the Railway Wharf at North Ipswich to the head of track construction as well as the many navvies working on the new railway.

The anticipation of the Ipswich population must have been building by May 1865 as the time was approaching when the first section of railway in Queensland was expected to be opened. The public must have been disappointed when the Queensland Times on the 29 June 1865 announced that the railway would not be ready for the proposed opening date of 11 July as had been previously announced. The reason given was the rate of progress was slower than expected. Construction continued with the local population keen to be present on the opening day.

During those early years of railway construction, the ceaseless journeys of those paddle steamers between Brisbane and Ipswich and the toil of the navvies and early railway engineers live on only in my imagination. The opening of the first railway was to be a major event for Queensland.

Behind the scenes of exhibition development: In three dimensions and full colour

Written by: Geraldine Mate, Senior Curator, The Workshops Rail Museum

One of the most exciting parts of pulling an exhibition together is seeing an idea that has been in your head turn into a full colour, three-dimensional solid entity.  A lot of time goes into the writing of text for labels and panels, the identification and selection of objects and choosing from the myriad of photographs available.

Continue reading Behind the scenes of exhibition development: In three dimensions and full colour

Homebush turns 100

Written by: David Mewes, Curator, The Workshops Rail Museum

During my holidays in August 1968 I had the opportunity to see and hear the famed 610 mm gauge Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0 steam locomotives used by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company at their sugar mills in Queensland and Fiji. The last ten of these locomotives at that time worked in the Ingham District at the CSR Victoria and Macknade mills. The oldest was also the smallest, the Homebush, built in 1914. The remainder ranged in size and weight with the last built in 1953 being the largest and most powerful. Continue reading Homebush turns 100