Category Archives: The Workshops Rail Museum

Henry Lawson’s other skill

Henry Lawson remains one of Australia’s best known poets and authors a century after his death. Poems such as ‘The Lights of Cobb & Co’, ‘The Teams’ and ‘Andy’s Gone with Cattle’, and short stories like ‘Joe Wilson and his Mates’ flowed from his pen. His face has adorned banknotes and stamps.

Henry Lawson’s life was glorious and tragic in equal measure. At once blessed with insight and eloquence, humour and empathy, he was also cursed with melancholy loneliness and alcoholism. As a young man in the 1880s he struggled to overcome a limited education and the isolation of profound deafness. Yet, in the vernacular of the day, he was not without prospects. Henry Lawson was a skilled tradesman; a coach painter.

Henry became apprenticed as a 16-year-old in 1883 to Hudson Brothers, a large construction and railway engineering company with over 1000 staff. He learned his trade painting railway carriages and wagons at Hudson Brothers new workshops at Clyde (Granville) in Sydney, and for a time at their Newcastle works. Henry seems to have been at least proficient, as he considered Hudson Brothers good employers who ‘imported the best mechanics and treated and paid them well.’ [1] (However he may have had a rough time with his foreman at Newcastle.)

A railway carriage built by Hudson Bros. in the 1880s. Image State Library of New South Wales.
Hudon Bros. workshops at Clyde (Granville) in Sydney. Image State Library of New South Wales.

Henry subsequently worked for coachbuilder William Kerridge in Castlereagh Street Sydney, the home of ‘quality’ coachmakers such as Vial’s and Angus and Sons. Kerridge’s carriages regularly won prizes at the Sydney Show, and William Kerridge himself sometimes judged carriage classes. Indeed he was regarded highly enough to be made chairman of a coachbuilder’s conference in 1886. (Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Dec 1886. p8).  Henry Lawson later described William Kerridge as ‘an old fashioned tradesman and gentleman’ who had some employees with him for over 30 years. And in return William Kerridge wrote Henry a reference describing him as ‘a steady, trustworthy, hardworking, young man.’ This was certainly a description at odds with Henry Lawson’s later decline into alcoholism and poor mental health.

Coach painting was quite an involved trade to learn. Paints did not come premixed. Painters ground coloured ochre, and blended white lead base powder with linseed oil, terebene hardener, varnish and other mysterious additives. The trade at the time seemed somewhere between science and alchemy. Coach painters painted, sanded and rubbed back coat after coat of paint to produce glossy finishes. It took over a week to properly paint a carriage. Painters could ‘pull’ fine straight lines, paint intricate scrolls, and even produce signage and lettering on trade vehicles. For this they were paid at the same rate as the blacksmiths, body makers, and upholstery trimmers, and even a little more in some shops than the wheelwrights, although apprentices were paid only a fraction of the tradesman’s rate. (SMH, 11 June 1884. p12.)

Paint recipes from The Coach Painter’s Handbook and Guide, Henry J Drane.
A popular brand of paint provided the inspiration for Arvie’s surname.

Unfortunately ill winds were blowing towards Henry Lawson, the carriage industry and the country. The carriage conference William Kerridge chaired in 1886 discussed the effects of drought and cheap imported components on the trade. And an economic depression which even consumed the huge Hudson Brothers business was just around the corner. In 1890 William Kerridge closed the doors of his Castlereagh Street workshop but Henry Lawson had already moved on. He had studied at night while an apprentice in the unsuccessful hope of matriculating to university. A life of letters called.

In the late 1880s he was house painting for money but also establishing his name as a poet. Poems such as ‘Faces in the Street’ (1888) and ‘Second Class Wait Here’ (1899) depict the circles Henry moved in at the time, amongst Sydney’s poor in tenement slums. (Today properties in Phillip Street where he lived for a time and Castlereagh Street are amongst the most expensive in Australia.)

Although he considered Hudson Brothers good and fair employers, Henry Lawson drew on his time as an apprentice coach painter as the setting for two of his darkest short stories; ‘Two Boys at Grinder Brothers’’ and ‘Arvie Aspinall’s Alarm Clock’. Arvie Aspinall, is a very young apprentice at Grinder Brothers’ Railway Coach Factory. He tries to help his widowed mother pay the bills, but they still struggle to make ends meet. Arvie has neither the time nor money for interests outside of work believing… ‘it would be better if young fellows of this country didn’t think so much about racin’ and fightin’.’[2] His subcontractor boss Collins underpays the underage apprentice ‘babies’ and works them beyond the standard hours. And he preaches in the park on Sunday.

Arvie is given an alarm clock by a benevolent society after it was reported in a local paper that he was found sleeping outside the factory, having arrived for work in the dark with no way of telling the time.[3] The benevolent society as it turns out is supported by the Grinder family, but their charity is paid for by the labour of those they purport to help, and only extends so far as to keep the workforce ‘grinding’ on in poverty.

On the face of Arvie’s clock are the words,

Early to bed and early to rise
Makes a man healthy wealthy and wise.

‘“Mother!” he said suddenly, “I think it lies.”’ Young Arvie, suffering from overwork, malnutrition and an untreated chest infection dies shortly after in his sleep.[4]

Henry Lawson was writing in the depths of the 1890s economic depression which exacerbated the plight of an already poor underclass. The stories are a reminder that ‘The Wonders of the Victorian Age’ in our museums, such as the railway rolling stock at the Workshops Rail Museum, were produced by a multitude of long forgotten Arvie Aspinalls working long hours, six days a week. And the urban coach painters, blacksmiths, coachbuilders and wheelwrights who built the carriages in Cobb + Co Museum almost never owned one themselves.

Jeff Powell
Curator, Cobb+Co Museum

[1] A Fragment of Autobiography

[2] Two Boys at Grinder Brothers

[3] Arvie Aspinall’s Alarm Clock

[4] Ibid


Geoff Barker, 2018 ‘Hudson Brothers’ Building & Engineering Company’. State Library of NSW.

Henry J Drane, 1896 The Coach Painter’s Handbook and Guide, London. Reproduced in Harness, Vehicles, Timber and Coach-Painting, Dene Bindery, Liverpool NSW 1980.

Ross Edmonds, ‘Henry Lawson and the Wickham School of Arts’, Hunter Living Histories, University of Newcastle.

Peter FitzSimonds, ‘From the Archive’, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Jan

Henry Lawson, ‘Arvie Aspinall’s Alarm Clock’ first appeared in The Bulletin, 11 June 1892, page 11. Also 1896, While the Billy Boils. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.

Henry Lawson, A Fragment of Autobiography (vol 2) 1899. Angus & Robertson Manuscripts, State Library of NSW.

Henry Lawson, 1900 ‘Two Boys at Grinder Brothers’, Over the Sliprails. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.

Mike Scanlon, ‘Henry Lawson link should be marked.’ Newscastle Herald, 14 March 2014.

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   


For decades across the Queensland Museum Network, hundreds of volunteers have generously given their time and knowledge to ensure visitors to our museums enjoy an experience to remember.

This year for National Volunteer Week, we celebrate the theme, “Changing Communities. Changing Lives”. We know our volunteers do exactly that, with visitors often speaking of the lasting impression left after an encounter or tour with a ‘volly’.

This year we would like to say thank you, and acknowledge the generous contribution of all volunteers by sharing a few favourite memories from across our campuses.

Marylin Jensen OAM, volunteer at Cobb+Co Museum in Toowoomba.

Cobb+Co Museum

Marilyn Jensen OAM has been volunteering at Cobb+Co Museum for over a year now. After retiring, Marilyn thought it would be an opportunity to promote craft skills that are simple to do, and encourage others to have a go or join a group in their local area.

“My favourite time at Cobb+Co Museum is every time I’m there, as every day brings new questions and people asking them,” she says.

“It’s the pleasure of helping someone else know and learn something new.

“It’s a pleasure to show someone how a natural fibre is processed to a useful garment, and encouraging people to have a go and be happy, and enjoy life and our wonderful community groups and museum.”

Kyle Harmer, volunteer at The Workshops Rail Museum in Ipswich.

The Workshops Rail Museum

Kyle Harmer started out at The Workshops Rail Museum as a volunteer two years ago. Graduating to a Visitor Service Officer within a year, Kyle still also volunteers his time as one of the Museum’s expert model builders, working on the museum’s model railway – the largest of its kind, depicting scenes from Queensland’s extensive rail network.

Kylie has many great memories from his time volunteering at the museum, but one that stands out in particular.

“Whilst rejuvenating the model one day a young visitor came up to me and said ‘that’s what I want to do when I grow up!’”.

“That was really cool.”

Mike Saw, volunteer at the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville.

Museum of Tropical Queensland

Mike Whiting started volunteering at the Museum of Tropical Queensland in 2001. He said while there have been many changes of staff, displays and volunteers over the years, a very significant change has been the introduction of special and in-depth training given to help volunteers present stories accurately and confidently to visitors of the museum.

“I have so many memories but probably my favourite was confidently giving my first and special talk on the “Three Incredible Small Boat Stories,” he said. 

“What makes being a volunteer worthwhile is just being able to help our visitors understand more about of all the museum’s diverse displays, which cover topics such as maritime history, palaeontology, biodiversity and marine biology!

“It is such a wide range of topics and it’s all important information that is relevant to North Queensland.”

Janice Neill, volunteer at Queensland Museum in Brisbane.

Queensland Museum

Janice Neill has been a volunteer with Queensland Museum since 2012, when the museum celebrated 150 years of connecting and collecting.

“We now have extra space to host larger exhibitions, but staff still have the same dedication to share their enormous wealth of knowledge with volunteers and visitors,” she said. 

Janet has many fond memories from travelling exhibitions and displays, but also appreciates the smaller, simple moments inside the museum’s walls.

“Every day is an exciting day talking to the school groups in the Discovery Centre and recently the Discovery Day for Little Learners.”

If you would like to become a volunteer at any of our campuses, please complete the online Volunteer Expression of Interest form.

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.

5 minutes with Rob Shiels, Collection Manager from The Workshops Rail Museum

Today’s #CouchCurator is the Collection Manager from The Workshops Rail Museum – Rob Shiels who is sharing some of the most interesting items from his collection, along with his favourites. 

Rob Shiels, Collection Manager, The Workshops Rail Museum

Railways are a fantastic area of research because they have had such a profound impact on the way the world has developed since the mid-19th Century. In Queensland numerous towns and communities owe their origin to the laying of the railway throughout the state.  Being a Collection Manager at The Workshops Rail Museum is a very rewarding job because you get to work with history everyday. I’m a real history buff and everyday I get to learn about how things worked and use to be. That history in turn translates into a better understanding of why things are like they are today because of who we use to be in the past.

What is your favourite object in the collection and why?

My favourite object in the collection would have to be the Hunslet Locomotive No.327 because I oversaw the restoration of the locomotive from 2012 – 2018 and I feel extremely proud to have been involved in the project. It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to return a 100-year-old locomotive to its original appearance.

What is the rarest item in your collection?

The most rare item would have to be the Silk Address, it’s the Inauguration of the Works of the First Queensland Railway. It marks the actual beginning of building the first railway in Queensland – it doesn’t get anymore important than that for us at the railway museum.

What is the most common item in your collection?

The most common is pay tins. Everyone had one in the railways, and gee we must have nearly all of them. This tray of pay tins was used at the Central Division pay office in Rockhampton.

What is the biggest item in your collection?

The largest object is the English Electric 90 ton Diesel

Do you have an interesting fact to share about something in your collection?

It took on average 300 hours for German model locomotive company Bockholt to make each of their models. There are over 40 different Bockholt models in the T-House Collection. Here’s a fine example.


Queensland’s Cavity Express

Between 1929 and 1984, the Queensland Government provided regional communities with dental care by running specifically designed dentistry clinic carriages. The train consisted of a waiting room, two dental studios and a private living section in one carriage while the second carriage consisted of a storage area and a trailer compartment for a motor vehicle. This meant that, in addition to treating patients on board, the train could pull into a regional station and then the dentists could travel further out to communities and schools beyond the railway line. They even had portable dental chairs and drills that they could pack into the motor vehicle.

In 1948 a series of pictures was taken by the Commonwealth Department of Information that documented the work of dentist Mr J Kilby and his dental assistant and wife Mrs Kilby, and their life on board the dental train. In their living area, they had two bunks (it was the 1940s after all…), a kitchen, pantry, shower, toilet, and even a hanging garden.

In Australia in the 1940s it was estimated that by the age of 18 only one in ten people had ‘good teeth’. Resources around the nation were poured into improving the dental health of children and in Queensland, outreach care included dental trucks and a flying dentist service to complement the dental trains. In one year, it was reported that Mr and Mrs Kilby treated over 30,000 people from their railway dental surgery.

Rob Shiels
Collection Manager, The Workshops Rail Museum

Title image caption: Twelve year old Eileen Russell being tremendously brave while husband and wife dental duo, Mr & Mrs Kilby, clean her teeth, 1948. Queensland Museum Network Collection.

Aircraft repairs at the Railway Workshops

One hundred years ago, spare parts for aircraft were difficult to find. There were few operational aircraft in Australia, and the new era of air travel was only just dawning around the world. So when Sir Ross Smith and Sir Keith Smith needed new engine components and a new propeller for their Vickers Vimy, in which they had become the first people to fly from England to Australia, they received an offer from Queensland Rail to manufacture the required parts at the Ipswich Railway Workshops. The required repairs resulted in a month of public engagements in Brisbane and further celebrations for the flight crew.

On 12 November 1919, pilots and brothers Ross and Keith Smith, with mechanics Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett, left Hounslow, near London, bound for Darwin in their Vickers Vimy bi-plane bomber, carrying the registration ‘G.E.A.O.U’, known as ‘God ‘Elp All Of Us.’ The aircraft, with its two Rolls Royce Eagle Mark VIII engines, carried the crew 17,910 kilometres across France, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia through difficult weather and landing conditions at an average speed of 137kph. They landed successfully in Darwin on 10 December and claimed the £10,000 prize awarded by the Commonwealth government as the first crew to fly from England to Darwin.

PlaneThe Vickers Vimy and crew with visitors in Darwin, December 1919. Thomas Macleod Queensland Aviation Collection, Queensland Museum Network.

Although they managed to complete the arduous flight from England to Australia in just 28 days, it took them almost twice as long to make their way from Darwin to Sydney. With the tired engines needing an overhaul but the wet season looming, the crew pushed on out of Darwin, hoping to reach Sydney in 5 days. However, after 11 days in hot conditions and with numerous running repairs, the damaged port-side propeller had split through and when leaving Charleville, there was a bang and a flash of fire out of the port-side engine and multiple parts were needed to repair it.

Offers of assistance came in from around the country. Famous overlander Francis Birtles said he could drive a new propeller and parts from Sydney. The Vickers Vimy crew sought spare parts around Australia, but could not secure what was necessary, knowing what they needed could be shipped from London. The Defence Department offered some of their aircraft so that the crew could complete their flight to Sydney and the other capital cities, leaving the Vickers Vimy behind. In the end, Ross Smith accepted the offer of assistance from James Walker Davidson, Commissioner for Railways, for new parts to be manufactured at the Ipswich Railway Workshops so that the Vimy could be repaired and complete its journey.

CraneDamaged Vickers Vimy engine being loaded for rail transport to Ipswich. Thomas Macleod Queensland Aviation Collection, Queensland Museum Network.

Vickers Vimy campVickers Vimy camp, awaiting repairs near Charleville. Thomas Macleod Queensland Aviation Collection, Queensland Museum Network.

The damaged engine and propeller were loaded on to rail cars and they arrived, along with Ross and Keith Smith, and mechanic Jim Bennett in Ipswich on 2 January 1920. Chief Mechanical Engineer C F Pemberton took supervision of the engine and propeller when they arrived at the Ipswich Workshops. Accounts suggest that Jim Bennett stayed at the Workshops as he was never far from the engine. Sir Ross and Sir Keith stayed at Bellevue Homestead.

The Workshops staff set to work on their projects. They did not have patterns or drawings to work from for the propeller or the engine connecting rods, so they were required to make exact copies based on the existing parts in front of them. According to Workshops records, the Pattern Shop used “nine layers of Queensland maple, stuck together with hot animal glue” to make the new propeller. The alloy connecting rods were forged with the same attention to detail and the Workshops built a stand for the engine and propeller to be tested on.

PropellerThe new propeller with Ipswich Railway Workshops Pattern Shop staff Guy Page, Clem Boyd, Frank Hazlewood, foreman J Millar, and Vickers Vimy crew mechanic Jim Bennet. Queensland Museum Network/Queensland Rail.

Damaged Propeller piecesPattern Maker Guy Page souvenired two pieces of timber from the damaged Vimy propeller and made them into straight edges, using them for his trade at the Workshops. H11250. Photos by Peter Waddington, Queensland Museum Network.

Valve inletA valve inlet believed to have been souvenired from the damaged Rolls Royce engine during its time at the Ipswich Workshops for repairs. H295. Photo by Peter Waddington, Queensland Museum Network.

Queensland MapleAnother souvenir from the airmen’s visit to Brisbane, a small block of Queensland Maple, signed on one side by Sir Keith Smith and on the other by Sir Ross Smith. Thomas Macleod Queensland Aviation Collection H22425. Queensland Museum Network.

While the work was underway, Brisbane took its opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the crew. Sir Ross Smith’s and Sir Keith Smith’s public engagements included a dinner at Government House, a reception at Brisbane Town Hall with Mayor Alderman McMaster, luncheons with The Returned Soldiers’ League and at the Queensland Club, dinner at the United Service Institution, and the presentation of an illuminated address by the King and Empire Alliance.

On 12 January, the aviators were entertained at a dinner held in their honour by the Queensland Section of the Australian Aero Club. As the Brisbane Courier described:

The distinguished aviators were entertained at a dinner at the Belle Vue Hotel last night by the Queensland Section of the Australian Aero Club, Mr J J Knight (president) occupying the chair. The table was appropriately decorated with the Australian Flying Corps’ colours – royal blue, maroon, and light blue – streamers being suspended from a shield, with the motto ‘Per ardua ad astra’, to the ends of the table. Overhead was a line of triangular shields, with the names of all the stopping places along the line of route. A miniature Vickers Vimy aeroplane was electrically driven over the heads of the guests, and on arrival at the end where the Australian Arms were displayed was greeted by the band playing ‘Australia Will Be There’. The table was decorated with crimson roses and candles softened with red, white and blue shades. The toasts honoured were ‘The King’, ‘Our Guests’ and ‘Future Aviation in Australia’. A tribute was paid to the distinguished airmen by Major Macleod, O.B.E., Lieut. Bowden Fletcher, D.F.C., Major V D Bell, O.B.E., and the chairman, this being the first gathering of airmen to greet the aviators in Australia, a number of those present being comrades of the guests Sir Ross’s and Sir Keith’s speeches were particularly appropriate.

Signed MenuSigned menu for the Australian Aero Club, Queensland Section, dinner congratulating Sir Ross Smith and Sir Keith Smith, held at Hotel Belle Vue on 12 January 1920. Thomas Macleod Queensland Aviation Collection, Queensland Museum Network.

Rangoon BadgeSigned table decoration, representing one of the stops on the Vickers Vimy flight from the Australian Aero Club, Queensland Section, dinner congratulating Sir Ross Smith and Sir Keith Smith, held at Hotel Belle Vue on 12 January 1920. Thomas Macleod Queensland Aviation Collection, Queensland Museum Network.

With the propeller and engine repairs complete, it was decided to hold a public test of the assembly at the Workshops on Saturday 31 January 1920, from 3:00pm. A special train was arranged to bring the public from Ipswich Station to the Workshops, and admission of sixpence (6d) was charged with proceeds going to the Ipswich Hospital and Ambulance Funds. It is estimated that a crowd of over 1000 people attended the engine test, as it was reported that 28 pounds, seven shillings, and threepence was raised in admission.

On what became known as ‘the day of the big wind’, the Queensland Times reported “Sergeant Bennett was seen making several adjustments adjacent to the engine. The object thereof was revealed a couple of seconds later when the propeller assumed a wonderfully increased rate of speed, which was accompanied by a dinning whir.” The success of the engine repairs were proved in the running of the engine from most of the afternoon, with the crowd impressed by its loud roar and cyclonic wind blast.

Engine TestingCrowd gathered at the Ipswich Railway Workshops to view the engine testing, 31 January 1920. Thomas Macleod Queensland Aviation Collection, Queensland Museum Network.

TicketTrain ticket to view the engine testing at the Ipswich Railway Workshops, 31 January 1920. Queensland Museum Network.

The engine, propeller, and crew returned to Charleville by train and proceeded on their route to Sydney where more celebrations were held in their honour. Their unscheduled stops in Queensland had proved entertaining and interesting to the public in Brisbane and Ipswich, who had seen little of aviation at that time. One hundred years later, an average of 2,977 domestic aircraft and 729 international aircraft move through Brisbane Airport each week.

Jennifer Wilson
Senior Curator
The Workshops Rail Museum