Tag Archives: history

A Toy Train for Christmas

“I remember clearly the Christmas my parents decided I was old enough to have a model railway all of my own. Saturday mornings were spent in the local hobby shop. I was awe struck by the rows of gleaming model locomotives in glass display cabinets, with little handwritten price tags propped up neatly next to each engine. The present I opened up on Christmas day was a complete surprise, I missed the Hornby Train set high up on a shelf in the shop containing a little blue steam engine (that I named Bob) a few goods wagons and a circle of track. It was magic and the start of something much bigger” – David Hampton, Curator of Transport, The Workshops Rail Museum.

For many train travel and Christmas are closely linked. The excitement of train trips home to spend the holidays with family and friends conjure up fond memories. For more than a century trains were the way most people completed long distance travel. Letters, cards and gifts also crossed the country by rail, connecting people across vast distances and communicating love and well wishes between those that couldn’t be together for Christmas.

For others, like myself, the origins of a lifelong passion for railways began with the gift of a toy train for Christmas. The tradition of giving toy and model trains as Christmas presents is almost as old as the railways themselves, tracing the advance of technology and changing tastes in leisure activities. Originally marketed as toys for boys, today model railways are a pastime enjoyed by people of all ages the world over. The trains themselves, once robust and simple caricatures are now delicate and detailed scale models representing as accurately as possible the real thing.

The Workshops Rail Museum in Ipswich is home to hundreds of model and toy trains, most of which are held safely in the museum’s collection store. However, as Christmas treat I’ve gone through the collection and picked out some of my favourites to share with you.

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Until the First World War toy trains were large, expensive and exclusive. Most were made in Germany and were play things for the rich. They were mostly powered by clockwork mechanisms or live steam.

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Things changed after the war. German made goods fell from favour and mass production made toy trains more affordable. A demand for British made products inspired Frank Hornby –creator of Meccano – to branch out into toy trains in the early 1920s.

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Hornby became one of the most popular toy train brands in the world.  Produced in O Gauge the range developed into a comprehensive toy railway system that included locomotives (available with either electric or clockwork mechanisms), rolling stock, track, signals, buildings, figures and scenery.

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But even in the 1920s people were running out of room as houses and living spaces became smaller. The toy trains available took up the floor of a room for even a basic railway set up. An early attempt to make a more compact railway system was the Bing Table Top Railway, which as its name suggests could be set up and played with on the dining room table.

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After the war toys were still scarce. In Australia brothers George and Bill Ferris couldn’t find train sets to buy their children for Christmas 1946. They decided instead that their car radio business would start manufacturing their own range of O gauge trains. Ferris Electric Trains was one of a number of small ventures that made toy trains in Australia in the 1940s and 1950s. These toys were based largely on Australian trains – the first time models of trains running on Australian tracks were made in commercial quantities.

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As technologies and manufacturing techniques changed in the 1950s, so too did model railways. Trains were being made in plastic rather than tin, smaller scales like HO/OO became more popular and the old O gauge trains fell from favour.

By the 1960s model trains were struggling to adapt to changing tastes and interests. The influence of television, cheap imported toys and declining interest in railways contributed to companies like Hornby suffering financial difficulties and eventually closing down.

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Despite this decline in popularity model trains endured. Marketing shifted from toys for children to accurate and detailed models for serious collectors. Models Railways became a pass time for model builders, researchers and enthusiasts.

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Model train collections come in all shapes and sizes. One of the most remarkable collections in Australia is that of business man Marsden Williams. Mr Williams amassed a collection of 20,000 individual pieces of rolling stock in various scales from across the world between the 1970s and 1990s. After Mr Marsden passed away half of this collection was donated to the Workshops Rail Museum.

Until the 28th of January 2019 visitors to Cobb & Co Museum in Toowoomba can see a small display of Marsden’s collection including locomotives from Europe, America and Japan. Out at the Workshops Rail Museum in Ipswich the process of researching and conserving the various collections of model and toy trains in the museum’s care continues behind the scenes. Out on the museum floor an enormous model based on the railways of Queensland operates every day, capturing the imagination of visitors young and old. I wonder if there is a future Curator of Transport amongst them.

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A Man From Glamorganvale

Mephisto, the world’s only remaining German First World War tank is without doubt a unique and fascinating object. Visitors come from across the world to see it, and many words have been written about it. It is also a treasured object to many Queenslanders who remember it out the front of the old Museum on Gregory Terrace, or lurking menacingly in the Dinosaur Garden of Queensland Museum at Southbank. But it is also close to the hearts of Museum staff and volunteers – one more than most.

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Lance Barrett, Queensland Museum Volunteer, 2018.

My name is Lance Barrett, and I am a Front of House volunteer, meeting and greeting the public when they visit the museum. My paternal Grandfather William Joseph “Bill” Barrett played a part in the history of the Mephisto tank. As my grandfather passed away some years ago, I am only now coming to realise the significance of his experiences. During the 1980s my grandfather was interviewed by Queensland Museum and attended a function here but I would have been busy working at my job at Telstra then and missed it. Years later, when I joined the Sciencentre and the Museum, I began to understand that he was actually present around the time of the capture of the Mephisto and was interviewed when he was 90 about his experiences.

My grandfather enlisted in 1916, a boy from Glamorganvale, just 18 years old and fresh of the farm when he signed up. Before leaving he planted a number of Moreton Bag Fig seeds in the plot on his family farm, in case the worst should happen. By March 1917 he was on the Western Front, was wounded in battle at Broodseinde (Belgium) and returned to his unit in France in July 1918. In October he was transferred to the 26th Battalion who retrieved the tank and sent it on its way to Brisbane. At the interview with then Queensland Museum Curator, Mark Whitmore, my grandfather spoke about how he saw Mephisto when he was relieving troops holding an outpost beyond the tank.

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William Joseph “Bill” Barrett, circa 1916.

In my role as a Front of House volunteer I regularly visited the display Courage of Ordinary Men. It made me think about my grandfather’s war experience, and really personalised the First World War for me. In 2012 my Dad visited the European battlefields, including Villers-Bretonneux, to see where his father had fought. When he brought home photos, it made me feel so connected with my grandfather and his experiences. Added to this, other relatives have served in the military over the years, including both World Wars and Vietnam. One distant cousin received a DCM in World War 2, and my Dad served in peace time. With all these family connections, and talking to visitors to the Courage of Ordinary Men exhibition, I felt everything fall into place because so many of my relatives have served our country – a family history of service. I have wondered whether I could do that – it seems to me the ultimate bravery.

Members of the Barrett family in 1986, with Mephisto. L to R : Darrell and Elaine Barrett (nee Harding), Barbara Douglas (nee Barrett), Elaine Barrett, Bill Barrett (centre), Glenda Barrett, Vivian Griffiths and Kelvin Barrett.

Now, when I talk to visitors about war time, I challenge them to think about what it really meant for the men and women who served. And today as I look at Mephisto, newly installed in the Anzac Legacy Gallery, I find myself thinking again of my grandfather, standing at an outpost on the Western Front, looking across at this tank, just after it had been captured. And once again feel that wonderful connection to my grandfather, William Joseph “Bill” Barrett. I think about our family, my Aunts and Uncles, most of who are still with us, who are so proud of Grandad, their Dad, and his role in the First World War.

Queensland Museum Guide To The Gifts That Keep On Giving

December is here and the festive season has already begun! At Queensland Museum Shop you’ll find timeless, high-quality pieces and a huge range of unique gifts for your family. To help you win the ‘best gift-giver’ title, we’ve hand-picked special objects and curated gift guides tailored to all ages, curiosities, loves and passions.

Every purchase supports the important work we do at Queensland Museum and helps us care for our precious collections, bring you amazing exhibitions and experiences, and tell fascinating Queensland stories.

For the Water Warrior who soaks up marine life like a sea sponge:

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If you know someone crazy for the big blue, they’ll love these oceanic gifts. Our educational books feature breath-taking imagery of marine life with a focus on Queensland’s rich coastal diversity. For the little scientist, our coral reef science kits will be a crowd-pleaser and our lifelike cuddly creatures are perfect for little ones to learn as they play.

Featured: Giant Squid Plush Toy, Hug’ems Sea Turtle Plush Toy, Wild Guide to Moreton Bay (Book), The Great Barrier Reef (Book), Green Sea Turtle Plush Toy, Humpback Whale Plush Toy, Tilly’s Reef Adventure (Book), Coral Reef Science Kit, and Whale Shark.

For the Natural Nomad who’s always on the move:

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Explorers, history and culture buffs will love our best-selling wild guides to inspire their next adventure. Send them off in style with practical yet well-designed travelling essentials, which they can use for years to come.

Featured: Soap Nuts, In Search Of Ancient Queensland (Book), Rare Rabbit Clouds Scarf, Rare Rabbit Voyager Wallet, Brisbane’s Best Bush, Bay and City Walks (Book), Eco Friendly Bamboo Toothbrush,Wildlife of Greater Brisbane (Book), Eco Friendly Bamboo Toothbrush Holder and Rainbow Aura Quartz Geode Large

For the Dinosaur Devotee, lover of all things prehistoric: 

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We all know one! Get up close and personal with our huge range of lifelike, hand painted figurines, even approved by a palaeo imagery expert! For the little learners, our dinosaur-themed educational kits and interactive games will highlight fun facts on the extinct species that they never knew before.

Featured: Mini Spinosaurus Plush Toy, 1:20 Scale Dimetrodon Model, Tyrannosaurus Model, Brachiosaurus Model, Discover Dinosaurs Educational Set, Flip-O-Saurus (Book), T-Rex Hand Puppet, Beastly Tyrannosaurus Binoculars, Australian Dinosaur Hatching Egg, 1:40 Scale Kronosaurus Model, Dinosaur Snap Cards and 1:40 Scale Spinosaurus Model.

For the Problem Solver who leaves no problem unsolved:

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Brainiacs will love these gifts that will get their synapses firing and provide hours of entertainment! Choose from coding and robotics kits, a ‘build your own’ musical instrument, wacky science experiments, puzzle builders and so much more.

Featured: Tobbie the Robot, Scientist Academy (book), Quercetti Saxoflute, Kidz Motorised Robot Hand, Coder Academy (Book), more products available in store.

For the Serious Scientist who loves to play, test, observe:  

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Fuel their creativity with these curious and colourful picks.  Our range of puzzles and games demonstrate how science works in the real world. Or if they loved visiting our SparkLab Sciencentre and haven’t been able to stop talking about it, make them the ultimate science ambassador with our geek chic cap and drink bottle. Pair it with an Annual Pass for the gift that keeps giving all year round.

Featured: Rainbow Spring SlinkySparkLab Cap, SparkLab Drink Bottle, Periodic Table T-ShirtHoberman Mini Sphere, Mini Periodic Table Book (in-store only), Glass Prism, Periodic Table Mug, Galt Octons.

For the animal aficionado who’s especially mad for monkeys:

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If they love monkeys and primates be sure to surprise them with an adorable tote bag, tee or plush toy so they can take a little piece of the museum with them wherever they go.

Featured: Squirrel Monkey Plush Toy, Monkey Business AffirmationsMonkeys Kids’ T-Shirt, Tumbling Monkey (in-store only), Nature Buddies Mini Monkey Plush ToyMonkeys Tote Bag, The Educated Monkey Calculator and Never Smile at a Monkey (Book). 

For the History Buff who’s never finished learning:

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The obvious choice for those fascinated by Queensland wartime history, Mephisto, the last remaining German tank in the world and the stories of our Anzacs. The museum’s diverse range of books, trinkets and commemorative items covers off on everything from planes and tanks to incredible untold tales. These gifts help tell the story of Queensland and give a deeper meaning to our community.

Featured: Victoria Cross Pencil and Pencil TopperThe Missing Man (Book), Mephisto: Technology, War and Remembrance Paperback Edition and Hardcover Edition (Book), Pompey Elliott At War (Book), Victoria Cross Badge, Spitfire Pencil Sharpener (in-store only), Monash: The Outsider Who Won a War (Book), Pocket Guide: A7V Mephisto, The Great War Soldier’s Badge (in-store only), Amazing Australians in Their Flying Machines (Book), Tank in a Tin and Voices from the Second World War (Book).

Still can’t decide? Visit Queensland Museum Shop online or in person for more inspiration. And for that person who’s tricky to buy for, we offer Annual Passes so they can experience the best of Queensland Museum all year round!