Museums & Galleries Qld

Jana Kahabka blogs about Croydon Shire Council, Far North West Queensland and her mentorship at The Workshops Rail Museum

Posted on: 1 November 2013

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David Mewes took me on a tour of the old workshops, focussing on them, and explained the items that were housed there and why and where they came from. The Blacksmiths Shop, Foundry, Carpenter’s Shop and the various other workshops that the museum, administration area and collections are housed in – like the Paint Shop, Wagon and Carriage Shop, Erecting and Machine Shop, Boiler Shop.  It’s interesting that my first tours by Richelle and David focussed more on the displays so it was interesting to tour the site with a focus on the site itself and what it really was/is. Really fits with the Time Tours we are doing which are the Now Tours – what’s there now and the Then Tours – what was there in the gold strike era. The oldest couple living in Croydon, born not long after the gold had declined,  were really surprised that this was their town (or what it used to be) as they drove to the hospital, the roadhouse, the supermarket every day and didn’t think much about the blank spaces in the landscape of the town. It was quite moving for them and  David gave me that very same sensation and took me beyond the displays (that are quite imposing and visually demanding as they are so big and close with lots going on) to feed the senses using the girders, nuts and bolts, bricks and hard grit of the workshops themselves to tell their story.

We host many descendants in our visitor centre who come seeking information about their relatives.  It is surprising just how many people have connections to the Croydon goldfield. Grown men burst into tears when they see the graves of their ancestors.  We have uploaded grave data onto Google Earth so that people can find their family graves more easily. We have information in our Genealogy Database that doesn’t exist anywhere else. Our population was officially about 6,000 collected at census on horseback some records stating 12,000 and others 25,000. But the railway connection is something else. The railways provided regular employment (and income) for many thousands of men and women all over Queensland. Many lived hard while building and maintaining the tracks, manning the outposts, running the trains and keeping the whole thing moving. The workshops highlight the enormity of the building and maintenance and construction effort in just one location in Queensland and the photographs identify the extent of the workforce and the diversity of roles required to make it all happen. TWRM is an extremely innovative and foresighted way to tell the story of this extraordinary State, Queensland, through the lives of its employees and the machinery they designed and constructed to move goods and people all around this hot, remote and disaster prone portion of Australia while it was still a part of NSW, then its own country and after it joined the Federation. The layers of unfolding information and exposure to the world of the railway are fantastic.

I would like to add that in addition to the collection management and response to information requests, tours and talks that David undertakes in his job he also undertakes research such as: Chronological Record of Accidents; Circus Trains; Refreshment Rooms; Sugar Industry; Railway Workshops; to name a few. The research to achieve this is incredibly time consuming.

David introduced me to several Queensland Rail employees working on the engines that will feature in the 150th anniversary in 2015 that will be commemorated all over Queensland (including the Normanton to Croydon line).  We talked about A10 202. While waiting for our appointment with Paul Slater to talk about the Croydon A10 we ran into Mark and Ben who were testing the steam mechanism on a B18and1/4 No 1089 out in the yards. They asked if we would like to come aboard and I was up that ladder before they’d finished the invitation. They described the procedure and under the plumes of steam we moved down the track and back while they described the intricacies of steam locomotion. It reinforced the extraordinary talent of the men who designed the engines back in those days and even though engines are much more sophisticated and refined, even computerised you can see that these old beauties are definitely the prototypes of modern inventions and as such worthy of not only great awe, but serious conservation. Keeping them alive is so very important.

Now to the Croydon A10 202, our very own steam train, that was rescued along with other important steam machinery from scrap metal raiders who were blowing up and melting down much of our heritage around the countryside over the decades since the gold days.

After discussions with staff responsible at all levels for restoration and maintenance of steam locomotives it seems that there is potential for our old steamie to be restored here at the workshops.

  • It can’t be commenced before the 150th anniversary because it will be a stretch to get the allocated trains ready for that and all present resources will be required.
  • Space to accommodate A10 202 is not an issue.
  • David and Paul came up with some suggestions for trust membership including the Katters, our Local and State members and someone in State Government Tourism.
  • Paul is familiar with the original works undertaken on the old train and that we have virtually all of the components to complete the job.  He can identify which parcels of components we send down as they are required as he has photographs of all of the components.
  • We can phase the work as sponsorship funds become available.
  • Even though the engine was originally wood fired the fuel would have to be purchased in so coal would probably be the best way to fuel the furnaces and that decision would have to be made, finalised and factored into the restoration.
  • Letters will have to be exchanged between CEO’s of Croydon Shire Council and Queensland Rail and contracts drawn up.

So now to there is the work of finalising the project plan, committee membership and establishment of the organisational goals and the promotion and advertisement of the project.

During the day I spent some time wandering around the displays myself and met with events and display staff and a Visitor Service Officer (VSO) who was happy to outline their roles here, providing a different dimension to the backrooms of the organisation.  The VSO was a casual and loved the job because it worked around his studies and enabled him to base his studies by doing projects that utilised staff knowledge and records.  This VSO was attending the detailed model of Queensland Rail traversing the State, including the line to Kuranda.

Richelle also gave me some useful marketing tips and talked about the Self-guided Tour App for smart phone and Tablet users, with hand held devices for those who don’t have the new technology.

Later today I will be sent on a Guided Tour which I am really going to enjoy.

M&GSQ’s 2013 Mentorship, Exchange and Fellowship Program is funded by Arts Queensland through the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF). RADF is a joint Queensland Government and Local Government partnership to support local arts and culture.

See M&GSQ’s website, for more information about the Mentorship, Exchange and Fellowship Program.


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Museums & Galleries Queensland

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Phone: 07 3059 9740

Museums & Galleries Queensland is the peak professional body for the public museum and gallery sector in Queensland.

Museums & Galleries Queensland promotes, supports and provides services to foster excellence in museums, galleries and keeping places. We strive to ensure a future where museums, galleries and keeping places are relevant, accessible and valued by their communities.

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