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Bassendean Railway Museum

February 4, 2011

Expectorating on Platform strictly prohibitedToday’s post was going to be about my return visit to the Enrolled Pensioner Guard Cottage, which advertises it’s opening times as 1.30 – 4.30 on the last Sunday of each month.  But not the last Sunday of January, apparently. Oh well, next time, perhaps.

On the way back, we passed the Bassendean Railway Museum – as we often do.  There were a lot of cars outside, and I realised that it was open (it usually isn’t when we go past).  We decided to venture in.

I was ten years old when my family moved to the hills (Darling Ranges) just east of Perth.  We used to pass the Railway Museum often, then too, and my Dad would say “I must take you kids to see the train museum one of these days”.  Two years after we moved to the hills, my father died.  We never did visit the train museum.  My Dad loved trains.  He loved real trains, and he loved model trains.  He knew all sorts of things about them, that he would tell us.  I’m pretty sure I switched off.  The idea of going to the train museum was only attractive as an outing with Dad. The trains didn’t do much for me.

Throughout the lives of my children, as I have passed the train museum, I have thought, and sometimes said “I must take you kids to see the train museum one of these days”.

Well it must have been one of these days, because I finally got there.  I had more fun than I expected to have, and more fun than I’ve had for a long time.  And my daughter was with me, so I have finally fulfilled the ‘take the kids to the train museum thing’ for one of them.

Australind dining car

The dining car from the 'Australind'

The first thing we saw blew me away.  I am officially old, because something I remember very clearly and fondly is in a museum!

As children, my brother and I would travel to Bunbury to visit our grandmother in the school holidays.  We had allocated seats, but as soon as the train got moving, we would head down to the dining car (we would wait for the train to start moving because the conductor would check our tickets, and we wanted to walk between the carriages while the train was moving).  The dining car looked exactly like this.  At the other end of that carriage were ‘saloon’ seating arrangements with blue and white bench seats facing each other with a laminex table between so we could play cards or read or draw or whatever to pass the time.

As soon as I stepped into the carriage, I was transported straight back to that time and longed for the man to open up so I could buy a packet of chips and drink.

I also had the opportunity to show my daughter the wonders of the Australind toilet, with a hole that let out straight onto the tracks rushing along below – as a child I was fascinated and terrified at the same time, sitting on that toilet.

The next carriage we entered was like entering ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ or something like that.  The carriages were 2nd class, according to the outside.  I wonder what first class was like.

The walkway was very narrow – windows one side and compartments on the other.  There was ornate pressed tin and timber everywhere.

Inside the compartments, they couldn’t have crammed another bit of ornateness in if they’d tried.

2nd class compartment 1880s trainI think these carriages were from about the 1880s.  I felt very connected with my ancestors who travelled on trains like this – my grandfather, his brother and cousin going to Diorite King to visit their grandfather in the 1920s may not have travelled in carriages like this, but my great-grandparents would  have.  The attention to detail in this style of decor has always impressed me.  It’s not practical, but it’s beautiful.  There were other carriages, with much cleaner lines – Art Deco style furnishing and similar, but they didn’t seem as impressive as this.

detail of compartment ceiling 1880s train carriageWe spent a very pleasant few hours at the museum, checked out the huge model train displays and the large exhibition space.  And we browsed the bookshop.  I came home with two maps – one that showed the extensive train lines in Western Australia when rail was at its peak as a mode of transport, and another from 1969 that has red lines which denote road buses that replaced the train lines in many of the outlying areas of the state, with the rail mainly being used for freight.  I also found a book, Proceed to Hawker by John Evans, Published by Railmac Publications ISBN: 978-1-86477-061-9.  It’s ‘an operational and sometimes social history of the last years of the Quorn to Hawker section of the Great Northern Railway from 1957 to 1970’.  It’s filled with photographs and detail about trains, but also about the area that my Kirwan ancestors lived, in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, after they left Western Australia in the late 1850s.  When they arrived there, there was no rail, and bullock drays carried the ore and freight to and from the mining regions there.  They ran eatinghouses to service this passing trade.  The rail went through in the 1870s, with ‘the line from Port Augusta to Quorn being opened without ceremony on 15th December 1879’.  Perhaps a book review to follow.  Who would have thought!

When I used to stay with my grandmother in Norseman in the school holidays, the road she lived on ran parallel to the train line, and there was only a bit of bush between the back of her block and the train line.  We used to go out to wave to the train drivers when  we heard one coming, or take old pennies out and put them on the line and wait for a train to come.  Did you know if you put your ear to the track, you can hear a train coming from miles away? You better HOPE it’s miles away 🙂

My great uncle (who I never met), Langford Hanna was a train driver in the South West of Western Australia, and the father of a family I stayed with in my late teens was a train driver in Bunbury.

Now that I think about it, I can see where my Dad’s fascination with trains might have come from.  He certainly would have seen a few of them while he was growing up.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2011 8:14 am

    I adore these photos, that corridor really is like stepping back in time, I wish trains were still like that. I can’t get over the dining carriage, it’s actually gorgeous. And the picture of the engine near the beginning of the entry looks like it chuffed straight out of Thomas the Tank Engine. Nice entry, I felt sad reading about your father.

  2. Michelle permalink*
    February 6, 2011 8:23 am

    Thank you for commenting – it’s really good to know who’s reading and what they are liking. The green train’s pretty now… It used to be all black, I think, when it was working. The people who did the restoration for the museum liked ‘her’ so much they painted her green and called her Katie. Children come to the rail museum for birthday parties so I guess Thomas the Tank Engine was the look they were going for. She’s certainly that kind of train.


  1. Back by popular demand… Bassendean Rail Museum « Michelle's Heritage
  2. Post A Day 2011 review – February « Michelle's Heritage

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