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Book Review – Proceed to Hawker

February 13, 2011

Proceed to Hawker – 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 by John Evans, Railmac Publications ISBN: 978-1-86477-061-9.

I bought this book on my recent visit to the Bassendean Railway Museum.  It’s not the usual sort of book I buy, so it was an unusual purchase, for me but a worthwhile one.

I have never been greatly interested in, or excited by trains and railways, unlike the author of this book, but my Kirwan family settled in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia after they left Western Australia in the late 1860s.  When they arrived there the railway was not yet through the area, and freight in and out of the region was carried by dray.  The Kirwan family set up and ran eatinghouses and stores to service the teams who would stop in for food and supplies along the way.

This book is about the Quorn to Hawker railway and, in fact the last days of the railway in the area, from 1957 to 1970. It is full of very technical information which I am beginning to grasp and had absolutely no idea about, before reading Proceed to Hawker.  But it also has photographs of places my family would have lived and worked, or frequented, details about daily life as it applied to the Railway, and I found references to Kirwan family  members working on the trains from the Quorn Station.  These people would probably be descendants of Edmund Kirwan, eldest son of John Kirwan and Jane Close, who settled in Quorn and had 13 children with his wife Ellen Agnes Lennon.

Charlie L Kirwan and Arthur ‘Artie’ Kirwan were Goods Checkers at Quorn, some of the remaining staff resident in Quorn.  Arthur ‘Artie’ Kirwan also worked as a Guard on the trains in the late 1950s – mid 1960s.  They were probably grandsons of Edmund and Ellen Kirwan.

John Evans has written other books about the South Australian Railways.  He relates the story of his family’s trip to the Flinders Ranges in May 1959, when, as a child,he first became ‘hooked’ on this particular stretch of railway track.  He says that:

The die had been cast, the spell spun.  I was ‘hooked ‘ on this stretch of track, and I determined to travel by train on what remained of the former Great Northern Railway and learn as much as I could about this famous line.

This body of work reflects that nine year old’s early fascination with a line that now spans nearly 50 years.

Proceed to Hawker is remarkably detailed, technical, and yet easy and enjoyable to read – even for a novice like me.  To begin with there were terms and descriptions of things I had no understanding or knowledge of, but I persevered, and found that as I read on, I was understanding and picturing in my mind, much of what had been completely foreign to me a chapter earlier.  This is totally attributable to John Evan’s explanation and description of what seem to be the minutest details of railway logistics.  Perhaps it is also due to his obvious affection and passion for his subject – even as a rank outsider, with limited previous interest in the subject, it is difficult not to get caught up in John Evans’ excitement as he relates the details of the last days of the railway that has been his passion and interest since he was a boy.

His other books include Proceed to Quorn (Terowie to Quorn) and Proceed to Wilmington (Gladstone to Wilmington).  All three of these books are available from Plough Book Sales, my latest specialist book shop discovery – ‘a small part time business that deals in books relating to tractors, old engines, earthmoving equipment, live scale model making, steam power and metal working’.  Their catalogue of Railway books is huge.



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