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Meeting 7th February 2018.

Posted 19/2/2018

Railways  of Western Australia – Stephen Duffell.

    Stephen Duffell’s travels in retirement are expeditions rather than holidays.  Not for him the lure of sunny beaches and sangria in Spain.  Instead, accompanied by Gwynneth (and sometimes by their son Mark), he prefers to explore railway systems, travelling by a trusty motorhome that affords flexibility and independence.

    At February’s meeting he concentrated on the railways of Western Australia.  A map of Australia, with one of a diminutive Europe superimposed, demonstrated the sheer size of the continent, and the ambition of the railway engineers who aimed to conquer its vast distances.  The first railway in Australia was built in 1831; WA’s first railway dates from 1879.  When the Commonwealth of Australia was created in 1901, uniting the various states, WA joined on condition that a railway was built from Adelaide to Perth.  This line was to 4’8½” gauge, whereas most of the lines in WA were 3’6”.  The two gauges coexist still.

    Charles Yelverton O’Connor (1843-1902) was the chief figure in the development of WA’s railways and infrastructure.  He served as Engineer-in-Chief for the last eleven years of his life.  His projects included the Golden Pipeline, 329 miles long, to bring water to the remote, dry mining town of Kalgoorlie.

    Much of WA consists of desert.  The population is concentrated in the South-West, where the capital, Perth, and ports (Freemantle, Albany) are located.  The railway map is busiest here, but lines were also built to service industrial development and mining in remote areas:  gold at Kalgoolie; iron ore further north; wool; and timber.

    Stephen was an informative guide to the history and geography of WA’s railways.  His photographs enabled us to share what he saw.  They covered a range of activity, from current traffic to railway museums and preserved lines.  Many of the preserved locomotives were built by British firms with whose names we are familiar, such as Beyer Peacock.

    This was a fascinating talk on an area little known to many of us.  There is a WA branch of the Australian Model Railway Association.  Having seen some of the exciting modelling possibilities shown in Stephen’s photographs perhaps we should affiliate to it as soon as possible.


Michael Ling

February 2018