Aboriginal and Islanders stories of building Australia’s railway feature in new exhibition

08 May 2012

Fettlers laying track on the Gregory Line, central Queensland, 1980. Image from The Workshops Rail Museum / Queensland Rail Collection.

Stories and experiences of Torres Strait Islanders, Aboriginal people and Australian South Sea Islanders who helped build the nation’s railways will be on show in a new exhibition opening today at The Workshops Rail Museum.

I’ve Been Working on the Railway, now on until 19 August, explores the contribution of these key cultural groups to the development of rail across Australia since the early 1900s.

Director of The Workshops Rail Museum Andrew Moritz said, “For three decades, through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, as large scale developments of rail infrastructure across Australia took place, it was a common scene to find Torres Strait Islanders, Aboriginal people and Australian South Sea Islanders working long and hard in this hot and dusty environment.

“Through stories, objects, music, video and photographs, the exhibition uncovers little-known railway stories of camp life, the hardships, the separation from land, islands and families, and the opportunities and challenges of working on the railway.

Personal accounts of working life are central to the exhibition with many leaving behind homes and traditional land to work on the railway.

“While some families went with the men, living in the arduous and ever-changing camp existence along railway tracks, the exhibition also explores the experiences of the many families who were left behind and continued life with their husbands or fathers far away.”

Mr Moritz said the exhibition also showed the significant achievements of the workers.

“Forty-four years ago today, on 8 May 1968, a predominantly Torres Strait Island gang of 41 men set a World Track Laying record by laying 4.36 miles (7.25km) of track on the Mt Newman line at Port Hedland (WA) in just 11 hours and 40 minutes,” Mr Moritz said.

The exhibition is supported by Visions of Australia, an Australian Government program supporting touring exhibitions by providing funding assistance for the development and touring of Australian cultural material across Australia.

The Workshops Rail Museum, celebrating 10 years this year, is winner of Australian and Queensland Tourism Awards for Heritage and Cultural Tourism, and is part of the Queensland Museum network celebrating 150 years in 2012.

For ticket prices or further information, please contact The Workshops Rail Museum on (07) 3432 5100 or visit www.theworkshops.qm.qld.gov.au