I have fond memories of steam locomotives from my childhood. As I wrote on a previous blog many years ago, I firmly believe the success of Thomas the Tank Engine and the persistent allure of steam rests in the fact that a small child could easily believe the engine is alive and breathing, as it stands puffing at the station.
Whilst never a particular train-spotter, I do maintain an interest in the history of railways. They played a key role in so many aspects of industrial history throughout the world, reaching out like runners to propagate civilisation in previous rural areas such as “Metroland” in the UK and the western United States.
As a youngster, various North West London model engineering societies maintained small tracks and working, small scale, ride-on steam locomotives. They operated on different Sundays and a trip to either the Ickenham, Harlington or Eastcote ‘Sunday’ trains, was a special treat. My first ride on a full-sized, heritage steam-hauled train was at the West Somerset Railway in Minehead, with Granddad and Lisa.
When my children were little, I took them on various steam excursions in the UK, such as the Mid-Norfolk Railway, the Bure Valley Railway, Swanage Railway and similar. In Australia, we have had several trips on Puffing Billy. Somehow though, I managed to overlook the presence of a fine railway museum here in Melbourne which does not have live steam, but does have a fascinating array of steam locomotives and rolling stock from Victorian Railways over the years.
The museum is in Newport, near North Williamstown Station. It is not far from the Newport works that once built locomotives for Victorian Railways. Entry is inexpensive and there is great access around the exhibits and into locomotive cabs. A program is underway to get more of the locos under cover as some are showing signs of exposure to the elements day-in, day-out.
I enjoy museums, but whenever I visit ‘industrial’ type museums, I am struck with a degree of melancholy when I contemplate the massive industries and skill base that once existed, either in Australia or the UK, which has been lost with the passing of time. We still require manufacturing and once had the ability. Nowadays, so much is lost, as is the political will to invest in and support it. Standing in a beautifully restored sleeper carriage from the “Overlander” steam-hauled Melbourne to Adelaide service, I could only wonder at its opulence and the attention to detail. This was from a time when governments of any persuasion seemed to understand that governments were required to take the financial hit of providing some infrastructure in order to advance the country. The Victorian Railway network was quite something in its prime, but now it is almost a boutique service outside of Melbourne and many V-line rail services are actually buses.
Time rolls on of course and things change. The presence of two early electric locomotives from the 1920s struck me as interesting, given the march towards electric propulsion of everything in this day and age. Railways were obviously early users of electric infrastructure and I wonder if we can learn something from them in other areas of transportation?
I enjoyed the opportunity to take some photographs as I went around, with both the Fujifilm and the Nikon film camera. As I left I thought once again that I really must get on the Indian Pacific sometime, as one of the planet’s epic train journeys.
A link to the Museum: The Australian Railway Historical Society Museum
A Wikipedia article about the Spirit of Progress: The Spirit of Progress