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A travel transformation

1854: Australia’s first steam railway line opens in Melbourne

State Library of Victoria H1076
1800 1900

Use the following additional activities and discussion questions to encourage students (in small groups or as a whole class) to think more deeply about this defining moment.

Questions for discussion

1. Why do you think Australia’s first railway travelled to a port?

2. Today you can find high-speed rail in many countries.

(a) What might be the benefits of high-speed rail in Australia?

(b) Would there be any disadvantages?

(c) Do you think high-speed rail will happen one day in Australia?

3. Do you agree with the National Museum of Australia that the first steam railway is a defining moment in Australian history? Explain your answer.

Image activities

1. Look carefully at all the images for this defining moment. Tell this story in pictures by placing them in whatever order you think works best. Write a short caption under each image.

2. Which three images do you think are the most important for telling this story? Why?

3. If you could pick only one image to represent this story, which one would you choose? Why?

Finding out more

1. What else would you like to know about this defining moment? Write a list of questions and then share these with your classmates. As a group create a final list of three questions and conduct some research to find the answers.

<p>Australia Post’s 150th Anniversary of Railways stamp, issued in 2004</p>
Image reproduced with permission; Australian Postal Corporation 2004; illustrator: Ned Culic

In a snapshot

On 12 September 1854 the Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay Railway Company opened Australia’s first steam railway line in Melbourne. The 4km track went from Flinders Street Station to Sandridge, which is now known as Port Melbourne. A new steam engine was made especially for the track and was the first to be built in the southern hemisphere. After the first rail line was built other rail networks quickly spread across Australia.

Australia Post’s 150th Anniversary of Railways stamp, issued in 2004

Findout icon Can you find out?

1. In which major Australian city was Australia’s first rail line built?

2. Where did the first trains come from?

3. What were the benefits of rail from the 1850s onwards?

How did Australia get its first steam rail line?

In 1853 Melbourne’s Mayor held a public meeting to plan Australia’s first steam rail line. The line would be built and operated by the Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay Railway Company and people could pay £50 to be an investor at the start of the project. The building of the line began in the same year and work moved ahead quickly on both the stations and the track.

Before the rail line was built people had to travel on foot or in a horse and cart. The rail line would help move people and goods between the port and the city more quickly. The track ran from Flinders Street Station to its last stop at Sandridge pier, crossing the Yarra River over the Sandridge Bridge. The journey originally took about 10 minutes and two trains ran every half hour.

Research task 

 

Do some research to find out when Western Australia was connected with the eastern states by a railway line.

Where did the trains come from?

An English factory was making the steam engines needed for the trains. But work on the line moved ahead so quickly that the trains weren’t ready in time for the opening. A local company was asked to build the first steam engine, which would become the first to be made in the southern hemisphere. The locomotive was built in just 10 weeks. The four English engines originally ordered (named Melbourne, Sandridge, Yarra and Victoria) were all being used by 1855.

Research task

 

Find out when the first steam railway lines were built in each Australian state and territory.

What was it like to be at the opening celebrations?

The opening of Australia’s first rail line was celebrated as a big event with hundreds of people attending. Crowds of people began arriving at Flinders Street Station hours before the first train was due to leave at midday. About 300 people were invited to ride on the train and attend the party held in the engine shed in Sandridge. The banquet was reported as ‘a very handsome one’ and many well-known people were there including the Mayor and the Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria, Sir Charles Hotham.

<p>Photograph of an&nbsp;ST Gill drawing of Flinders Street in 1854</p>

State Library of Victoria H1076

<p>Photograph of an&nbsp;ST Gill drawing of Flinders Street in 1854</p>
Poster advertising rail travel. ‘See the heart of the continent’, 1930.

How has the Flinders Street to Port Melbourne line changed since 1854?

In the years after the Flinders Street to Sandridge line opened many other rail companies started to build lines in Melbourne and beyond, running services around the city and into the booming goldfields. Eventually the Victorian Government took over most rail lines and companies. They used the lines to create Victorian Railways, which now runs a large network of train lines across the state.

The line from Flinders Street Station to Sandridge was used until the late 1900s when it became part of the Melbourne tram network.

‘Yesterday was memorable in the annals of Victoria and of Australia, for the opening of the first Australian railway … The first train on the new railway started at twenty minutes past twelve, amid the music of the band and the cheering and waving of hats of the innumerable spectators.’

 

The Argus, 13 September 1854

What did the train line mean for Melbourne, Victoria and Australia?

After the first rail line was built other rail networks began to spring up across Australia. Sydney opened the first line in New South Wales just one year after Melbourne. Eventually this meant that people and goods could easily move across the nation, and new communities and towns grew along main railways. The new railways created new jobs and economic growth in city centres and in newly settled towns.

 

Read a longer version of this Defining Moment on the National Museum of Australia’s website.

Findout icon What did you learn?

1. In which major Australian city was Australia’s first rail line built?

2. Where did the first trains come from?

3. What were the benefits of rail from the 1850s onwards?