The Midland Railway
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Midland Railway of Western Australia steam locomotive

Midland Railway Company steam locomotive made in England and imported to Australia

In 1894, after eight years of construction, a new railway was opened in Western Australia. It spanned 446 kilometres from Midland Junction in Perth to Walkaway near Geraldton. Building of the railway had begun from both ends and the two reached each other at a solitary point in the bush between Carnamah and Three Springs.

Plan of the Midland Railway in Western Australia

1912 map showing the route of the Midland Railway, with their land grant shaded in pink and brown

The railway was built by the privately owned Midland Railway Company which was owned and administered by its shareholders in London, England. For building the railway the WA Government gave the company 12,000 acres of freehold land for every mile of railway. The company received a total of over three million acres (1.3 million hectares). Over the next 60 years the company sold this land as undeveloped land for farming, townsite lots and Ready Made Farms.

Walkaway

Greenough

Bookara

Dongara
MRWA Z-Lock Key

Midland Railway of Western Australia (MRWA) Z-Lock Key

Railway stations were built at towns and a few other places along the railway. In less populated areas railway sidings were established and they were often as little as a platform or shed. Stations had a stationmaster and sometimes also a night officer or clerk, and at most stations and sidings there was a ganger who was the man in charge of a team of fettlers (who worked maintaining the railway line).

      
Yardarino                    Irwin                    Strawberry                    Lockier                   Mingenew        
Carnamah Railway Station

Carnamah Railway Station

Trains stopped at the Carnamah Railway Station, which was established in 1894 and named after the pastoral station of the Macpherson family. Before the railway was constructed the Macpherson's transported everything by horse-drawn wagons and herded their livestock all the way to Perth. The easier and quicker transportation offered by the railway made Carnamah a more attractive place for people to settle and establish farms. It soon led to further settlement and became the lifeblood of the district. It transported everything including people, supplies, machinery and the fruits of local farming - wheat and sheep.



MRWA Railway Ticket

Return railway ticket from Carnamah to Yandanooka

The Midland Railway Company sold one way and return tickets for both first and second class passengers. They also sold tickets that connected with travelling on Government railways from Walkaway to Geraldton, and from Midland Junction to Perth and suburbs.



MRWA Passenger Carriage

Midland Railway passenger carriage

For many years the quickest way to travel to and from Carnamah and other places was by train. In 1904 it took just over nine hours to travel between Carnamah and Midland Junction in Perth.

MRWA Working Timetable
Working Timetable from 1915

Working timetables were small booklets carried by railway staff. In addition to providing a schedule of trains, times and prices they also listed rules and what staff had to do at certain stops. There were, however, some unofficial tasks that had to be done.


In 1917 trains couldn’t depart in Three Springs until the stationmaster went out and got storekeeper Jim Whitelaw’s cow off the tracks! The cow was sometimes joined by local agent Tom Berrigan’s pony, as both animals liked scratching themselves on the trains.

Unfortunately the booklets didn't give much guidance on what to do in the event of an accident.

Express Train Dashes Into Gaping Hole 

Heavy rains in 1917 caused the ground underneath a section of railway tracks near Gunyidi to wash away. When a train reached the compromised section part of the railway snapped behind the engine and pierced through a luggage carriage. Passenger carriages flew into the air and collided into each other.

"I know I can't live, go and help the women"
- Richard C. Burges

It was 1:45 in the morning, raining, people were trapped and injured, surrounded by water, in total darkness and on the most isolated stretch of the railway. Uninjured passengers fell into the water to try and help those who were screaming and moaning for help. The body of two year old Greta Benzie of Geraldton was found floating in the floodwaters. Her mother Martha Benzie was seriously injured and died two hours later.

 Midland Railway Disaster near Gunyidi

Midland Railway Disaster in 1917

Among the other twelve who were seriously injured was Richard C. Burges of Howatharra. He knew he wasn't going to survive so gallantly refused assistance so others could be treated more quickly. He died within an hour. Passengers gathered wooden bits of wreckage from the carriages and started fires so they could see to locate trapped passengers and assist the injured. After 13 hours an emergency relief train arrived from Midland Junction. The injured and stranded were then taken to Moora for medical attention and food.

Avery Railway Scales
Avery Railway Scales

Scales were used to weigh goods to ensure trains weren't overloaded and to calculate transport charges. Prior to reliable roads all goods and supplies for shops, businesses, homes and farms were transported along the railway. This included livestock, crop fertilisers such as superphosphate and even the mail to and from each post office.

Items that arrived on the train were placed in the goods shed at the railway station. Before the building of the Carnamah Hall in 1921 most social functions and dances were held at the goods shed.


Yandanooka

Arrino

Three Springs

Prowaka

Carnamah

Winchester

Coorow

Marchagee

Gunyidi

Watheroo

Namban

Coomberdale

Moora

Elsternwick
/ Barberton

Koojan

Gillingara

Mogumber

Wannamal

Cullalla

Mooliabeenee

Gingin

Chandala

Muchea

Bullsbrook

Warbook

Upper Swan

Middle Swan

Midland Junction
(Perth suburb
of Midland)
One of the essential requirements for the smooth operation of the railway was water, which the steam engines needed to run. In late 1917 the Company decided to have a windmill erected north of Carnamah. The Perth firm Malloch Bros was engaged to supply and install the windmill and they sent up their windmill expert Alexander N. Smith.

Smith, along with a railway fettler Harry Rodwell, were travelling from Carnamah to the 174-Mile Post on a railway tricycle when they turned a bend on the railway and were run down by an unscheduled train. The tricycle was smashed to pieces and Smith was killed instantly. Rodwell was thrown clear and survived but with serious concussion.
In the 1910s and 1920s people often arranged for food and other supplies to be sent up from Perth on the train. Their box of goods would be left at their closest railway station or siding for them to collect. This system worked well until 1918 when boxes started disappearing from trains and railway sidings.

The thefts were the work of a young man named Frank Thomas who’d left his father’s farm in Coorow to live the life of a bushranger. He camped in the bush and stole food and other supplies from trains, railway sidings, farms and houses. He often threw boxes of goods off moving trains then returned later on a stolen horse to go through the boxes and take what he wanted.

“To the womenfolk he was behind every bush and they felt unable to cope. The men just swore about what a pest he'd become, and passed on news of his latest depredations to Dad, the local Justice of the Peace, for relaying to Dick Honner and to Charlie Kroschel the policemen based in Three Springs in those days."
                         - Leo R. Parker of Winchester

Thomas flaunted his skill to escape and would steal from railway stations and sidings even when he knew police were watching to catch him! He was caught on a number of occasions but managed to escape from prison in Geraldton and from the police lock-up in Buntine. He was caught for the last time at the railway station in Carnamah in 1922.
Wheat Stack at the Carnamah Railway Station

Wheat Stack at the Railway Station in Carnamah

When wheat crops were harvested the wheat was put into bags. These bags were then sewn up, carted to the railway station and stacked up awaiting transportation to Perth or Geraldton. 128,000 bags of wheat were stacked at the railway in Carnamah in 1927. Similar stacks existed at many sidings and stations along the Midland Railway until 1936 when they were replaced with Co-operative Bulk Handling wheat bins.

Loading Ballast near Arrino

At various times the railway has been used for mining operations. It transported coal mined near Mingenew, copper and ballast from Arrino, talc from Three Springs and quartzite from near Moora. A spur line from Dongara has moved mineral sands mined at Eneabba to the port at Geraldton.
MRWA WW2 Defence Pass
WW2 Defence Pass

During the Second World War the railway played a role in national defence. It was used to transport soldiers to military camps at Moora and Mingenew, and also to Geraldton to defend against Japanese invasion.
MRWA Diesel Electric Locomotive
MRWA Locomotive

Aged steam locomotives were used along the Midland Railway until 1957 when they were replaced with more powerful diesel electric locomotives.

For a long time the railway had the monopoly on quick and efficient transportation. This began to change as roads were improved and cars and trucks became faster and more reliable.
MRWA Road Service Bus
First Midland Railway Bus

In 1946 the Midland Railway Company began a bus service between Perth and Geraldton, which they ran alongside their railway. They also used their buses to conduct wildflower tours, with Bus No. 10 having a raised back for better viewing.

Over the next 50 years freight and passenger transport services slowly moved off the tracks and onto the roads.
Midland Railway Road Service  Wildflower Tour Luggage Bag

The Midland Railway remained a privately owned and operated railway until 1964 when the Midland Railway Company sold out to the WA Government. After 70 years the railway then became part of the Western Australian Government Railways (later known as Westrail).
CBH Train in Carnamah

The first CBH owned train to arrive in Carnamah in 2012

Co-operative Bulk Handling (CBH) now have receival and storage facilities next to the railway in Carnamah capable of holding 338,000 tonnes of grain. Farmers deliver grain during harvest and the railway's sole use through the year is now the moving of grain to the port in Geraldton. While the railway’s purpose has greatly narrowed it endures as a vital piece of infrastructure that transports the district's biggest export. A new era for the railway began in 2012 when CBH began using their own fleet of railway locomotives and wagons.

    Railway Lantern
Midland Railway : Comments & Memories


Jill Tilly

In 1957 I was away at boarding school and my friend and I decided that we would travel home on the sleeper train respectively to Mingenew and Coorow. We had never done this before and we wanted to experience the little bunks, one above the other, and the noisy mode of travel. We were particularly keen because we understood that it was the last sleeper train pulled by an old steam engine. Steam engines were being replaced by Diesel engines. I was dismayed when my parents unexpectedly came to Perth to take me home by car. In the end my friend and I were allowed to take the train and so we became part of the history of the Midland Railway Company. I arrived in Coorow in the small hours of the morning - I can no longer remember whether my parents met me and in any case it was only a short walk to our home and the house was never locked .


Alison Doley (nee Rudduck)

The Midland Railway was a very important service in my life as I grew up at “Koobabbie,” Coorow. Being a farm girl I was very keen on horses and my main one was called Archer. The Coorow-Waddy Forest Districts Show was a big event each year and in 1958 I decided to ride Archer into Coorow to compete in the show. Riding into Coorow was not unusual as with our stockman, Leo Allen, we occasionally drove cattle into Coorow to load on the train.

Archer and I made it safely along the South Waddy road and across the Midland Highway and were riding between a fence and the railway line, parallel to the main road, when a steam freight train appeared from Coorow. Archer was petrified as the steam engine approached so I decided to dismount before he threw me and I then tried to hold him and calm him, but to no avail. He galloped off ahead of the train leaving me to walk after him. The train slowed down and the driver called out “hop aboard and we will chase him down the line”. After about 5 kms Archer halted to “greet” Mr Ullrich’s horses in a paddock beside the line, we caught up and the driver let me off. I caught Archer and proceeded back to Coorow. Here he was yarded for the night. Leo Allen collected me and then the next day I competed in the Show. I made other trips by horse into Coorow but luckily this was the only time I met a train.


Anonymous!

When I was a girl we used to go down to Perth on the train to stay with our Nana. It was as rough as guts. Clickity clack, clickity clack, clickity clack! It was really rough and the carriages were really old. In those days the circus used to come to town each year on the train. They had special carriages for all the animals and we used to go down to see them as soon as we got out of school. If you helped them they'd sometimes give you a free pass. We never did because you had to get there very quick, but we always went to the circus anyway.


Jo Hyland

The Midland Railway Co features prominently in my family history with links to Welsh Patagonians that bought land from the company and settled in and around Round Hill and Moora in 1910 as well as family who took up land and moved to Round Hill around 1909-1910 having moved there from Boulder. Another link is my great-great grandfather James Ashworth who lived in Gingin from the 1870s, working as a bootmaker and who also worked on the railway line in Marchagee as it came through. My aunt has told me of family members waiting for food bags to be thrown to them from the train in Gingin. It was the taking up of land from the Midland Railway company that brought the two sides of my mother's paternal line together. Thank you so much for another very interesting and topical (for me) subject. My last link to MRC is that my husband did an apprenticeship as a painter 15 years after it became WAGR at the Midland Workshops.
Great work! Jo Hyland


Vida Whitehurst

I once always used to catch the train whenever going from Carnamah to Perth. You'd sometimes have to catch the train in the middle of the night and occasionally it would be hours late!


Valerie Mcooke

My Grandfather Edwin Pearce worked on the railway at Three Springs and Arrino.
It would be great to see the records re staff, working hours, wages etc.
I remember going to Perth with my mother in the train as a small girl. I recall it being dark, noisy and uncomfortable trying to sleep on the narrow bench type seats in the carriage..A trip that seamed to go on and on and on into the night. It was at night when we got onto the train at Winchester but don't recall the time when we arrived at Midland.
I also recall the thrill when we saw one of the work trolleys going along the railway line with a man or two working hard pushing the leaver to gather up speed ,we always looked along the line to make sure no trains were coming.


Bridie Evans

The school was on the west side of the railway so we had to cross that to get there. Luckily there were never any accidents. On the east side of the school we had our playing field, a dirt road, and then the railway line with a big culvert under it. Often a train would come through at lunch time so sometimes we would run over & get in the culvert when we heard the train coming. It was good fun but must have given the poor engine driver heart failure!

When Worths Circus came to town it was always by train & they would tether their elephants in the station yard which was a short cut for us. It was great watching them.

There was always a Saturday train about 7pm from Perth. Many people would go up to see it come in and often they had cases of stone fruit to pick up. It also brought the mail and the postmaster and telephonist on duty would sort it as the farmers were all in town. We had Thursday afternoon closing then and the shops were open all day on Saturday. The fruit shop would quickly open their cases of fruit too and do a good trade.

When I went to Perth by train in later years, about 1959, I took three daughters, the youngest only three months old. Being January and hot we had the window open and so we got covered in quite a bit of soot from the coal fired engine. There was a toilet in each carriage, but as soon as the lid was lifted we saw the ground going past underneath – a bit frightening for the girls.

My sons and their friends would often put a halfpenny on the line hoping to get it squashed into a penny by the train!


Aidan Whitehurst

I remember fondly the days of my youth spent watching the train movements across from my house in Carnamah. I, like so many young boys, dreamt of becoming a train driver when I grew older, and having the rail line located across the street from me fuelled my passion for the railways.

Back then the trains were more frequent, and varied. There were the seemingly endless grain carriages rolling through on their way to the CBH ‘wheat bin’, as well as the odd talc train with boxed carriages draped in red and yellow tarps on their way to Fremantle from Three Springs. Occasionally some flat bed carriages would be towed through town by a single bright orange engine with bright blue ‘Westrail’ logos on the side.

Before the wheels of progress turned from the rail to the road, I used to enjoy watching the BP tankers back into the fuel depot on the edge of town; sometimes sneaking over the road to have a closer look when my mother wasn't at home. I recall one Saturday morning my older brother thought it would be fun to jump onto one of the carriages as the train backed slowly into the depot. This didn't amuse the engineer, who had been watching our every move from the back of the train. He shouted out at us to get off and informed us that he was going to tell our parents. In hindsight I don’t think he knew who we were, let alone our parents, but nonetheless we ran home as fast as we could and decided it best to just watch from across the road for a while.

I remember spending summer holidays at my Nanna’s house, who also lived across from the railway on the other side of town, with my cousin. As a cheap thrill we would hang on to the rails that were bolted to a small bridge that ran over a creek as the wheat trains would come past. The drivers would yell at us as they went past, what exactly I don’t know as the engines were so loud, but I can assume it wasn't how’s your day been? Upon our return back to our Nanna's house we would receive another ear bashing, as she had witnessed the whole thing. Admittedly it wasn't a very safe thing to do, but it was damn good fun.

The highlight of the year though was when the Hotham Valley tourist railway would bring their passenger trains through town being pulled by the most majestic, and extremely well-kept, steam engines. We would go up to the station and wait for their arrival, sometimes two hours beforehand. I still remember goose bumps rising from my skin as I saw the steam and smoke in the distance signalling their approach. For the railway enthusiast there is nothing more beautiful, more elegant and more exciting than watching an old steam engine as it rolls thundering along the rails. It is akin to experiencing the height of feminine beauty from a bygone era, the style of Grace Kelly mixed with the flamboyance of Katharine Hepburn.

One day I was allowed to ride the train up to Three Springs with some friends, and I couldn't stop thinking, “Why do people drive cars everywhere?”

Sadly the trains don’t run through town so much anymore, and the only ones I ever got to drive fit in the palm of my hand, but I will always cherish those memories of my simple boyish fascination with those grand old machines; after all road trucks aren't that fascinating.


Wendy Le Get (nee Rudduck)

The Midland Railway has always been very much a part of my family’s history as it was through a contact with Midland Railway that my Grandfather, Samuel Burton Rudduck, established his farm at “Koobabbie”, Coorow. Under the agreement between the company and the Government, the company could select a tract of land within 40 miles (64 Kms) on either side of the proposed line. Sam heard that the surveyor for the Midland Railway Company, Mr Nunn, had seen a good pocket of land that was not worth including in the company’s selection. It was separated from the line by an area of salt lake system which would have to be included if the good pocket was taken. Sam saw the opportunity and in 1906 exercised the option to select before survey, which then existed.

At this stage he was working in Perth and continued to do so for the next six years to finance development of the farm. On Friday nights he would catch the train to Coorow and at about the mid-point between Marchagee and Coorow the train would slow down to allow him to get off. He would then walk the twelve miles (19 Kms) across the salt lakes to the farm and supervise the clearing and fencing in progress. On his return journey he would again walk across the lakes and signal the train with a lantern for it to pick him up. History does not record how often he did this, but it was quite regularly.


Ross Croft

I lived with my family in Coorow just across from the railway station. I am not sure how it came about but I got to know one of the locomotive drivers, Bob Thompson, and regularly used to ride on the footplate of the old steam loco's when they were shunting in the station yards. On one occasion during the school holidays I travelled from Coorow to Mingenew on the footplate of the loco; quite an adventure for a 9 year old. When the diesel locomotives replaced steam, the railway lost some of romance associated with rail travel the roar of a diesel didn't seem to have the same appeal as the hiss of escaping steam. The Midland Railway certainly played an important part in the development of the wheat industry throughout the Midlands and while the importance has diminished, it is pleasing to see that the rail is recognised as still being the most efficient way to move the large quantities of grain produced in the area between Coorow and Mingenew.


Betty Brennan (nee Mulligan)

There was no railway platform at Winchester so you climbed up and down the side of the trains. There was a goods shed where all the stuff for Mulligan’s shop at Winchester was left like groceries, big bags of onions, crates of spuds, mostly all in wooden boxes. All of Dad's boxes were marked WGM WCH which were Dad's initials and for Winchester. Bread came from the bakery at Moora twice a week. I'm not sure why it didn't come from Carnamah.

Out at Billeroo there was a teacher Arthur Jackson who was in an accident. They needed a new teacher so they sent one up. He got off down the side of the train into pitch darkness but saw the little goods shed so climbed in there and slept with the mail bags until morning. Then when Dad went to get the mail he found him there. He had breakfast with us and then someone came and got him in a horse and cart to take him out to Billeroo.

Vera Simpson whose father worked for the railway at Winchester as a ganger loved to go to the dances in Carnamah so she would get hold of one of the railway trolleys and she'd pump all the way to Carnamah, go to the dance, and pump all the way back.

I do remember going to Perth. Sometimes we used to go on the train for two weeks holiday in Cottesloe. Dad would drive us and other times we'd be sent on the train. We have to climb up the side of the train as it came in about two in the morning. When we'd see the black boys or grass trees we'd know we were getting closer to Perth. At Midland we’d change to a government train and at Perth station our aunty would be there to collect us.


Helen Green (nee Rowland)

Audrey Dewar, Rica Diamond, Effie Dallimore and I used to catch the train up to Geraldton for school.


Carnamah Historical Society

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See Ready Made Farms for more on what the Midland Railway Company did with some of its 1.3 million hectares of land