Sepia Saturday: Railway maintenance

Sepia Saturday 522 30 May 2020One of the things I like about Sepia Saturday is that it makes you think about how the image might relate to your family’s stories. This week’s image just didn’t ring bells for me even though there are farmers on my tree. It took until Sunday for me to have a lightbulb moment. I may have no photos of my farmers but I also have lots of railway workers who I’ve written about before.

When we travel by train we tend to give little thought to the men who built the lines or who maintain them. Both sides of my family were involved in building Queensland’s railway lines and then maintaining them. George Kunkel, my 2xgreat grandfather certainly followed the construction of the line between Ipswich and Toowoomba but the jury is out on whether he was selling meat, or actually helping with construction. His son, another George, was a railway ganger so responsible for the lengthsmen working on a particular stretch of the line. My grandfather was actually born at a railway camp outside Dalby in what can only have been pretty primitive conditions for the women, as “home” was usually a canvas tent.  On my maternal side, the men worked the line between Rockhampton and Longreach.

Railway knocking sleepers into posn Qlder 4 Feb 1899 p214

(1899, February 4). The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939), p. 214 (Unknown). Retrieved June 1, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page2516738

These were hard, physical jobs especially during the heat of a Queensland summer or the chill of an outback winter where it does indeed get cold. Hospital records at Queensland State Archives offer testimony to the hazards of the work for the men in the tropics as so many fell ill with tropical diseases.

Railway Camp The Week 21 nov 1913

If this was 1913, just imagine what life was like in the 1850s-1880s. AT HOME, RAILWAY CONSTRUCTION CAMP, LOWER BURDEKIN. (1913, November 21). The Week (Brisbane, Qld. : 1876 – 1934), p. 20. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article188948214

Trove also offers insights into the experiences of the men if you search by a generic phrase like “railway ganger” or” railway maintenance”. You don’t need to find you specific family name if you can gain information about their lives on the line from newspaper stories. This article gives an excellent insight into the tasks of railway maintenance. Drilling down to search for illustrated articles can provide images from the times as well. I’ve been adding stories to my list “Qld Railways” which is public.

Murphys Creek railway camp The Week Qld

No title (1912, October 18). The Week (Brisbane, Qld. : 1876 – 1934), p. 20. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article188916590

From my personal experience, I remember when we’d be travelling to Townsville on the Sunlander train, dad (another railwayman) would always throw out a newspaper or magazine to the men working beside the line. I remember that they’d have a lean-to and a billy on the fire, but whether they lived in tents close by or travelled on one of push-pull cars to a more distant location I just don’t know.

Railway loading ballast Qlder 4 Feb 1899 p214

(1899, February 4). The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939), p. 214 (Unknown). Retrieved June 1, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page2516738

 

Thank you to Sepia Saturday for making me think more about these men, even if it’s taken me until Monday to get my thoughts organised. You can head over to the link to see what other bloggers have dug up about their families.

railway CAMP south coast line The week 1909

My grandfather worked on this line. RAILWAY, CAMP, SOUTH COAST LINE (1909, January 15). The Week (Brisbane, Qld. : 1876 – 1934), p. 25. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article183689234