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About the Video Clip:

Video Clip Synopsis:
Rare archival footage from 1910 shows camels carrying heavy supplies across the desert. Railway labourers are building the 1400 km railway that will finally link Western Australia with the Eastern States.

0min 54sec

Constructing the East-West Rail Link is an excerpt from the film The Rail Way (26 mins), produced in 1979.

The Rail Way: A wide-ranging look at Australian railways – from the city underground to the railway of the remote outback. We see the six locomotive coal giants of central Queensland and the picturesque Normanton-Croydon rail car, epic journeys of the transcontinental Indian Pacific and a half-day vintage steam train excursion. The film is introduced and narrated by Patsy Adam-Smith, well known for her many books on Australian railways.

The Rail Way was produced by Film Australia for the Department of Transport.

Study Module

Curriculum Focus: SOSE/HSIE
Year: 9-10
Strand: Time, continuity and change
Theme: Environment & Work

Key Concepts

Identity; Communication; Gender; Representation; Change over time; Nation

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Time, continuity and change, High school band
NSW:History, Stage 5, Topic 1
NT:Social systems and structures — Time, continuity and change Band 5, SOC 5.1
Qld:History Years 9 and 10, Time, continuity and change Level 6, TCC6.1
SA:Time, continuity and change, Standard 5
Tas:Social responsibility — Understanding the past and creating preferred futures
Vic:History Level 6, 6.2
WA:Time, continuity and change — Early adolescence

Context / Background Information

On 14 September 1912, Australia’s Governor-General, Lord Denman, turned the first sod for the Trans-Australia Railway to link Australia by rail from Brisbane to Sydney to Melbourne to Adelaide to Perth.

This project had been promised at the time of Federation in 1901, to encourage Western Australia to join the new Commonwealth.

Two parties working from east to west and west to east met at 1.45 pm on Wednesday 17 October 1917. Sir John Forrest, former Premier of Western Australia and at that stage a Federal parliamentarian said: ‘I rejoice to see this day. Western Australia, comprising one third of the continent, hitherto isolated and practically unknown, is from today, in reality, a part of the Australian Federation.’

Discussion Pointers

  1. Look at a map of Australia. Why would a railway linking Adelaide to Perth be wanted?
  2. Why was it such a massive undertaking?
  3. The main equipment available for building the railway was human muscle (3,500 men), 750 camels and horses, trains able to run on the completed parts of the tracks, and very little mechanised earth-moving equipment. There were no roads, no permanent water supply, no local produce available.
  4. Here are some problems that faced the builders. How would you solve them?
    • Accommodation for the workers
    • Water supply
    • Food for workers and animals
    • Earth-moving equipment
    • Health and sanitation
    • Mail
    • Entertainment
  5. Look at the scenes in the video clip to see evidence of how some of these problems were addressed.
  6. Rabbits had beaten the workers into the area, but the workers did bring sparrows with them – to the disgust of Western Australians. The route also passed through areas where Aboriginal people had lived for thousands of years in virtual isolation. List some of the changes, both positive and negative, that the joining of the east and west of Australia in this way would have created.

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. A newspaper reported the speech at the turning of the sod ceremony made by former Western Australian Premier and now Federal parliamentarian, Sir John Forrest: ‘Before Federation was decided upon he told his friends in Western Australia that he was assured by leading public men of Australia that the railway would be built, and at last that long-delayed promise had been fulfilled. In his first speech in the Federal Parliament, in May, 1901, he said – ‘I look upon a railway to Western Australia as a great, necessary and urgent work, which will bind together irrevocably the people of the eastern and the western sides of this great continent.’ . . . If anyone objected to send a railway to that country they had no faith in that nation.’ (Adelaide Advertiser 16 September 1912)
  2. Great national infrastructure projects are often seen as important elements in national identity and national development. Research a great project of this type — such as the Snowy Mountains scheme, the Ord River scheme, or the Adelaide-Darwin rail link.

Modules That Use This Clip

English Year 9-10, SOSE/HSIE Year 9-10, SOSE/HSIE Year 11-12