Many of the objects which come into the Museum have great stories. One of the most delightful over the last few months was the acquisition of this very rare fabric-covered railway timetable. It was used in the Museum’s superb 1901 Governor-General’s railway carriage in which Queen Elizabeth II travelled to parts of New South Wales during her 1954 Royal Tour of Australia.
The timetable’s discovery and survival is remarkable as it was souvenired only a short time after the 1954 Royal Visit had finished by a boy visiting the Eveleigh Railway Workshops in Sydney where the carriage was stored. He found the timetable under a seat in the Observation room of the carriage and kept it for 60 years until it was donated to the Museum in 2014. So, it’s possible that it may have been the Queen’s own personal copy (only a DNA test might tell)!
Bruce Partridge found the timetable and this is his account of how it happened:
“1954 was a good year. Australia’s own car, the FJ Holden was the king of the road and the big green 38 Class steam locomotive was the king of the rails. The sight, sound and smell of a 38 class locomotive erupting smoke and steam as it thundered past was simply amazing to a small boy. Like a lot of nine and a half year old boys in the early fifties, I was fortunate enough to play with my “Hornby” clockwork train set and dreamed of becoming a steam engine driver.
I was doubly fortunate to have a grandfather who worked for the NSW Railways maintaining steam locomotives and who had finally agreed to take me on a tour of his workplace at the Eveleigh workshops.
My maternal grandfather, George Clement, was a foreman boilermaker who worked for the railways all his life, except for his service in the First World War. We travelled from my grandparent’s home in Hurstville to the Eveleigh workshops by train on a weekend and I was shown around the extensive workshops, something I am sure workplace safety regulations would not allow today. I was even allowed to climb up onto the driver’s seat of a steam locomotive that was in the workshop for maintenance.
In what seemed an afterthought, my grandfather asked if I wanted a tour of the train carriage the Queen had used, as it was at the workshops. I climbed up into the carriage (unaccompanied) and walked through the carriage. I sat in the chairs at the dining table, tested out the beds and sat in the lounge chairs at the rear of the carriage. As I surveyed the surroundings, I noticed something white on the carpet under the seat opposite me. I got up and walked over, sat down and bent down to pick up the object under the lounge chair. It turned out to be the timetable for the Queen’s train trip from Bathurst to Sydney on Friday the 12 February 1954. The early fifties was a time of things “falling off the back of trucks” and “finders’ keepers”, so as the Queen did not want the timetable, to a little boy, it was all mine. I simply walked off the carriage and out of the workshops with a nice souvenir of my trip to my grandfather’s workplace.
It was not until I took my five year old grandson to the “Trainworks” (he is into Thomas and his father works for Rail Corp.) in January 2014 that I recognised the carriage used by the Queen 60 years ago and spoke to a chap about donating the timetable. The timetable has been in a paper bag in various drawers for the last 60 years and has survived five house moves. Why has it survived? Possibly because it reminds me of a wonderful day spent with my grandfather in 1954. It was a very good year.”
Contemporary accounts of the day the timetable was used on the Royal Train tell us much about the importance of the monarchy at this time. The train was pulled by two Alco diesel locomotives painted royal blue especially for the occasion. It consisted of a composite sitting and power car, a buffet and sitting car, the Commissioner’s car, the Premier’s car and the Royal car. The magnificently appointed Royal car, also known as the Governor-General’s carriage, had been built in 1901 for the use of Australia’s first governor-general and was altered for the Queen’s 1954 visit to make it even more comfortable. Part of the Museum’s collection, it’s currently on display at Trainworks, Thirlmere, south west of Sydney.
A New South Wales Government Railways’ (NSWGR) Decorations Committee made sure the railway buildings were appropriately decorated for the Tour. At Sydney’s Central Station, drapes, banners, flags and bunting were hung and gardens illuminated. Many country stations and their approaches, including Bathurst, Bowenfels, Lithgow, Katoomba and Leura, were likewise adorned. Those where the Queen either joined or left the Royal Train were repainted in what were then ‘modern’ pastel colours. At Bathurst the local Horticultural Society added palms and potted plants to the station platform and locally-grown flowers were ‘artistically arranged’ on board the train.
The 1954 Royal Visit caused extraordinary demands on the NSWGR. This was not only for the Royal Train itself, its preparation and operation, but the large number of trains needed to transport people, including 150,000 school children, to vantage points, towns, receptions and showgrounds where the Royal couple would be seen. Ordinary services were heavily loaded and many special trains added. During February 1954 there were almost 23 million passenger journeys in the State, the highest February number on record. As well as carrying spectators, special arrangements had to be made for police and their horses and motorcycles, as well as defence personnel and street barriers. The Railways’ financial results at the end of June 1954 even showed a profit for the first time since 1948.
So how did it all pan out on the day the timetable was used? Well, the Royal party left Sydney’s Government House and were driven to Kingsford Smith Aerodrome to catch a special RAAF plane to Raglan Aerodrome, not far from Bathurst. There they joined the Royal Train for the 240 km trip to Sydney. It was said that between fifty and sixty thousand spectators, three times the city’s population, thronged Bathurst. The city was decked with flowers and Aboriginal motifs were drawn on the roads. At Bathurst Showground 14,500 children, some of whom had travelled over 200 km for the event, cheered and threw their hats in the air. From Bathurst, the train stopped at Lithgow where the Queen briefly got out and Lithgow Park was renamed in her honour. Next stop was Katoomba where the Royal couple were driven to see the famous Blue Mountains. From Echo Point they admired the seemingly free-standing rock formations, the Three Sisters, and the beautiful Jamieson Valley. The NSW Minister for Housing, Clive Evatt, shouted a “cooee” to show the Queen the famous echo followed by a “ringing echo of a mass wolf cubs’ howl” from Cubs and Scouts. Crowds packed the surrounding streets and viewing areas perching precariously on boulders outside the cliff top safety fences. The Royal Party re-joined the train at Leura and as it left the crowds shouted “Please come out”. The Queen and Duke obliged and walked out onto the Governor-General’s carriage observation platform at the end of the train to wave goodbye.
The train’s journey from Parramatta, in western Sydney, back to Central late that afternoon was even more of a security nightmare. “The Sydney Morning Herald’s” page one headline announced: “Crowds Swarm in Path of Royal Train, Amazing Scene from Parramatta to City”. “Without thought for their safety, wildly excited thousands swarmed on to the railway lines as the Royal Train carrying the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh travelled between Parramatta and Central Station yesterday. They provided the most amazing scenes of frenzied welcome of the entire Royal Tour. Many stood directly in front of the slow-moving train, jumping to safety only at the last moment”. The crowds jammed every vantage point and station platform as the train passed through, stood on cars, ran along next to the train, stood in front of local suburban steam trains and could even be seen clinging halfway up the poles carrying electric train overhead wires. The railway officials were powerless to stop the vast crowds who were not disappointed as the Queen and Duke again stood and waved from the carriage’s observation platform all the way from Parramatta to Sydney.
Having to travel so slowly, the train was extremely late when it arrived at Central where a crowd of 25,000 waited up to three hours to catch a glimpse of the Royals. The Herald continued that “Commonwealth security police, CIB detectives and railway detectives maintained a strict security check on civilians on the platform. Immediately the Queen left the station and entered her car the crowd broke through the barriers and dashed onto the platform. They swarmed across to the Royal Train and tried to enter.”
So, maybe in the haste to leave the carriage the little timetable was overlooked, dropped and forgotten under the seat to be discovered, retrieved and treasured for 60 years until coming back into the public domain with its fascinating stories to tell.
O’Connor, Peter, “On Wooden Rails: Celebrating 150 Years of Work on the NSW Railways”, Rail, Tram and Bus Union (NSW Branch), Sydney, 2005.
“The Sydney Morning Herald”, 13 February 1954, P.1
Information provided by Bruce Partridge, 2014.
“Lost and found: timetable for a queen in “Powerline: the magazine of the Powerhouse Museum”, Issue 113, autumn/winter 2014, p.29.
Written by Margaret Simpson, Curator, January 2015