Monday, May 19, 2014

Trove Tuesday: In which George is a railway ganger

The story of George Smith's adventure continues. You can see the first two installments here and here.

George Smith travelled on a coastal steamer from Adelaide to Albany in Western Australia and headed up the line to find work on the construction of the Great Southern Railway. Before the Fremantle port was built Albany was the main deepwater port for Western Australia and it was over three hundred miles from Perth. Construction of the 241 mile line was started at both Beverley (in the north) and Albany (in the coast) in 1886 and the line was opened in 1889.

The Argus, 4 June 1889
George found work in a gravel pit at first and then as part of a gang repairing the ballast and cutting scrub on the line. He was a devout Christian and found the conversation and behaviour of his workmates rather shocking. He wrote in his diary every day.


31/3 [1889] Arrived in Western Australia, Albany, and thought it a very pretty place.
3/4 Went up 190 mile to 196 gravel pit. Slept out all night. Rained at four o'clock in the morning. Suffering with a violent cold.
4/4 Engaged myself to work in the gravel pit 9 shillings per day. Went to work after dinner after pitching tent.
5/4 No coal for engines. No work in the morning, worked afternoon filling trucks. Thought I would have dropped for a while filling the last one from exhaustion. Cold no better.
6/4 Worked all day. Felt better. Thinking about giving it up.
7/4 Told I wasn't wanted in the pit. I engaged to go line repairing at the 165 at 7/6 per day.
8/4 Started for the 165 cap on the ballast train. Came to ? 14 mile off of it, started to walk the rest it, carried my things two mile, come to repairers, was trollied down. Camped at Godfreys.
9/4 Trollied down to 165 by Godfrey. Pitched tent in the morning, went to work in the afternoon. Thought it easy work. Thankful to God for his goodness.
10/4 Cutting scrub along the line with bill hooks. The country sandy and scrubby with plenty of poison weed called York Poisoned Weed.
11/4 On repairs packing the sleepers, equalising the gravel and filling the line. Shocked at the filthy conversation of the wicked.
12/4 Made my first batch of bread being the best bread on the camp. Any amount of rats in the tent at night.
13/4 Not very well being very tired at night. Took medicine.
14/4 Sunday. Refixed tent, washed my clothes, baked bread, took physic very feverish.
15/4 Felt well. Found out that my three mates Michael Courtey, Paddy Fits and Paddy McGloun starting mess. Got a supply of goods, tinned milk, preserved fruits, potatoes &c. Thankful.
16/4 Fell in with Bobby Hunter kangarooing. Thought him a queer card with his dogs & gun & lonely life.
17/4 With the flying gang ballasting the line with some Victorians. Getting into the work splendidly.
18/4 Still with gang re ballasting. Worked very hard all day ...


Railway trolley. [Museum Victoria MM4926]
Railway camp, Western Australia [Museum Victoria 158140]
To be continued.

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Lorraine