On Wednesday 14 December an enthusiastic crowd of around sixty people gathered at the Port Milang Historic Railway Museum, on the banks of Lake Alexandrina for the opening of their new South Australian Light Railway Centre.
Constructed by museum volunteers with financial support from a local bequest and a grant from the History Trust of South Australia, the new centre tells the story of the once 700 light railways in operation in South Australia before road transport became dominant and how only eight remain, all of them amusement railways except for the 5 Km electric underground line at Olympic Dam.
The launch event began with speeches by museum secretary, Peter Lucas, museum president, Allan McInnes, and Les Howard from the Light Railway Research Society of Australia. Guest of honour, Bob Sampson OAM, the National Railway Museum’s Executive Officer described his contacts with the Milang Railway Museum over the past thirty years and then officially opened the new display by driving the Smithfield munitions train, once used to transport explosive material within the high security Smithfield Magazine area north of Adelaide during the Second World War, out of the Centre through a ribbon. Passengers were Adrian Pederick, the State member for Hammond and Pauline Cockrill, Community History Officer from the History Trust of SA, one of the Museum’s major supporters. Milang Railway Museum is a one of 66 registered and accredited museums in the Trust’s Community Museums Program.
Guests, including Alexandrina Council Mayor Keith Parkes and Deputy Mayor Katherine Stanley-Murray, were then able to inspect the new displays, the main feature being the Smithfield rolling stock consisting of a small electric powered locomotive BEV and three wagons on a kilometre of two foot gauge light railway track which runs through the building and was purchased by the museum following the closure of the Smithfield magazine railway about 16 years ago. There is also a Malcolm Moore jetty tractor, originally from Port Price on the Yorke Peninsula which was started by museum volunteers for visitors’ enjoyment.
Twelve interpretive panels along one wall inform visitors about the various short, low cost railways which were installed to do a specific job at a selected location all over the state; working in mines, agriculture, construction sites, salt pans, jetties, quarries, wineries. Light railways have carried a variety of cargo including bags of wheat, bales of wool, stacks of timber, loads of stone, piles of salt and barrels of wine. They have even hauled missiles at the Woomera Rocket Range in the far north, the only known instance of rockets and missiles using light railways in Australia. Although principally used for transporting things, they have also been used for carrying people. There were once almost 40 amusement railways in South Australia, the most popular perhaps being the one based at Adelaide Zoo from 1925-1976.
Visitors can see the types of material that light railways transported displayed in tiny trucks below the corresponding interpretive panel. For the price of $1 one can also make the model light railway come to life (with full sound effects), or discover the location of each light railway from the large map of South Australia on the wall.
The Milang Railway Museum is open each Saturday and Sunday afternoon, from noon to 4pm, and visitors will now be able to inspect the Light Railway Centre at those times.
See the Smithfield Munitions train in action at the launch under Resources to the right. Video courtesy of Gerry Thompson
More information about the museum here