Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta

Whilst the Trans Australia Railway was being constructed, the Tea and Sugar Train was established to supply food and other staples to the men at the various work camps along the line. Also, along the line, settlements were established at 30km intervals to maintain the line after it had officially opened. Initially about 50 settlements were established, generally of six houses. These settlements were staffed, not only by the workers, but their families as well. The Tea and Sugar Train continued to supply these settlements until its closure in 1996.

The Tea and Sugar Train – photo contributed by Roz Felton.

The arrival of the train was a cause for great excitement. The people of the settlements often referred to the train’s arrival as “Tea and Sugar Day”, although some stops only lasted 20 to 30 minutes. Most women celebrated the arrival by getting dressed in their finest outfit to meet the train in style.

To service the settlements, a train left Port Augusta every Wednesday and arrived in Kalgoorlie on Saturday. On the return journey it left Kalgoorlie on Wednesday and arrived in Port Augusta on Friday. The train provided all the services a community could require. Generally the train consisted of:

  • A “provisions van”, which sold groceries, bread, vegetables, fruit, clothes, soap, cleaning products, tobacco, in fact anything required to run a modern house. The bread was baked at key points along the route. Customers would place orders at the window of the van and a staff member retrieved the items from a shelf and handed them to the customer. However, in 1979, two new carriages were implemented. These were more like supermarkets and let the shoppers wander through and choose whatever they wanted.
  • A butcher’s van had space for a shop front, a slaughter area,  and a small sleeping area for the butcher himself, complete with stove and a basin for washing. Live sheep and cattle were carried in a separate wagon to be slaughtered as needed and sold through the shop. By the 1940s these butcher vans also incorporated large refrigerated compartments. The butcher vans were dropped in 1982 in favour of pre-packaged meat, although this had been promised by the government to happen in 1943.
  • The pay car operated as a bank and post office. It issued pay to the workers along the line, and was also a branch of the Commonwealth Bank. As a Post Office, mail was delivered to the station master where it could be collected by employees and families. It also accepted mail for posting.
  • Most trains also provided a movie car that allowed townspeople to view the latest movies inside the train car, and in December there was a Christmas car, with a Santa that travelled from town to town. There was also a chemist dispensary on the train.
  • Religious services:
    • From 1922 to 1928 Rev. Neville Haviland of the Anglican Bush Church Aid Society ministered from the coast to the Central Australia border and from Port Augusta west to the Western Australian border. Included in his regular route were the railway settlements of Ooldea and Cook. Although there were no roads, most of his travelling was done by car.
    • From the late 1920s, Salvationist William Cowan, a non-denominational missioner [sic] at Tarcoola, travelled from time to time on the Tea and Sugar Train. He distributed donated books and newspapers free to any of the residents along the line who wanted to read them. He also ministered along the line from Tarcoola to Kalgoorlie to anyone he met.
    • In December 1934, Rev. H. J. C. Hughes, of the Anglican, Bush Brotherhood, played Santa Clause on the Tea and Sugar Train, it was his intention to do this for many years to come. It is not known how long he continued in this role.
    • In 1952 the Anglican Bishop of Kalgoorlie, Rev. C. E. B. Muschamp proposed to convert a passenger carriage for use as a chapel for all denominations. Although South Australian and Western Australian rail authorities agreed, Commonwealth Railways “considered” the proposal. But nothing seems to have come to fruition.
    • From the early 1960s, Lutheran Pastor Heinrich Johannes (Henry) Noack of Adelaide, travelled on the train for more than 20 years, ministering to the families along the line.
  • From the 1970s there was a Community Services carriage on the train. Among those in this carriage was personnel from the RICE (Remote and Isolated Children’s Exercise) project. RICE lends books, toys, cassette tapes, activity sheets and craft materials to many isolated families along the rail line and in outback areas. A mobile health clinic was included, providing the families with access to a doctor or nurse, as well as baby health and mothercraft lessons.  Craft workers, nutrition experts, people from drama groups, family planning personnel and youth workers all volunteered their services. This carriage also carried a basic library, and a collection of modestly priced pot plants for sale.
  • The train also carried petrol, diesel fuel, and motor oil to keep the vehicles, and generators ticking over.
  • most of the settlements had no water available in the area, this is carried in tanker wagons called “gins”.
  • Many of the houses relied on wood-burning stoves and heaters. There was always at least a couple of wagons carrying firewood.
  • There were also flat-top wagons carrying larger and bulkier items, such as vehicles, furniture, etc. These would also carry spare rails, sleepers, and other items for track maintenance.
  • The train also had a passenger carriage to transport workers between settlements, and to either Port Augusta or Kalgoorlie for leave.

The prices paid for any goods purchased from the train were in line with those charged in the shops in Port Augusta.

The last service of the Tea and Sugar Train left Kalgoorlie on 30 August 1996. Most of the carriages were dismantled, however, the remaining carriages are on display at the National Railway Museum in Port Adelaide.

Pastor Noack talking to school children as part of the ministry service on the Tea and Sugar Train.
Pastor Noack talks with children at Kingoonya primary school

The Tea and Sugar Train, carriage used as a butcher to provide meat for people along the railway line.
Tea & Sugar Butcher’s Van FA640, in service 1944 to 1982

The Tea and Sugar Train, carriage used for providing banking services to people along the railway line.
Tea & Sugar Pay Car PA281, in service 1972 to 1995
The Tea and Sugar Train, carriage used as a provisions store for people along the railway line.
Tea & Sugar Provision Van VPA1340. The ventilated section and double doors at the end of the carriage is for the storage of fruit and vegetables.


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