Sep 14, 2012

Speech to centenary of first sod-turning for the Trans-Australian Railway – Port Augusta Railway Station

Let me begin by taking you back 112 years to 1900.

Imagine trying to cross the continent.

There were two choices.

A rough trip overland, finding tracks and roads where they existed.

Or a lengthy trip across the Great Australian Bight, famous for its miserable choppy seas.

At the time, the people of Western Australia were in the middle of a raging debate over whether they should sign up to Federation.

What finally got them over the line was the promise of a train – one that would connect east and west.

Family visits, mail and trade could all occur in days rather than weeks, via that grand 19th century mechanical work-horse – railway.

It would connect one of the most isolated settlements on earth to the rest of the nation, with all that offered to the citizens of the new Federation to share in its growth and prosperity.

It was enough to get the west over the line and the dream of Federation was finally achieved.

Move forward a dozen years to the year 1912 in Port Augusta where we stand precisely one century later.

There stood the Governor General Thomas Denman, with –

  • the Prime Minister Andrew Fisher
  • King O’Malley the Minister for Home Affairs
  • State Premiers and
  • the Mayor of Port Augusta, Thomas Hewitson.

Around them gathered a crowd of local citizens, all there to celebrate a moment that would change the nation – the start of work on the Trans-Australian Railway.

It was a monumental nation-building project that would also change the record books – both in Australia and around the world.

The 1700 kilometres of track linking Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta still includes the longest stretch of straight track in the world – all 478 kilometres of it!

It was also the longest stretch of railroad built in one project.

I don’t know if that record still stands.

It must have been a particularly sweet moment for Labor Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, who had been a fervent champion of the line.

Fisher was a grand nation-builder.

Under his watch came many things including the Royal Navy, the Commonwealth Bank, the founding of Canberra, maternity allowances and greater equality for women.

Fisher’s tradition of reform and creating opportunities for every Australian lies at the core of every decision we make as a Labor Government.

Under this present Government’s watch, a record $36 billion is being invested in new roads and rail lines.

No government in our history has invested this much.

One-third of the nation’s rail freight lines are being rebuilt – some 3,800 kilometres of track.

Millions of concrete sleepers have been laid, replacing old wooden ones.

There are new passing loops and new sturdy track that doesn’t buckle in the Australian heat.

All this allows people and freight to move faster and more reliably around the nation.

This line in particular now has several new long passing loops allowing express trains to make the trip westward to Perth in 44 hours, rather than 53.

This valuable time saver has prompted Australia’s main parcel carriers to put their Perth-bound international deliveries onto rail.

They are joining sectors such as mining, agricultural and freight carriers such as Woolworths which are increasingly turning to rail.

Today, I announce $16 million in additional investment through the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC)  to replace 36 kilometres of track between Port Augusta and Tarcoola.

This will support 40 local jobs, including those created at the steel works in Whyalla.

CONCLUSION

It is an enormous privilege to stand here in the shadow of the visionary leaders of a century ago to mark this centenary.

I acknowledge their foresight in recognising that this rail line would join, build and indeed, make a nation.

Importantly, I also acknowledge the workers who laboured in vast numbers to build this great undertaking.

One can barely imagine the conditions they would have endured.

Finally, it is a day to celebrate the resurgence of rail in Australia.

Because this 19th century invention that heralded in a new era of opportunity is once again entering a golden age.

Thank you.