I’ve Been Working on the Railway, from The Workshops Rail Museum in Ipswich, explores the contribution of these cultural groups to the development of rail across Australia through stories, objects, music, video and photographs.
It was a common scene to find Torres Strait Islanders, Aboriginal people and Australian South Sea Islanders working long and hard in this hot and dusty environment.
The exhibition uncovers little known railway stories including camp life, the realities of the work, the hardships, the separation from their land, islands and families, and the opportunities and challenges of working on the railway.
A key achievement is the World Track Laying record set on 8 May 1968 by a predominantly Torres Strait Island gang of 41 men who laid 4.36 miles (7.25km) of track on the Mt Newman line at Port Hedland (WA) in just 11 hours and 40 minutes.
Personal accounts of working life are central to the exhibition and for those who left to work on the railway, they were leaving their homes and traditional land.
While some families went with the men, living in the arduous and every-changing camp existence along railway tracks, we also explore the experiences of the many families who were left behind and continued life with their husband or fathers far away.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its funding and advisory body.
The Workshops Rail Museum in Ipswich is winner of Australian and Queensland Tourism Awards for Heritage and Cultural Tourism.