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The rail line that helped seal the Federation will be celebrated on the western edge of the Nullarbor Plain today, 100 years since the track was completed at the tiny settlement of Ooldea.
About 500 people are expected at the siding where rail workers linked the east and west sides of the nation at 1.45pm on October 17, 1917.
The completion of the Trans-Australian Railway between the West Australian goldmining town of Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta meant that, for the first time, a person could travel from Sydney to Perth by rail, notwithstanding a few train swaps at the break of gauge stations.
Former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer said the line’s significance to Australia was enormous — it was essentially a promise to the goldminers of Kalgoorlie who wanted to be able to visit their families back east. Mr Fischer sees the decision to build the railway as central to WA’s decision in a July 1900 referendum to join the Federation, becoming the last colony to do so.
“One of the key factors was Kalgoorlie miners wanting a direct connection back to their Bendigo and Ballarat families,” Mr Fischer said, adding that the line quietened a looming revolt.
“At the time the Kalgoorlie Miner newspaper was pushing for a new state colony,” he said.
“It took 17 years, but in the middle of World War I, and against huge odds, it was completed and it was a great achievement.”
This Sunday is the 100-year anniversary of the first passenger train to leave Port Augusta for Kalgoorlie.
The Indian Pacific passenger train made its first journey from Sydney to Perth — a distance of more than 4500km — in 1970, a year after a single-gauge uninterrupted rail line spanning the continent was completed. Until recently the Indian Pacific offered budget sit-up travel subsidised by the federal government, but it is now a luxury holiday experience with only sleeper cabins.
The line remains crucial for freight.
About 80 per cent of goods moved between the east and west coasts of Australia arrive on the Trans Australia line.
This article first appeared on www.theaustralian.com.au
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