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The “Tea and Sugar” train began its life in 1915 servicing some of the most remote locations in the world along the Trans-Australian Railway providing goods and services to workers.
The service gradually increased to also serve many isolated communities along the route. Running between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie, the train carried groceries and fresh meat (with a butchers van) and also provided banking/pay facilities. Prices were comparable with major cities and towns.
From the early 1950’s at Christmas time it even bought Father Christmas along to distribute presents to children along the line.
The Tea and Sugar also served as a mail run for the GPO. Mail was delivered to the Stationmaster or similar at all locations where mail was collected by employees and their families.
Eventually, welfare including medical services, a toy library for children and even a separate theatrette car were all part of the service.
The arrival of the train was an event, a break in the monotony of life in these remote locations. People referred to its arrival as “Tea and Sugar Day”. Some women actually dressed up to go to the siding to meet the train in style!
Over the years diesel locomotives replaced steam locomotives (early 1950’s), which cut the number of camps along the line. In the 1970’s camps reduced further as continuously welded rails were introduced, this was followed by concrete sleepers replacing timber sleepers, further reducing track maintenance.
From 1981, services were further restricted. The butcher's van was removed in 1982, although prepacked meat could be ordered at Port Augusta prices. As the size and number of railway settlements decreased along the TAR, the route was shortened to terminate at Cook. The last run of the Tea and Sugar train was in 1996.
Part of the famous train is on display at the National Railway Museum at Port Adelaide.
Sources: Monte Luke, NRM and National Library of Australia
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