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It was the rail line that united a fledging country, the key bargaining chip that sold sceptical West Australians on the idea of joining the Australian Federation.
One hundred years ago this week, an eastbound passenger train rolled into the railway station at Kalgoorlie, 600km east of Perth.
But while the gold mining town had previously been the end of the line, the train that left the station on October 25, 1917 was bound for Port Augusta, nearly 1,700km down the newly-completed Trans-Australian Railway Line.
A century on from that moment, train enthusiasts and history buffs joined local leaders at a special ceremony at Kalgoorlie Station to mark the train's departure.
Momentous occasion to be celebratedA healthy contingent of rail heritage enthusiasts made the trip to Kalgoorlie for the occasion.
"I think it's a very big moment, not only for our society, but for Australians all over," Rail Heritage WA President Brian Williams said.
"When you consider the construction of this line contributed to the nation as a whole."
Prior to the line's completion, WA was effectively isolated from the rest of the country, the only transport link being a sea-sickening and occasionally dangerous boat journey across the Great Australian Bight.
"I can still remember my grandfather going off on holidays, going down to Fremantle and getting on a ship," fellow enthusiast Bruce Keay said.
"Everyone sailed east for their two weeks holiday."
Personal link for rail society presidentAs WA Premier and an inaugural Federal Cabinet Minister, John Forrest saw the state's late entry to the Federation as an opportunity to have the Federal Government foot the bill for the critical development.
Having already delivered the Goldfields Water Pipeline, Sir John developed a reputation as a big spender; rhetorically asking 'what's a million?' on the floor of Federal Parliament.
He had a key ally in Brian Williams' great grandfather, WA Labor Senator Hugh de Largie.
"He was actively involved in pushing for the commencement of building the line," Mr Williams said.
"He could see the benefits for WA, just like Sir John saw them."
Construction began in September 1912 at Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta, with hundreds of workers laying track across increasingly hot and isolated sections of the Nullarbor Plain.
Materials were brought in by any means possible, with horse and camel teams playing key roles.
Work continued through the World War I, with the two spurs eventually meeting at Ooldea, 863km west of Port Augusta and nearly 1,000km from Kalgoorlie.
"It's a testament to those involved in the design and construction of the line that it's still running 100 years later," Mr Williams said.
A journey made by thousandsWhile politics birthed the railway, it is the passengers that kept it going, with thousands making the cross-country journey after the line's completion.
For new migrants like Jane Keay, it was often their first glimpse of Australia's vast interior.
"I came out as one of the last 10 pound Poms," Mrs Keay said.
"It was a small cubbyhole, you went down the corridor to shower.
"But it was great, just sitting there … stopping at places was where I learned Australia is about small things, and lots of them."
[color=#000000][size=1]PHOTO:[/size][/color] Railway enthusiast Bruce Keay and his wife Jane made the trip to Kalgoorlie to mark the line's centenary celebrations. (ABC Goldfields-Esperance: Sam Tomlin)
Kalgoorlie's state MP Kyran O'Donnell also made his maiden voyage to WA on the train, after his family decided to move from the eastern states.
"We had maybe 800 people on the train, and we've stopped in the middle of the day at Rawlinna [412km east of Kalgoorlie]," Mr O'Donnell said.
"We're all squashed onto the platform, where there's a shop on the platform.
"With a sign: 'closed for lunch.'"
While the Indian Pacific still runs cross country services; they are now marketed as a premium experience, with operators discontinuing cheap passenger tickets last year.
It's a development driven by cheaper flights, but one that has disappointed Mrs Keay.
"We spend too much time going very, very fast through this country," she said.
"If we stopped and had a good look at it, we might love it a little bit more."
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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