Roger Currie of Steam Ranger Newsletter – August 2023

Since the last review I have been able to continue to enjoy this fascinating book. It is being written as you read this comment as Dr John Wilson continues to research and write the final chapters. The good news is that the Sarlines website ( is now running smoothly. Whole chapters can be read and a video has been completed. It shows an interview with Dr John where he states the reasoning behind his latest project. There are special deals to be had, should you wish to team up with a friend or buy more than one copy. Also novel deliveries will be made using the Cockle train. The baggage car will function as it was originally designed to do and you can save on the postage. More detail on this offer will follow on the website. As mentioned, you can view a lot of the book on the website.

Reading the book In depth, you-can see that Dr John covers much, much more than just the breaks of gauge of Australia’s railways. He covers the reasons behind the various decisions that have cost the governments so much over the years to remedy and how it could easily have been fixed. Along the way we learn of characters who so affected the railway developments in Australia. The reader will find out facts they never even knew they didn’t know. For example, in SA the railways were intricately related to Goyder’s line. And who knew that Australia’s first break of gauge occurred in Tasmania, now all narrow gauge, followed by Kadina, when the SAR’s narrow gauge met the mines railway broad gauge?

SA’s use of narrow gauge appeared to have been focused on getting produce cheaply to local ports, not state or Australia-wide commerce. Thus, these narrow-gauge lines would inevitably connect with the main broad-gauge trunk-lines that were developing concurrently. Dr John explains all of this in such an entertaining manner that the reader will emerge a much more knowledgeable person whilst having thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Nick Anchen, Railway Historian and Author, Sierra Publishing, July 2023
John Wilson’s forthcoming publication, ‘The Break-of-Gauge – A Social History’, covers an important aspect of Australia’s convoluted railway history.

John takes the reader back to the origins of the nation’s railway gauge conundrum, a tragic tale of petty colonial jealousies and small mindedness. Similar gauge problems were overcome in the UK and USA, but not here. Why? A lack of imagination and political will come to mind, but as John’s research shows, the reasons are somewhat more complicated.

Australia’s inability to remedy the gauge situation has been a severe handicap to our economic development, and almost proved disastrous during the years of World War II.

John’s much needed publication should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in Australian railway history.

Roger Currie of SteamRanger Newsletter – June 2023
I have just received the first 14 of 25 chapters…extremely well written and well researched…Even at first glance The Break-of-Gauge will be a most entertaining an enlightening read for both the historian with an already keen interest in and knowledge of railways, and also how the railways in Australia developed and their impact on the populace.

Des Smith, previously Chief Civil Engineer of Australian National Railways
Australia has many successful achievements, but as a nation and group of colonies beforehand, we have been a dismal failure in attempts to achieve a common railway gauge. John Wilson, from his usual painstaking research, finds that one, often cast as the villain is innocent and puts the blame on Fitzroy. He goes on with more F-words nothing others who added to the mess some years later (Fitzgibbon, Fox and Fairlie). SA’s gauge-mischief-maker, Captain Bagot, is blamed for this state becoming, for many years the world leader in the break of gauge industry.
You will learn from John’s Break-of-Gauge book very much more than just how that sorry state came to be, and its effect on we the people. His story is wide ranging and includes new and interesting information. You will also read about the mythical Cornish Piskies and Tommyknockers who didn’t like our first mainland gauge break at Kadina, the plausible ‘experts’ and the early gullible legislators, the pork-barrelling and squabbling of the latter, disputes between colonies and states, federation and more horse trading and disputes right up to the High Court level. And there is more, bringing you up to recent times – the ups and downs and sideways of the north-south and east-west railways, defence, the widely acclaimed but fruitless Clapp report, and later developments. All recounted in John’s uniquely readable style, illustrated with photos, diagrams and Greg Judd’s cartoons.
Not satisfied with just the social history, John takes you to some depth into the engineering details of the track structures and geometry, quite apart from just its gauge. He has a keen interest in all types of curves and mentions the bottomless right of way, after relentlessly plying me with questions and delving deep into my fading technical knowledge and memory bank. I hope we’ve got it mostly right.

Stu Nankivell, of Blue Goanna Digital (Clare)
Stu is our website and video man who admits no previous awareness of the problem of the break-of-gauge. Our project has been an eye-opener for him and he has been eagerly reading some of the chapters. Here are some comments:

John takes us on a fascinating journey, charting everything you’d want to know about this national disgrace. He goes beyond places and dates to bring us an intimate look at the heroes and villains who took part in this fiasco, in an easy-to-read and engaging experience.

Bob Sampson Executive Officer, National Railway Museum. Catch Point Magazine, July 2023
The Break-of-Gauge – A Social History planned to be out before the end of the year, the A4 hard-cover manuscript will be keenly sought after, as the topic has been a dilemma for governments and the rail industry.


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