Our latest work and by far the most demanding. This work is a book of deep research that has upturned many previous tenets about the railway gauge problem in Australia. 230 pages

THE BREAK OF GAUGE – A Social History

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Chapter 12 is the longest chapter in the book and is about the framing of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia and explains why the railways should have been federated, but it also explains why it didn’t happen. Sounds boring – far from it. The whole book is is a story constructed like a ‘who-dunnit’. Chapter 12 is no exception. The framing of our Constitution was associated with a lot of skullduggery, particularly where the railways were concerned. I believe that my research and presentation of this chapter goes far deeper than has been done by any previous researcher.

Here are some of my notable quotes –

Chapter 4

Fitzgibbon, Fox and the Queensland Narrow Gauge.
There are some, I expect, in the railway fraternity, and particularly in the narrow-gauge states, who may find themselves uncomfortable with the contents of this chapter. I make no apology. Fitzgibbon did not have the skills for the job, and he didn’t have the insight to see that he didn’t have the skills.

Chapter 7

Regarding Western Australia, the history of the break-of-gauge in the Australian colonies, up to this point had been a procession of bungles.
There had been one recurring theme that had driven this: Wallace, Fitzroy, Fitzgibbon, Fairlie, Fox and Bagot. All convinced that they had the answer and determined to have their way. We could well imagine that the West was in a position to learn from some of the misfortunes that plagued the other colonies. But we’d be dreaming.

Chapter 14 – The Curse of the North South Transcontinental Railway (Part 2)

As this chapter unfolds, we will see the disintegration of the transcontinental dream railway. It became the embodiment of the perception that had persisted for a long time afterwards that there was an inequity in the Federation. This would become a malignant force driving South Australian politics in the 1920s and 1930s with the State Premier, Sir Henry Barwell, in office from 1920 to 1924, venting his wrath on the Commonwealth, manifesting it as an extreme paranoia directed at the 4 ft 8½ inch gauge. The sad part was that the recipients of that wrath would be the people of SA, right up to the present.

Chapter 15 – Border Railways Gone Wrong

Borders can do funny things to people. As individuals and populations.

Chapter 16 – Lessons About Locomotives

Imagine if the railway had just been invented. There would be computerised models and expert committees that would examine all aspects of the gauge requirements and the application of the technology of the 21st century. Experts from all disciplines would be invited to submit their evidence. Imagine then, the input from a Mr Stephenson from a Yorkshire address with the suggestion that the standard gauge for the new invention should be determined by the measurement of the back end of a horse. Then contemplate the reaction of those learned gentlemen, having so unkindly laughed the Geordie yokel out of the room, to find their computerised models delivered a figure that was close to the measurement of the arse end of a horse.

Chapter 17

My MHR (Member of the House of Representatives) is a good man who works well for his constituents. He is a Labor man,…My Member has shown a genuine interest in the topics addressed in my previous books and I recently spent a half an hour with him where we talked about railway gauges. I put to him the question: Who in the Federal Government has ownership of the agenda regarding the gauge problem? His reply, slightly sheepishly was “no-one”.

Chapter 18 – The Curse of the North – South Transcontinental Railway (Part 3)

The CURSE OF THE RAILWAY GAUGES. The curse has taken the form of a force deeply embedded in the collective psyche of South Australia. I have defined it as such:-
We don’t like being pushed around by those from the east and we will use whatever means possible to resist their intentions. It is a destructive force that has effectively destroyed South Australia’s regional railway network.

Chapter 19 – The decade of lost opportunities

Throughout this saga of railway gauges there is one sentiment which seems to be stating the screaming obvious, but of which I have never found articulated by any politician, historian or anyone else for that matter. So here goes! I think that I am the first to have ever put this in writing. Starting in the 1920s well-meaning statesmen have set about fixing the problem by throwing some Commonwealth money at it, but still expecting the States would be contributing. Even as I write this (14 November 2023), Prime Minister Albanese has made known to Victoria that funding for transport infrastructure projects will require 50% contribution by the States.
Now maybe I live in fairyland in that I believe in natural justice, which is quite different to what we find in law courts and Parliament. This gauge mess was not the doing of Victoria. It was New South Wales that created the problem and in the new Federation it was the New South Wales gauge that was chosen to be the national standard. Natural justice was not a consideration. The decision was made because it was vastly cheaper to shift a rail in than shift it out. For Victorians this was a breach of natural justice on two fronts. If there was to be payment to fix the problem then it should have been by New South Wales, but that State had no lines to convert and thus got off ‘Scot free’. The second injustice has been Victoria has been of no contribution to this but has been expected to pay. To put it simply, it wasn’t fair.

Chapter 20 – The Clapp Plan and the Prophesy of Santayana

As this story has unfolded there have been lessons to emerge. I expand upon these lessons. To procrastinate or do nothing is to condemn the state railway networks to a level of inefficiency to the extent that they follow SA’s fate of seeing the disintegration of the non-metropolitan rail enterprise. I perceive Victoria to be particularly vulnerable. If Victoria goes the same way as SA, there will be a transport void in the vast area of those two states, and road transport will roll in and there will be many more road trucks coming out of the region into the other states. If it will go beyond SA and Victoria and will impact negatively on the rail business of the other mainland states. Another lesson has been the complete failure to heed the prophecy of Santayana. George Santayana was a Spanish-born philosopher whose career was mostly in America about the commencement of the 20th century. There appear to be variations of his prophecy but the central theme is constant. Those who cannot learn from the errors of history and doomed to repeat them.

Chapter 21 – Uncle Tom

Playford in1964 and Dunstan in 1968 had made changes to the legislation that removed transport control on intrastate routes. The result was a decline in the revenue of the SAR. Ron Fitch wrote three books in his retirement. It was his last book Australian Railwayman from Cadet Engineer to Railways Commissioner, that he opened up with some truths and frank comments. Of Dunstan, he said that regarding access to the festival theatre site, there were heated and acrimonious discussions. And of Steele-Hall, that he had demonstrated undisguised antipathy towards the SAR, which he had demonstrated from the very first day that he had entered the Parliament.

Chapter 23 – It’s Thru and Its Time. Plotting the Rise and Fall of Australian National Railways

The ARTC was formed in 1998 and has taken up the Inland Rail project from Melbourne to Toowoomba and into Greater Brisbane, but to Gladstone and central QLD is still a dotted line. Mention must also be made of Victoria’s Murray basin railway project which aims to have all freight-only lines converted to standard gauge. Both of these projects have had delays and cost blowouts but I’m not privy to the reasons and will not speculate. What is evident is that the Tarcoola to Alice Springs railway was built within budget and would have served as an example. The concern is that there are other railway projects that must be pushed forward in the future but they may not get the support given the experience these two more recent troubled projects.

The Epilogue (Chapter 24) The Man From Mars and Climbing Mount Everest

It is my tradition to write the epilogue of each book the day before we go to the printer. This one required a little longer. I comment about social media and the people who seem content for it to run their lives. When I had completed chapter 12 ( the Nuts-and-Bolts chapter), I mused over the fact that it was probably the most thorough dealing that had ever been undertaken up to that time on the matter of railways in the constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia. So in a fit of altruism, I put it up on the website from where it found its way to the social media page of the local rail fraternity where it got 3 likes. Someone else posted a photograph that week of a 900-class diesel at Mount Lofty station and it got 290 likes.


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