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Constructing the East-West Rail Link

Video clip synopsis – Rare archival footage from 1910 shows camels carrying heavy supplies across the desert. Railway labourers are building the 1400 km railway that will finally link Western Australia with the Eastern States.
Year of production - 1979
Duration - 0min 54sec
Tags - Australian History, change and continuity, communication, federation, national identity, water, see all tags


Constructing the East-West Rail Link

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About the Video Clip


Constructing the East-West Rail Link is an excerpt from the film The Rail Way (26 mins), produced in 1979.

The Rail Way: A wide-ranging look at Australian railways – from the city underground to the railway of the remote outback. We see the six locomotive coal giants of central Queensland and the picturesque Normanton-Croydon rail car, epic journeys of the transcontinental Indian Pacific and a half-day vintage steam train excursion. The film is introduced and narrated by Patsy Adam-Smith, well known for her many books on Australian railways.

The Rail Way was produced by Film Australia for the Department of Transport.

Curriculum Focus


A student:
5.1 explains social, political and cultural developments and events and evaluates their impact on Australian life
5.3 explains the changing rights and freedoms of Aboriginal peoples and other groups in Australia
5.5 identifies, comprehends and evaluates historical sources
5.8 locates, selects and organises relevant historical information from a number of sources, including ICT, to undertake historical inquiry
5.9 uses historical terms and concepts in appropriate contexts.

Inquiry questions: What was life like in Australia at the turn of the century?

This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies website for more information.

Background Information


On 14 September 1912, Australia’s Governor-General, Lord Denman, turned the first sod for the Trans-Australia Railway to link Australia by rail from Brisbane to Sydney to Melbourne to Adelaide to Perth.

This project had been promised at the time of Federation in 1901, to encourage Western Australia to join the new Commonwealth.

Two parties working from east to west and west to east met at 1.45 pm on Wednesday 17 October 1917. Sir John Forrest, former Premier of Western Australia and at that stage a Federal parliamentarian said: ‘I rejoice to see this day. Western Australia, comprising one third of the continent, hitherto isolated and practically unknown, is from today, in reality, a part of the Australian Federation.’

Classroom Activities

  1. Why was the completion of the railway an important event at the time – both socially and politically?
  2. Look at a map of Australia. Why would a railway linking Adelaide to Perth be considered to be so important at the time?
  3. The building of the railway was a massive undertaking which included the
    human muscle of 3,500 men,and the labour of 750 camels and horses. In the clip what are some of the logistical problems mentioned that had to be overcome by the management and the men?
  4. The route the trainline took passed through areas where Aboriginal people had lived for thousands of years in virtual isolation. List some of the changes, both positive and negative, that the joining of the east and west of Australia in this way may have created for some Aboriginal communities.
  5. Prepare a speech by the Minister for Transport on completion of the first trip. What had been the significance of the trip? What did it have to do with nation building? What did it mean for Australia and for Australian identity?