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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, communication, federation, 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


Historical Knowledge and understanding
At Level 6, students analyse changes in technology, medicine and communication. They also analyse events that contributed to Australia’s social, political and cultural development such as Federation.

Historical reasoning and interpretation
At Level 6 students locate relevant resources, including online resources. They identify, comprehend and evaluate a range of primary and secondary sources. They critically evaluate sources of evidence for context, information, reliability, completeness, objectivity and bias.

This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority 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. What were Western Australia’s reasons for not wanting to part of the new commonwealth?
    2. When did they join the rest of the colonies in deciding that they would be part of it?
    1. Look at a map of Australia. Why would a railway linking Adelaide to Perth be wanted?
    2. Why was it such a massive undertaking?
  1. The main equipment available for building the railway was human muscle (3,500 men), 750 camels and horses, trains able to run on the completed parts of the tracks and very little mechanised earth-moving equipment. There were no roads, no permanent water supply and no local produce available.
    Here are some problems that faced the builders. How would you solve them?
    1. Accommodation for the workers
    2. Water supply
    3. Food for workers and animals
    4. Earth-moving equipment
    5. Health and sanitation
    6. Mail
    7. Entertainment
      Look at the scenes in the video clip to see evidence of how some of these problems were addressed.
  2. Today, Perth is still seen as one of the most isolated capital cities in the world. Do you think that the construction of the railway helped curb the feeling of isolation? What points do you think a Western Australian would put forward to argue otherwise?

Navvy: a worker employed in making roads, railways etc.