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HISTORY

 

Below is a potted history of the Adelaide River Railway Station and Refreshment Room.
The precinct has cultural heritage significance in the areas of the Overland Telegraph Line, mining,
governance, ethnicity, railway, social history, engineering and construction, the cattle industry,
World War II, nursing and, most recently, tourism and hospitality.

Date
Event
Aeons
Traditional owners of the area are the Kungarakan and, to a lesser extent, the Warai people.
1839
The mouth of theAdelaide River was found and named by officers on board The Beagle.
1862
John McDouall Stuart reached the Top End, mapping the country from Adelaide.
1863
South Australia assumed control of the Northern Territory, it being the Northern Territory of South Australia.
1864
Surveyor Finniss selected Escape Cliffs, six miles from the mouth of the Adelaide River, as a settlement site. It failed.
Read more history of the Northern Territory.
1869
Palmertson (Darwin's then name) was surveyed by George Goyder. The town was established.
1870
Overland telegraph line (OTL) construction commenced. No 1 Depot was 15km south of Adelaide River.
1871
Gold was discovered at Pine Creek by OT workers. Southport on the Blackmore River developed as the nearest navigable point for the goldfield
and supply of materials for the OT line. Adelaide River, about half-way to the mining districts, became a preferred camping place for travellers.
1872
Overland Telegraph Line completed.
1886
Decision to build Palmerston (Darwin's then name) to Pine Creek rail to service the goldfields. A contract between SA Railways Commission
and C&E Millar was signed. It was agreed to use 'coolies' for labour: Indian for earthworks and Chinese for track laying.
1873
Mr Dougherty built a rough log and bark hut, and opened a restaurant for travellers. HS Findlay then built the first hotel at the river.
It was named the QCE Hotel. The acroym was Quiet, Comfort and Ease.
1887
July - plate laying commenced from Palmerston at the rate of three-quarters of a mile (1200 metres) per day.
1879
A police camp was established in a Cypress Pine and iron hut at the cost of £30
1882
Adelaide River became the overnight stop for Haimes Royal Mail coach. The fare from Southport to Adelaide River was £1/15/10.
1884
Pioneer cemetery (on the Stuart Highway side, north of the Precinct) established 100 yards from the QCE Hotel.
1886
Contract signed between SA Railway Commission and Millar Brothers of Melbourne to construct 145 miles of 1'6" gauge railway line
from Palmerston to Pine Creek using 3000 Indian and Chinese 'coolies'. Palmerston to Pine Creek used 41lb/yard German
Krupp rails bolted onto English pressed steel sleepers.
1888

The first locomotive in the NT, a Baldwin shunter called Sandfly, was used to transport rail building equipment.

18 April - work resumed and Adelaide River was reached by the end of the month. There were 310 bridges and floodways between Palmerston and Pine Creek,
with the Adelaide River bridge (temporary) being the largest. Adelaide River siding was known as the '77 Mile' and was a major station on the line.
A Beyer Peacock steam engine on the first train reached Adelaide River (north bank) from Palmerston on 16 July.
The trip took five hours at a top speed of 20mph. A first class fare was £1/9/2; second class was £1/3/4.

3 December - large, wrought iron bridge finished and opened on this day.

8 December - the steam locomotive Silverton hauled the first train over the Adelaide River bridge and went on to the
[now razed] mining town of Burrundie, the extension to which had been completed by December.

1889

The Adelaide River Railway Station was completed with open verandah all round and bedroom, living room, kitchen and refreshment room.
This was the only refreshment room on the NT line.

Outside, there were three roads of railway tracks. The OT line ran between the line and the station. Behind the station were a
25,000 gallon overhead tank, a small boiler and steam pump on the edge of a large reservoir and an underground tank for rain water.

The rail was completed to Pine Creek.

1890s
Daily rail service reduced to three times per week.
1900s
The service was further reduced to one up and one down per week. This was known as the 'Mixed Train' and, later, as 'Leaping Lena'.
1904
A traveller report that the QCE Hotel had 'disappeared'.
1911
1 January - the Commonwealth resumed control of the Northern Territory from South Australia and now
owned the railway (hence FNAR colours reflect Commonwealth Railways colours).
1912
A federal Parliamentary delegation passed through Adelaide River during an inspection of the Top End.
The official photographer has left superb images, including the classic photo of the Tea Lady (Widgee Nelson).
1913
Steam pump replaced by a 4HP Hornsby hot bulb ignition engine driving a Tangye 3 cylinder pump.
The steam pump was set up beside the Adelaide River.
1914
Katherine extension commenced, using 60lb/yard rail. The first 18 miles were on Carnegie steel sleepers (in situ in 1985)
and the remainder in hardwood sleepers (jarrah and karri). The line ceased at Emungalan.
1917
The railway extended to Katherine with a temporary wooden bridge over the Ferguson River.
1918
Adelaide River was the site for the annual Railway Picnic. The railway shut down for the day.
1919
A new diesel drive pump was installed by the reservoir at Adelaide River.
1925
The railway yard at Adelaide River was extended when a turning triangle, cattle yards and loading race were
added to the southern end, crossing the Stuart Highway to the East.
1926
A high level steel and concrete bridge was built over the Katherine River. Pressed steel sleepers were stored
at Emungalan (Katherine) for the railway were first made in Australia (60lb/yard rail).
1929
The railway reached Birdum Creek. Some of that length involved wooden sleepers.
1933
Mrs Eve Sack took over the Refreshment Room lease. The back verandah was enclosed with bamboo to create a store room, kitchen and scullery.
The business expanded to hotel, railway station, post office, telephone exchange, Commonwealth Bank and refreshment rooms.
What a woman! The business was sold to Eileen and Harry Gribben.
1939

The Minister for Army approved Adelaide River as a military farm and rest area. Some 23 hectares were cropped with
vegetables, poultry and eggs. This increased to 50 hectares in 1943. Production continued until the end of the war.

The Hornsby eingine was overhauled by Boyne Litchfield for Commonwealth Railways.

1941
An Army Supply Depot was built north of the river. An additional siding was built in the railway yard for the hospital train and a large
Army camp was built in the north of the railway yard. A locomotive service and ash pit spur lines were added to the south of the station.
1942

A large Ordinance Depot and supply complex with refrigerated stores, an abattoir, bulk fuel depot, ration stores, clothing stores and engineering
facility were part of a number of units established for the war effort. Storage and supply depots were established on two spur lines north of the township.

A military hospital (119 AGH) was established in with 1200 beds. 119 AGH was to the north of the station.

The railway bridge was decked to allow vehicles to cross during the Wet Season.

19 February - First Japanese Air Raids on Darwin. Civilians evacuated.

The Adelaide River Airstrip, used by RAAF in the pre-war years for an Advanced Operational Base for training Hudson Bomber
and Wirraway air crew was, in April 1942, occupied by Kittyhawk fighters of the USAAF.

An Aboriginal compound was established for evacuees from the islands and coastal areas of the Top End.

A large Amercian HQ was established at Adelaide River (officers had porcelain bogs!), known as Base Section One. A US hospital was also established.

Adelaide River was bombed on the night of 12 October.

The Hornsby engine driving the water pump was replaced by a Petters two-stroke oil engine.

13 x G-Class engines were shipped to Darwin for use on the line. By 1943, 39 locomotives were listed for service on the railway.

1943

The Australian Navy established an extensive ammunition and refuelling store at Snake Creek, with a rail siding.
It was later taken over by the RAAF and used until 1967.

The railway line was strengthened and reballasted to carry the massive increase in traffic - up to 247 trains/week.

Adelaide River became a critical strategic base.

Adelaide River was bombed on the night of 13 November, the last bombing raid over the Australian mainland.

1945

11 August - VP Day (end of WWII).

The Aboriginal compound was abandoned and military forces withdrawn.

Eileen Gribbens returned (the military compulsorily acquired a great deal of land during WWII; civilians had to bid
to buy it back following the war) to run the railway Refreshment Rooms and sold the license to Myrtle Fawcett.
A full hotel license was secured and additions to the rear of the station provided accommodation.

1950s

The town of Adelaide River moved from the railway yards to its present location north of the river.

Remnants of 22 Flaming Furies (Army 44-gallon drum toilets) were visible to the East of the station.

1951
The Fawcetts bought a large Army hut and used it as a new pub north of the river. This structre remains as the
Adelaide River pub, home to Charlie the Buffalo of Crocodile Dundee fame (he is stuffed and stands on the bar - be warned!).
1954
4 x diesel electric locos and 2 x 60 passenger air-conditioned rail cars were to be purchased.
Adelaide River bridge was upgraded to take the weight of the new locos. Steam engines became obsolete.
1958
The train was now running only once a week to Adelaide River and stopping there for a mere 10 minutes.
1962
A North Australia Railway (NAR) upgrade was announced.
1965

A spur line was built to Frances Creek from Roney (nine miles) to carry iron ore to Darwin.
The railway was slowly upgraded to 80 ton/yard on new steel sleepers with clip fasteners.

The last of the steam engines was sold to Japanese salvage companies.

1967
The track was upgraded to accommodate haulage of iron ore for export to Japan. The upgrade was completed by 1970.
1970
Hardwood sleepers on the Birdum section of the line were replaced with steel.
1972
4 November - catasrophic rail crash at Fances Bay in Darwin. A loaded iron ore train crashed head-on with a mixed
goods train ready for departure. The incident incurred more than $1 million of damage (at 1972 rates!).
1974
Christmas Eve - Cyclone Tracy hits and devastates Darwin. The iron ore loading facilities were extensively damaged.
1976

Kitty Ah Quee was buried at the Pioneer Cemetery.

29 June - the last passenger train ran through Adelaide River and the railway was closed down.

1981
11 February - Governor-General Sir Zelman Cowan signed a document officially closing
the railway pursuant to section 68B(1) of the Australian National Railways Act.
1983
Demolition of the Refreshment Room was mooted.
1984
Urgent repairs were undertaken by the National Trust.
1988
16 July - After a full restoration, the station was opened to the public 100 years after the first train arrived..
mid-1990s
The station was closed following use as a private venture under lease.
2001
31 July - Friends of the North Australia Railway (FNAR) at Adelaide River was established.
A great deal of restoration work has been undertaken since that time, and improvements continue to be made.
Of particular note are the steam pump and boiler to drive water from the reservoir into the elevated water tank at the rear of the
station overlooking the reservoir, the Overland Telegraph and WWII displays housed in the Sidney Williams Huts
and a plaque dedicated to WWII nurses on 11 November 2007 at an adjacent Ambulance Train Siding.
Our most recent undertaking (2012) was the transportation of an original fettler's cottage from Katherine to Adelaide River.
It is now under restoration on the site of a cottage in the precinct.
2002
The goods siding was removed to make way for the new standard gauge track.
2003
July - The new standard gauge track was laid through the heritage precinct. Pedestrian access from Stuart Highway side was closed owing to construction of the Alice Springs to Darwin Railway. That access is clearly visibile in the precinct and FNAR is working to have the access reinstated.
2004

1 February - first Ghan passenger train departed Adelaide for Darwin on the new railway line, which runs parallel to the NAR line through the Adelaide River Railway Heritage Precinct.

5 February - the first freight train came through Adelaide River. We had 500 well-wishers at the station and were greeted by a very friendly (and slow speed) series of whistles.

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