Historic Railway Stations of Rockhampton, Queensland

Article explores the expansion the railway stations in Queensland. History explored on a small group tour for seniors for couples and solo travellers curious about the outback Australia. Enquire today to secure your places.

15 Apr 21 · 8 mins read

Rockhampton’s Historic Railway Stations

By Marco Stojanovik

Rockhampton was the sprawling centre of the steam train railway empire of Queensland during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was the headquarters of what was called the Central Division of Queensland Railways, with a railway network that stretched from Rockhampton to the south near Bundaberg, north towards McKay, west to Winton, and included lines to places such as Mount Morgan, the Dawson and Collide Valleys, Clermont, Springsure, Emu Park, and to far off Yaraka.

Rockhampton’s historic Railway Stations – Rockhampton, North Rockhampton, and Archer Park – thus served as important elements in the development and growth of the railway network in Queensland. They are fine examples of the ingenuity displayed in a number of public buildings in the state, with cheap and simple materials – mainly timber, cast-iron, steel and the ubiquitous galvanised iron –used logically to form pleasing buildings. This article explores the rail history of Rockhampton and its stations to assist Odyssey Travellers tours in Queensland for senior travellers. Much of the information for this article is sourced from the Australian Council of National Trust’s book Historic Public Buildings of Australia, as well as sources linked to throughout.

Rail terminal, Rockhampton, Queensland. Black and white image of major rail and industrial area.

Central Western Railway Line

Rockhampton was proclaimed a town in 1858 following the gold rush in nearby Caroona that same year. Despite being short lived, the gold rush began Rockhampton’s development as the main entry and export town for central Queensland. For many years it was a place that needed to be kept happy. The threat of a sperate colony, or state, based on central Queensland meant that whatever Brisbane or the south got, then Rockhampton got as well.

It was due to this political pressure from central Queensland and calls for improved land transportation to the region that construction of the Central Western Railway began in 1865. It followed the opening of Queensland’s Main Line railway – the first section of the state’s railway network – between Ipswich and Bigges Camp (now Grandchester) on 31 July 1865, which proved the viability of the controversial narrow gauge. Rockhampton citizens in turn wanted their own railway to their hinterland, where copper was being exploited in the Peak Downs area, thought necessary to ensure the development of the interior.

Known then as the ‘Northern’ line, the very short first section opened to traffic two years later on 19 September 1867, running 46 kilometres from Rockhampton to Westwood. It was met with little public celebration though, as captured by the novelist Anthony Trollope’s less than enthusiastic description when he visited in 1870: “A part of rusting rails running to a gum tree… it is not only useless but worse than useless.”

Freight being carried by bullock teams from further west found no advantage to transferring to rail for such a short distance. The government was thus forced to extend the line in sections from 1872 westwards towards the Northern Territory border to serve the pastoral towns of Emerald, Barcaldine, Clermont, Springsure, Longreach, Blackall, and finally Winton. A northward extension to Mackay was also completed later in 1921.

These expansions made the Northern Railway an important part of the Queensland railway system, and enabled Rockhampton to function as a regional export point for the wealth of Central Queensland.

Rockhampton as seen from above.

Rockhampton Railway Station

The initial terminal of the Northern Railways was a platform with a simple weatherboard structure known to local residents as ‘South Street’. Rapid development over the next decade led to the construction in 1878 of the main structure of the Rockhampton Railway Station, which was linked to the earlier platform by a timber covered way. Several minor additions have appeared since, the most extensive of which are the refreshment rooms to the south.

The station is an excellent example of ingenuity, its design making the most of the limited capital that was available for its construction. Cheap and simple materials are used: timber, a light steel and cast-iron framework and sheeting of corrugated galvanised iron. There is minimal decoration, done only where derived from the structure without extra cost, such as in the cast-iron columns, vault glazing and gaslight brackets.

The two-storey building is capped by a distinctively profiled roof with curved pediments. The platform canopy is supported by cast-iron columns with steel beams.

Keith Chopping and Richard Stringer write for the Australian Council of National Trusts:

“The station complex’s visual appeal is derived from the static, serene order of the two -storey administration building and its connection to the grand oversailing platform canopy that enfolds the movement taking place on the other side of the barrier… It is a building which belongs to the tradition of railway stations built as a picture frame for that proud invention – the steam engine.”

Rockhampton Railway Station / Queensland State Archives / Public Domain Mark 1.0

North Rockhampton Railway Station

By the 1990s, Rockhampton was virtually the headquarters of two railway systems. In 1882 after Brisbane had acquired a railway to the seaside at Sandgate, Rockhampton demanded a similar connection to its resort at Emu Park. The North Rockhampton to Emu park railway opened as a result in 1988. A 47 kilometres-long branch line of the North Coast railway line, it gave Rockhampton residents easy access to the seaside and rural districts.

The North Rockhampton Railway Station was constructed for the line on the north side of the Fitzroy River. Although Rockhampton already had a railway station, it was on the south side of the river and building a rail bridge to it was seen as too expensive.

The station building is typical of hundreds of small stations throughout the state. It has no platform and is a simply constructed weatherboard building with a wide-open perimeter veranda space for light, ventilation, and easy access for passengers. It is orientated east-west so that the low rays of the sun may be easily intercepted by lattice screening on the veranda ends. The only concession to ornament is in the rhythmic pairing of the veranda posts.

North Rockhampton Railway Station / RegionalQueenslander / CC BY-SA 4.0

Archer Park Railway Station

Having a disconnected railway line soon proved inconvenient, and so two years after the opening of the Emu park line, the Railway Department began investigating the possibility of linking Rockhampton’s two separate railways. The difficulty in bridging the Fitzroy River and the cost of land resumptions to join the two terminus stations, however, continued to hinder any action for some time.

Finally, an impetus came for bridging the Fitzroy River due to the decision of the Queensland government to construct a Deepwater port at Broadmount (now Thompson Point) at the northern side of the mouth of the Fitzroy River in 1984. Linking Rock Hampton to the Central Railway via bridge across the Fitzroy could then ensure the easy movement of goods between the port and Central Queensland.

In 1895 construction was approved for what was to be known as the Rockhampton Junction Railway, linking Rockhampton’s two existing stations over the river via the graceful Alexandra Bridge and with a ‘street railway’ along Denison Street. Construction was completed in 1899. As the Rockhampton Station was approximately two miles away from the bridge, a further station known as Archer Park was established. The site chosen was on the direct route from Denison Street and close to the city centre.

Alexandra Railway Bridge (1996) / State of Queensland: Queensland Heritage Register / CC BY 3.0

Acting as the central railway station in Rockhampton, Archer Park thus became the major station in the city from the turn of the century until the mid-1920s. It was important as the departure and terminating point for services to Mount Morgan, Emu Park, Yeppoon, and the local suburban services to Lake Creek at North Rockhampton. Mail trains for Longreach and later Brisbane also departed from here.

Bounded by Denison, Cambridge and Archer Streets, the station consists of a main station building which has a railway platform to the southwest and a veranda entrance to the northeast. The station building is a single-storeyed timber structure with corrugated iron roofing and a spacious entry. The long frontal raised veranda runs the length of the original 1899 structure, with cast-iron columns supporting a corrugated iron skillion roof. One distinct advantage the station had over its neighbours was the bar at the western end to ensure that patrons had a merry start to their holiday.

Archer Park Railway Station was listed on the Queensland Heritage Register in 1992, and now stands as a rail museum. It tells the history of railway transportation developments in Rockhampton, holding a wonderful collection of photos, soundscapes, and object-based exhibitions. The main attraction of the museum is the fully restored Purrey Steam Tram, which operates Sundays from 10am-1pm. The train was operated by Rockhampton City Council between 1909 and 1939 and is said to be the only one of its kind in the world.

Rockhampton, the old Archer Street Railway Station / denisbin / CC BY-ND 2.0

Tour of Queensland

Odyssey Traveller visits a number of towns along the Central Western railway line, including Barcaldine, Longreach and Winton, as part of three of our Queensland tours designed for mature and senior travellers:

Our 15-day tour of Outback Queensland gets away from the tourist sites of your typical Queensland tour – Brisbane, Cairns, and the Daintree Rainforest – to take you into the historic heart of Outback Queensland.

Leaving from Dubbo, we head into the outback via the fascinating Brewarrina Fish Traps. In Outback Queensland, we visit the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach, Central Queensland, and then view dinosaur remains at Winton‘s Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and the fascinating ‘dinosaur canyon‘ of Lark Quarry. In Winton, we also visit the North Gregory Hotel, which saw the first performance of Waltzing Matilda in 1895.

Rather than heading to Far North Queensland, Cape York, and Mount Isa, our outback Queensland road trip makes a turn at the quintessential outback town of Hughenden, with a day tour to the sandstone formations of Porcupine National Park. We head back via Barcaldine to Carnarvon Gorge National Park, a lush rainforest gorge in the midst of the arid Queensland outback. Finally, we stop in at the famous opal-mining town of Lightning Ridge, NSW, before our outback adventure comes to an end in Dubbo.

Our tours of Queensland, both 11-day and 19-day options, take a trip into the Aussie outback to learn about Aboriginal culture, British farming approaches in the outback and the history of the Europeans and Aboriginal Australia.

Our small group tours of the Australian outback in Queensland begin and end in Brisbane. We head west into Queensland and back, pausing along the way to explore and learn at each stop on day tour (s) with local guides, as we head west then up into North Queensland and south back to Brisbane. This escorted tour is suitable for the mature and senior traveller whether as a couple or solo traveller. This small group tour of Queensland goes as far North as Longreach, so it does not reach tropical North Queensland or far North Queensland

If you’re interested in exploring Queensland, why not join an Odyssey Tour? Designed for mature and senior travellers, our tours aim to get you off the beaten path. We move in small groups of around 6-12, and are led by a tour guide chosen for their local knowledge. Click here for more information, and here for more information on our other Australian outback tours.

Articles about Australia published by Odyssey Traveller:

For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.

External articles to assist you on your visit to Dubbo & Outback Queensland:

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