There was a huge rail union strike in New South Wales which went on for far longer than anyone thought possible, and in the end, with the State Government refusing to back down, the necessities of providing for railway men's families took precedence over principle. (catalogue.nla.gov.au)
There are several stories recorded about events associated with this 1917 strike that appear in the Footplate Padre's various railway books. His 1992 book "All Night Sitter – train drivers' memories" page 26 a story titled "Big Strike" details one of these outcomes. It's claimed that one outcome of this strike was that it was the end of the prestige of the classic train driver of the era.
The locomotive drivers, men who had been on the footplate for thirty years, men of distinction, the salaried driver class, were summarily sacked. After the strike, to get their jobs back, they were only offered their positions if they relocated to distant depots, and in this particular story, this former Salaried driver was sent to Parkes, a western NSW town.
This proved to be a dramatic social outcome for enginemen across the NSW railway system and broke the back of the rail union and the position of train driver's in that society. It bought a sharp realisation across the entire rail network across Australia.
By 1917 the national rail network had been established, and although additional lines were constructed including the Transcontinental line across the Nullabor. It has only been in recent decades that additional lines have been constructed - mineral lines in Western Australia and coal lines in NSW and Queensland.
Although bigger and faster steam locomotives were bought into the various State rail systems, in essence nothing much had changed until the diesel era. This is best illustrated when General Douglas MacAruther arrived in Australia from the Philippines and found himself unhappily on these trains where the emphasis seemed to be on regularly stopping.
The second era of the railway network came with the incorporation of diesels. This changed everything as from the early 1950's with trains no longer requiring regular stops for water and coal. Today there are more powerful diesels hauling greater and greater loads.
Cheap air flight tickets have reduced the traffic of inter-state passenger expresses and in some cases these have turned into tourism highlights such as The Ghan. Yet, in some sense, little has changed. A train is a train is a train. Today you buy a ticket on-line, it's still a ticket.
The Footplate Padre says this is the same principle that the old hymn recounts: "Tell me the old old story …." The good book is still as applicable to life as it was in 1917 or way back...
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, 16 of them on train driver's anecdotes and serves as the Footplate Padre. He enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html