Museums are more than their buildings and collections… the Archer Park Rail Museum looks back towards the 1930’s in Rockhampton and Central Queensland. The Purrey Steam Tram is the last restored survivor of the trams which served Rockhampton and the area. The QR locomotives, carriages, and wagons are representative of the region’s rail operations.
Section cars, trolleys and rail tractor help you understand the life of a railway fettler or how small locomotives were used in construction and industry. The signal box, station office and other static displays are ‘staffed’ with lifelike mannequins ‘speaking’ through a digital sound system.
The station refreshment room and static displays provide a glimpse at a bygone era when rail was the primary form of transportation.
The Queensland Government passed the Railway Act in 1863 which enabled the construction of the first railway in Queensland. As the bill promised an expensive railway for Southern Qld (South Eastern region), the residents of Central Qld reacted angrily, demanding their own railway which residents saw as a means for accelerating development westward. The Bill was passed by the speaker’s casting vote which saw the Government bow to the demand that the North must share in the fruits of the Railway Act, since it had to shoulder the debt.
The Archer Brothers had discovered the Fitzroy only 10 years earlier and Rockhampton was not established until 1856. It was scarcely a village until the short-lived Canoona gold rush brought an influx of population 2 year later.
By 1864, when construction first started on the railway, Rockhampton had a population of 5,000. There had been recent development of a copper field at Peak Downs to the North West and this, combined with convenient access to the pastoral properties of the inland, ensured that Rockhampton developed as a river port at the expense of the fine deep water port of Gladstone.
The Rockhampton line was opened on 19 September 1867. It was 50km in length and linked Rockhampton with the village of Westwood, where most lines diverged to the Central West. The Rockhampton terminus was a short distance from the gaol and consisted of an imported cast iron railway station which included a substantial roof that covered 3 tracks and protected rollingstock as well as passengers.
By 1892 more branches were built out West, most of these settlements owed their existence and prosperity to the Railway. Rockhampton was now the headquarters of the Central Railway which, entirely unconnected with other railways, serviced a vast pastoral area to the west.
The terminus at Stanley St had been selected not for business districts, but for government reserve. As it was situated at the edge of the city it was not convenient for city passengers. For Central Qld, the Rockhampton Junction railway provided an opportunity to extend its railway through the city and building a suitable Rockhampton Central Station.
The layout of The Central Station or Archer Park as it’s more commonly referred to, was developed in Brisbane by Chief Engineer Stanley. Archer Park station was finally built in 1900 to serve major centres on the Central Line, Inc Mt Morgan. Archer Park was a fine piece of Victorian design function and facade features, and an impressive piece of engineering in the ‘grand’ manner of major railway terminals. The opening ceremony was held on 6 November 1899 before the building was completed.
Soon Archer Park superseded Stanley Street station. After the Brisbane-Rockhampton link was opened, mail trains services commenced to Archer Park. Excursions to Emu Park also functioned for the tourism industry. The Refreshment Room was built in 1908, providing services to both passengers and station staff. The Refreshment Room was a unique feature to Rockhampton until 1938 when an additional one was built at Stanley St.
The Central Lines were expanded once again with a connecting line to Yeppoon in 1909, a section line to Mackay in 1913 and Alton Downs in 1916. Archer Park became the centre of an important and thriving provincial passenger rail system. By 1907 the wealth and size of Rockhampton was such that the city fathers were able to plan a tramway system, which opened in 1909 using French made Purrey trams and trailers. They were a source of pride to the citizens of Rockhampton.
The platform was too short and too restricted to handle the long mail and mixed trains, blocking rail traffic, signalmen communication issues using hand signals, and the frequency of trains increased with the connection to Mackay. After investigations, whilst visibility issues were rectified with removal of roof sheeting, mail trains were sent to extensions of Stanley St. More Junctions were built at Glenmore and Alton Downs. After business losses in 1955-56 and the relocation of signal cabin into the Station Master’s office, the General Manager proposed to withdraw the Night Officer and Lad Porter leaving minimal staff.
From 28 January 1957, only passenger trains to selected locations came through. It was quiet except for weekend seaside excursions in summer. Now the station was too large than needed for regular business transaction. The Refreshment Rooms were still licensed to operate and trade with most revenue coming from local residents.
After the line closures to Alton Downs in 1955 and Emu Park in 1964, and the St Lawrence station closure in 1968, it left only services to Yeppoon and Mackay. When the line service to Yeppoon closed in 1969, Archer Park was closed as a station on Monday 2 February 1970. On 1 May 1990, Archer Park was handed over from Qld Railway to the Rockhampton City Council, on the understanding that the building would be a Museum. On 21 October 1992, Archer Park was Heritage Listed, becoming one of the best working train museums in Queensland. When the Museum opened in 1999 the Museum was known as the Archer Park Station & Steam Tram Museum but had a name change in approximately 2003 and is still operating under that name.