Kempsey rail centenary, 1917-2017

Alice the elephant at Kempsey on Wirth's circus train.
Alice the elephant at Kempsey on Wirth's circus train.

OVER the 100 years of rail transport to and from Kempsey there were many special trains.

Circus Trains

From 1888, Wirth’s had taken up rail as their preferred method of travel. During the 1920s Wirth’s made  annual trips to Kempsey, setting up a huge tent city on the land at the railway station. As well as the performers, the trains also boasted a menagerie of exotic animals to thrill the local people when the animals were fed in the afternoons.

Excursion Trains

Special Seaside excursion trains ran to the north as far as Coffs Harbour, taking locals for 3/3d to such places as Nambucca and Urunga. Following the opening of the railway line, special fares were struck for visits to Sydney for Christmas and the Royal Easter Show.

Great White Train

This train was set up by the Australia Made Preference League to convince people to buy Australian goods. It visited Kempsey from September 4-6, 1926, where large crowds visited the goods shed where the ‘Exhibition on Wheels’ was parked. Products on display included those from Nestles, Wrigleys, Bonds clothing, Berger paints while AKUBRA hats made ‘a brave show’.

War Babies’ Train

On August 3, 1918, a special train arrived at Kempsey carrying a recruiting company of ‘War Babies’ from the Liverpool Army Camp under Warrant-Officer McMurtrie. They were met at the station where the large crowd greeted them with loud cheers. Among the ‘War Babies’ was Private Jackson, VC, DCM.

‘Reso’ (Resources) Train

In 1929 the ‘Reso’ Train visited the North Coast. It had been organised by the Primary Producers’ Union. The train consisted of three carriages and an observation car and on board were 60 passengers from Victoria who were inspecting the resources of Northern NSW.

The passengers arrived in Kempsey for an overnight stay where they were given a civic reception and later met with local farmers.

Flying Scotsman

Steam trains finished on the North Coast line in January, 1973, but to mark the 1988 Bicentenary a special steam tour organised the historic ‘Flying Scotsman’ along with the 3801 locomotive to tour the North Coast at Easter, 1989.

Mercy Trains

During World War 2, the Army Ambulance No.3 Train was acquired by the US Army and operated between South Brisbane and Sydney. It carried both Australian and American patients. The train had an operating theatre using its own generating plant for electricity. By mid-1944, the number of American patients had fallen and the train was handed back to Australian authorities.

Macleay River Historical Society: Watch for more railway snippets leading up to the Kempsey Centenary of Rail on November 27.