Rail Town

Australian Workers Film Guide


Set against an arid landscape of saltbush plains and sheep stations, the town of Port Augusta in South Australia is depicted as the last outpost of civilisation heading west and north. It is also the headquarters of the Commonwealth Railways, which operates the Kalgoorlie and Alice Springs rail lines. 

Footage of Port Augusta streets with people shopping is intercut with activities in the surrounding area, such as sheep farms and families, railway workers, sailing ships and port buildings. The arrival of the Trans-Australian Railway brought many railway related jobs, with the film showing scenes of men working in machine shops, in the engine yards, on the shutting tracks, on the station and on the wharf. Men load goods onto the train, which the outback people call the ‘tea and sugar train’. Women wash the linen from the trains. Railway employees buy provisions from the Provisions Store.

Train controllers oversee lines to Alice Springs, Woomera, Port Pirie and the trans continental run to Kalgoorlie. These trains seen traveling through remote Australia are said to be comfortable and air-conditioned. Diesel replaced steam on the railways. Given the remoteness of the town, locals have worked to improve amenities. The railway workers built playgrounds for the children, there’s a theatre, a maternal care facility, a bush ambulance service and hospital, schools and an ongoing battle for better housing.  Water is seen piped from the Murray River to support greenery, a power station is constructed, while the townspeople have built sporting facilities and have other recreation options such as the beach and dances. 

Special Notes/Achievement

Produced by the Film Division of the Department of the Interior. An Australian National Film Board Production.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 10 mins 14 secs

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