A Visit to the Workshops Rail Museum in Ipswich

Last Thursday my very understanding partner took me to the Workshops Rail Museum in Ipswich west of Brisbane. It’s the first time I’ve been there and, even though I was very disappointed in what I found, it won’t be the last.

The Workshops Rail Museum is part of the Queensland Museum and is operated by the State government and this is the description that Google lists for the Museum’s website: “The Workshops Rail Museum in Ipswich, Australia is a wholly interactive authentic heritage and cultural experience located at the birthplace of rail …”.

I went expecting to see plenty of interesting exhibits and while there were some that were very interesting … and my partner and I have plenty of photos to share – thanks to her telephoto lens that could reach into the rafters … overall we left feeling that the Workshops Railway Museum is missing the point.

Now before I go any further let me say that I really do understand that museums need to attract young kids. Their exhibits need to be interesting and encourage young kids to take an interest in our history but Thomas the Tank Engine is not a part of our history and Thomas was EVERYWHERE!

There were historic locos, wagons and carriages all through the main exhibit that were covered with faces and some were even numbered for Thomas’s railway. Almost everywhere you looked there was something to do with Thomas and while I see the need to attract kids with something that they can relate to, once they’re in why not tell them in words and pictures the far more interesting story of the real Queensland Railways?

The longer I live in Queensland and spend time researching the Queensland Railways the more I find that suggests that the Queensland Railways has an amazing history that is yet to be told … and the Museum isn’t even trying to tell it at the moment.

The Museum could afford to purchase various operating and non-operating models of Thomas but there were scale models of the real QR locos running around without sideframes on the bogies.

Perhaps what I’m trying to say can best be summed up by repeating a comment I left on a post on Facebook from the Workshops Rail Museum. The Museum was leading with its chin by asking what it should do today and one commenter suggested that they should remove all those Thomas faces so I added my 2 cents worth.

I have to partly agree with Thomas Wyndham – I was there for the first time on Thursday and a all the TtTE stuff was disappointing and a little insulting too.

The story of the Queensland Railways is the story of extraordinary commitment and even bravery in the face of very tough conditions and yet the Museum is missing that story entirely.

Where’s the story of building the line west from Cairns? Where’s the story of how hard it was to fire a steam engine out west in the middle of summer?

Where’s the story of how a small, ill-equipped and cash-strapped railway did amazing things during WWII?

I understand the need to attract kids but I personally think that the Museum is going too far in the wrong direction.