The Broken Hill Port Pirie Line

Poem by W.C. Robinson

There's a line that's wending forth
To the far-off distant North
To the great rich mine up there at Broken Hill.
It's three foot six inch gauge
Built there on the Basic Wage
Pays the South Australian Railways annual bill.

At Port Pirie in the south
Is the smelter's hungry mouth
Waiting for the rich zinc, lead and silver ore.
There some thousand workers wait
At the works or at the gate
Whilst they watch the railway trucks their contents pour.

On its weary way it wends
With its many curves and bends
Through lucerne and rich fields of golden wheat
But alas conditions change
In the northern station range
Where sand and dust forever doth compete.

In nineteen twenty-five
The line was barely kept alive
As the drifting sand would cover up the track
As the poor old navvies toil
Trying nature's whims to spoil
That darned dust just kept on coming back.

The Outalpa cottage doors
Were just closed because the floors
Were level to the window panes with sand
And some trains would wait for days
As the brownish dusty haze
Would blot out all horizons in the land.

There the mob of kangaroos
Were now down to ones and twos
And were living on a salt bush drying root,
There the emu, fox and rabbit
Would forsake their usual habit
And drink at any railway columns chute.

But the line at last is cleared
And the waiting trains appeared,
Once again the ore is moving on its way.
So the furnaces keep burning
As the railway wheels are turning
And the workers get a few more bob a day.

The engines, often Ys,
Were only small in size,
Three hundred tons was all that they could pull
Then the mighty T class came
And achieved a roll of fame,
Six hundred tons we'd say his load was full.

Then the Garrat took the road
Looking like a giant toad,
We never could tell front end from the rear.
But a thousand tons it's hauling
And the wages bill is falling;
Of unemployment there is oft a fear.

Now the diesel engines pull
Like a mighty station bull,
Two thousand tons they haul from place to place
As the daily loads get bigger
The poor old railmen figure
Less men will now be needed for the race.

Soon the standard gauge is coming
Soon we'll hear the mighty humming
Of the east-west train just racing through our tc
And though passengers and freight
Will keep our railways up to date
This is what I'll bet with my last crown:

The ore from Broken Hill
Will pay for them until
The mighty mines are emptied of their hoard
We hope 'tis far away
Ere we review this day
To lose this freight we never can afford.

As steam engines go in mothballs
The diesels with their night calls
Will still be racing up that northern track
And the railway pioneers
Will sip their well earned beers
And dream of days and shifts a long way back.

[The Outalpa and other cottages on this line were eventually buried or pulled down, defeated by the sand.]

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