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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

Living history at the Don River Railway in Tasmania Australia

Train buffs, families, children and solo travellers such as myself, all enjoy visiting the Don River Railway (DRR) just one kilometre from Devonport.

This is a fascinating hands on experience of train travel in Tasmania over the years. This not-for-profit organisation is owned and operated by members and hard-working, talented and dedicated volunteers.

It is a wonderful thing to have these restored historical locomotives and carriages on display. There is a lot to see and do here. One of the favourite activities is to experience the half hour relaxing train trip along the banks of the Don River, to Coles Beach, and back.

On Sundays the train trip is powered by a steam engine, during the week it is run by a diesel engine. I remember catching trains to and from work on the mainland in years gone by. People would rarely communicate. However on this Don River trip, everyone aboard was chatting away to each other. The volunteer guards were pointing out items of interest and answering all questions. They pointed out the metal W signs along the side of the track. This is a reminder for the driver to blow his whistle.

The DRR was established at Don in 1973, the trains commenced operating in November 1976, On their website are incredible before and after photos of the various restorations. click here for more information. These amazing transformations have been made possible by the countless voluntary hours of work by dedicated volunteers in the on-site workshops.

The museum holds train memorabilia in an open and accessible area near the coffee shop. Future plans are to enlarge the coffee shop area and establish covered areas for the trains. There is also a train themed gift shop here where fans can take home a souvenier.

There is a wonderfully created model train display where visitors can press buttons and launch the tiny engine and carriage around the tracks.

The train platform contains items from bygone days. Looking at the collection of old suitcases makes me grateful for the wheeled bags we have today. Last minute chocolates could be purchased on the platform as well.

One thing that puzzles me, is that most stations had beautifully designed human weigh scales on them. There was no luggage weight requirement back then, so why the scales? It seems that only the wealthy had scales at home. It was a novelty to know how much you weighed, so people would go to the train station to weigh themselves. It seems strange now, but the scales were also at pharmacies and post offices. Even Melbourne Zoo had a collection of these scales for people to use.

Visitors are able to walk around the grounds admiring the heritage locomotive and carriages both inside and out. Back in the day, there were smoking and non-smoking carriages, ladies only carriages, and first and second class seating. The first class seats had padding which would have been greatly appreciated.

A 1936 carriage had tables where travellers could play cards on, or read the newspaper, as they journeyed.

One carriage of great interest is the AA+1, known as the Royal Carriage. Starting life in Tasmania in 1879, it was converted to a Royal carriage for the Prince of Wales, Edward, in 1920 as he travelled from Hobart to Launceston and back. In 1927 the Duke and Duchess of York (later to become King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) also travelled in the carriage from Hobart to Launceston return. It was maintained in this form until 1934 when the Duke of Gloucester rode in it from Hobart to Burnie. It was then converted back into a passenger car, and withdrawn from service in 1950. It was used as a camp car.

Restoration started in 2009 to convert it back to its glory days and took four years. Once all the paint had been stripped back, the beautiful Tasmanian huon pine was found underneath. The furniture and fittings are exquisite and looking through the windows at the lounge area, bedroom and office, it is fit for a king, or queen.

Another beautifully restored carriage is the suburban car, built for the Hobart service in 1908. The first class had 28 seats, second class had 36 with a guards compartment.

Make sure when visiting that you see inside the workshop and check the restoration process over time.

The aim of the Don River Railway is to preserve and present the Tasmanian railway history for people to enjoy. This has been done exceedingly well and I am in full appreciation and awe of their work.

I had a lovely chat with volunteer Paul who drives from Launceston twice a week to be here. His dad was a guard on NSW trains for 38 years, so he said it was in his blood. Paul works as both a guard and a driver at DRR. He loves trains.

Among the thirty volunteers there are ex-railway workers and people who simply like the noise, sight and smell of the steam engines. Volunteer Barry was full of stories about his 28 years working with trains. He enjoys meeting visitors from all over the world, and said that they are all nice people, enjoying the railway. Barry especially enjoys the train trip, with the different sounds such as the clickety clack of the train on the track, and the abundant wildlife seen through the windows as you travel along.

In the next few years it is hoped that this railway will have its points connected to the main tracks. Then the train trip will take visitors to Penguin, enjoying a train trip that extends along the edge of the Bass Strait.

Passenger trains no longer operate in Tasmania, only a few historical groups such as the DRR run short trips. Trains in the state are now used to transport freight only . Barry said that it would take as long as eight to ten hours to travel from Devonport to Hobart by train. This can now be done by car in just over three hours. Yet, there is a beauty and romance in train travel, and this is why visitors will keep coming back to living train museums. Plus, they are a whole lot of fun.

Forth Road, Don, Tasmania, Australia

Happy Travels!

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