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We need to keep this part of history
Mt Gambier Residents Fight For the Roundhouse (Image: Wayne Philp)
South Australia once had a rail system to be proud of. A network of lines radiated out from Adelaide to every regional city, and many smaller towns around the state. Passenger trains and goods locomotives sped to the state's borders in every direction, until the regional rail network was sold to the Commonwealth government in the 1970's. It was the beginning of the end for regional rail.
Today Adelaide's passenger railways are a tiny slice of the original rail network, barely servicing the metropolitan area. Country areas of South Australia are littered with abandoned railway stations, and many of the lines have now been removed. You can find disused and abandoned stations from the Flinders Ranges and Gilbert Valley to the Adelaide Hills and the Limestone Coast.
Roundhouse at Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre Peterborough
Many South Australian railway centres like Terowie have become virtual ghost towns. However Peterborough has developed a highly successful tourist attraction at Steamtown railway museum. The original State heritage listed roundhouse and turntable has become the focus for a museum, tours and a spectacular sound and light show at night. It's one of the most popular Peterborough attractions, and a jewel of heritage tourism.
Things aren't so rosy in Mount Gambier. The original railway yards have been revitalised as a public entertainment space - the Railway Lands, but the town's railway history is more an artistic theme. The Limestone Coast Railway was once a popular heritage rail attraction for the town, but became a victim of soaring insurance costs and closed. Its home was at the Mount Gambier roundhouse, and that was badly damaged in a fire in 2014.
Limestone Coast Railways at Mt Gambier Roundhouse (Image: Johnny's Pages)
Once local heritage listed, the City of Mount Gambier stripped this protection from the railway roundhouse some time later. It was only a matter of time before the Department for Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) decided to do what they do well - demolish the roundhouse. This has outraged many in the local community, as it's one of the last remaining roundhouses remaining in SA.
A campaign to save it and Give the Roundhouse a Future has been spearheaded by local heritage enthusiast Nathan Woodruff with the support of a growing number of local people. DPTI have now paused their plans to demolish the roundhouse while the community appeals to key MP's.
Aerial Photo of Mt Gambier Roundhouse (Image: FOTO SA)
Nathan's vision is to turn the roundhouse and its turntable into a community hub and museum to complement the Rail Lands development. It could be a home for displays of railway history, while also having a future as a makerspace for trades and artisan workers. With unemployment high in regional areas, perhaps the roundhouse could be repaired using volunteer labour under a Work For The Dole scheme or similar?
The Mount Gambier roundhouse was built in 1953 as part of the conversion of the line to broad gauge, allowing much larger trains to be run to Adelaide and Melbourne. It was first used in June 1953, on the day the broad gauge line was opened by the State Governor and the Acting Premier in front of a crowd of 6,000 people. This was front page news in local newspaper Border Watch, a major milestone for the second largest city in South Australia.
The First Broad Gauge Train Arrives at Mt Gambier 1953 (Image: Mt Gambier Library)
While the railway lines to Mount Gambier have now been removed, the roundhouse and turntable are a reminder of a momentous milestone in the history of Mt. Gambier and South Australia. Let's hope that they can be repurposed usefully for a better future, rather than be discarded like much of the rest of our history.
You can help support the campaign to save the Mount Gambier roundhouse by liking and following Give the Roundhouse a Future on Facebook. To date local MP Troy Bell has ignored the campaign, but letters or emails of support to him and Transport Minister Stephan Knoll would be helpful. There's no reason why the roundhouse could not become another heritage tourism attraction for the Limestone Coast.