Aboriginal and Islander stories: I've been working on the railway

Media release: Friday, 22 November 2013

The railway stories and experiences of Torres Strait Islanders, Aboriginal people and Australian South Sea Islanders feature in a free exhibition opening at the National Archives in Canberra this week.

I've Been Working on the Railway, from The Workshops Rail Museum in Ipswich, explores the contribution of these cultural groups to the development of rail across Australia through stories, objects, music, video and photographs.

'Through the 1950s, 60s and 70s there were large-scale developments of rail infrastructure across Australia,' said Director-General of the National Archives, David Fricker. 'It was common to find Torres Strait Islanders, Aboriginal people and Australian South Sea Islanders working long and hard in this hot and dusty environment.

'The exhibition complements our ongoing commitment to making Indigenous records available, including those of Indigenous servicemen.

'Our Reconciliation Action Plan, through its promotion of mutually beneficial partnerships and projects, helps us to preserve Australia's most valuable Indigenous records, to encourage their use by the public and to promote good records management by Australian Government agencies.

'We continue to work closely with our Aboriginal Advisory Group and, as part of the Attorney-General's department, we are committed to supporting their Reconciliation Action Plan. Only last week we handed over a copy of the historic Larrakia petition to the Larrakia Nation Aboriginal Corporation.'

Personal accounts of working life are central to the exhibition and for those who left to work on the railway, they were leaving their homes and traditional land. While some families went with the men, living in the arduous and every-changing camp existence along railway tracks, the exhibition also explores the experiences of the many families who were left behind and continued life with their husband or father far away.

The project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts.

The free exhibition at the National Archives of Australia, Queen Victoria Terrace, Parkes ACT, is open until 18 May 2014.

Contact information

  • Elizabeth Masters (Media Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3957 m 0427 853 664 e elizabeth.masters@naa.gov.au
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2014