Centenary Railway celebrations, Willunga, 20 January 2015. Photo by Chris Horsman.

On 21 August 1903, an E.K. Miller of Semaphore wrote a letter to the editor of The Chronicle, which began, ‘As various railway projects are before Parliament, allow me … to call attention to the fact that about four years ago, the Commissioner of Public Works promised a deputation to obtain a report from the Engineer-in-Chief as to the advisability of constructing a railway to Willunga … I had supplied the Commissioner with reliable statistics, showing that existing traffic would amply pay the interest and working expenses for at least one train daily each way for a time via Brighton.’

Such a report was not commissioned until 1909, when 117 witnesses, including many local Willunga people, were interviewed. Only one was against the construction of the railway to Willunga, on the grounds that it would not pay. Following a poll of eligible residents in the surrounding districts—which featured allegations of “roll stuffing” and other machinations to manipulate the final result—the Willunga Railway was finally given the go-ahead.

The official opening took place on Wednesday 20 January 1915, when a special train left Adelaide, carrying the Governor, Sir Henry Galway, politicians, and other invited guests. It steamed up to the Willunga platform on time, watched by several thousand people. After several speeches and other formalities, the Governor signalled the engine to move forward and break the yellow and blue ribbons that were stretched across the tracks.

While the line was eventually deemed unprofitable and closed in 1969, many older Willunga residents have fond memories of the long commute into the city to work and school. Therefore, the Willunga Branch of the National Trust felt it was important to celebrate the centenary of this railway, which helped to further develop the Southern Vales region.

On Tuesday 20 January 2015, a small group of residents in 1915-vintage dress paraded down High Street, to the sound of the local church bells, and whistles that sounded like the steam locomotive that pulled the first train. Recordings of the engines that pulled the Willunga train emanated from the Old Courthouse and from the library, further intriguing passers-by who stopped to watch the procession. To add to the atmosphere, members of the local McDonald family drove their three vintage cars, built between 1913 and 1915, up and down High Street.

Two young boys led the parade, carrying a sign that announced the centenary. They were followed by Klaus Bachmann, who dressed as an old-time railway man, complete with an oily rag hanging from the back pocket of his overalls. Klaus carried a genuine railway lamp, which has been restored and donated to the National Trust. Brian McMillan, Chairman of the Willunga Branch, elegant in his top hat, played the part of the Governor, Sir Henry Galway. Local resident, Chris Horsman, was the Governor’s wife, Lady Marie Galway.

Klaus Bachmann, Chris Horsman, Brian McMillan, Kath Rayner. Photo by Chris Horsman.

After the parade, people congregated at the Rose Garden on Aldinga Road, adjacent to the original railway precinct and water tower for a family picnic. Later, several members of the National Trust inspected the few remnants of the railway, including the standpipe that filled locomotive boilers, the crane that loaded freight, and the station building itself, which is currently leased out to a martial arts club.

Discussions are underway to investigate the feasibility of recreating at least part of the railway precinct as it was in the hey-day of steam. Local enthusiasts believe it could become another exciting historical tourist attraction for Willunga.

Contributed by Chris Horsman.

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