In the late 1890’s to early 1900’s great things were happening in the State of Western Australia. Engineer-in-Chief, C.Y. O’Connor had been lured from New Zealand to help the State develop its much needed infrastructure. Having successfully masterminded the Fremantle Harbour, O’Connor’s next project was to be his biggest and greatest achievement, the Goldfields Pipeline. Gold, which had been discovered in Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, had forced a massive movement of people to the goldfields of Western Australia, but there was little or no infrastructure (let alone the basics, water) in such a desolate place. O’Connor’s solution was to build a water pipeline from Mundaring to Kalgoorlie which would transport the desperately needed water. Many thought he was simply mad, but he had the support of the government. However, in order for the success of the Goldfields Pipeline, he needed a railway infrastructure. Workshops were constructed in Fremantle but were soon deemed as inadequate to cope with the demand. A new workshop was urgently needed and CY O’Connor saw Midland as the perfect location (easily accessible to the Eastern Goldfields).
The Midland Railway Workshops officially opened in 1904. In the early years the Midland Railway Workshops consisted of three main brick blocks, a powerhouse, foundry, pattern shop , the Chief Mechanical Engineer’s office and various stores buildings.
The Foundry building, which was built in 1904 , was used for casting components for carriages and locos. During World War II alterations were made to accommodate munitions manufacture.
Heart and Soul of Midland
It is hard today to imagine how important and significant the workshops played in the life of so many people, for so long. For many men it was their only place of employment throughout their lifetime. The railway workshops employed over 3,000 men at a time. It was the heart of Midland and supported the town for decades.
Today we change jobs every couple of years but in those days it was a job for life. Many sons followed in their father’s footsteps working alongside their fathers. It was described by Kevin Mountain (an employee for 42 years) as a “self contained city” where you could buy or hire just about anything from a magician to a dance band.
The role of these men was to “keep the State moving” and they succeeded, creating an infrastructure in Perth and Western Australia for the State to grow. The workshops built locomotives, carriages and anything else needed for the railway.