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Building Bridges

Train crossing Katherine River Bridge, n.d. c.1930sIn 1911 the Commonwealth took on the administration of the Northern Territory from South Australia and committed to building a train linking Darwin in the Top End to Adelaide in the south. The construction and maintenance of the railway line as it pushed south was a huge task and the building of the bridge across the mighty Katherine River required men and materials.

In 1926 William Allcorn arrived in Darwin. He travelled south finding work running a sawmill supplying railway sleepers for the railway line. He recalled.

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So I got on there. That was quite good there, quite good there. I got a cheque out of that, so I bought a Model T Ford then and went down to Katherine, cutting sleepers, and cutting sleepers for the railways. Eight shillings a sleeper. That was good money…

I had a steam engine. Steam engine, and saw bench. Eleven of us running them through. Eleven of us in the gang, all on contract. The more we got done, the more we got. It was quite good.

And the railway supplied the logs, they bought them down from everywhere around the place, and dumped them there, we had to unload them, saw them, and then load them up again. The sleepers you see…

And there’s the transoms for the bridges – what they call transoms now, they were the square timbers, we had to square those for the bridges, you see… 

Yes, we were a team, and we worked well together, and there was no trouble. Only trouble we had was the bloke that was driving the steam engine, he had a wife in Pine Creek, and she was a nurse there, and he was a very jealous man, he had to keep dashing off to Pine Creek to see how she was going.

[Northern Territory Archives Service NTRS 226, TS 147 and NTRS 219 TP 09, William Allcorn]
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