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FIRST AUSTRALIAN MAIL to CROSS AUSTRALIA OVERLAND 1917

Two pictorial covers appeared in the same auction celebrating the event when the Trans- Continental Railway opened and joined the west coast to the east coast of Australia. The first cover was franked with the 1d red KGV head which was postmarked with a machine cancel PERTH/ 24 OCT 17/ WESTERN AUSTRALIA. The pictorial element was quite elaborate with a chain linking 2 ovals, the left oval proclaiming "Linking East with West, October 24th 1917" and the right "First Overland Mail by Trans-Continental". A speeding train is shown with a description "From Western Australia The Gateway of the Commonwealth". The letter was addressed to London, England (Figure 1).

 

 

 

The second cover is of a different design in a faint light blue and was franked with the 1d red KGV head postmarked with a machine cancel PERTH/ 24 OCT 17/ WESTERN AUSTRALIA and there is a 'header' of "FIRST MAIL TO CROSS AUSTRALIA OVERLAND/ FROM WEST TO EAST" and under the speeding train with its rail tracks on an outline of a map of Australia, is the inscription "THE LINK THAT BINDS". The cover is addressed to a railway enthusiast at the Railway Audit Dept., Sydney Station, New South Wales (Figure 2).

 

 

 

I had difficulty in sorting out internet sites describing the east to west and the south to north railway lines as both being the Trans-Continental Railway, and this confusion was also seen in official Western Australian sites. The west to east railway that linked the continent should be described as the Trans-Australia Railway (T.A.R.) which linked Kalgoorlie goldfields W.A. to Port Augusta (S. A.).

A Federal Act passed in 1907 provided the expenditure of a sum of £20,000 for a preliminary survey of a railway line connecting Western Australia with the Eastern States. The survey was commenced in 1908 and completed in March 1909. The estimated cost for the 1063 miles was £4,045,000. Construction started at both ends of the line, with the first ceremonial sod being cut in Port Augusta on 12th September 1912 with a like ceremony on 12th February 1913 in Kalgoorlie. On the 17th October 1917 linkage of the two ends was achieved at a point of 621 miles 58 chains east of Kalgoorlie. The last spike driven in 1917 is shown in Figure 3.

 

 

 

Both covers stress the linkage of the west and the east, for there were both political and economic reasons for the T.A.R. When the Federation of the Australian colonies was being considered, Western Australia was the most reluctant colony. In 1896 when Perth on the west coast was joined by railway to Kalgoorlie, the W.A. Premier (Sir) John Forrest had promised the Kalgoorlie residents that the railway would be expanded eastwards. The lure of the T.A.R. was the 'carrot ' which led W.A. to join the Federation of Australia on January 1st 1901.

Prior to Federation, all mainland State capitals except Perth had already been linked by rail, even though there were different gauges in the rail tracks which required passengers to change trains on crossing State lines. Sydney and Melbourne were linked in 1883, Adelaide and Melbourne in 1887, Sydney and Brisbane in 1888. The uniform gauge across all mainland States was not achieved until November 1969! The delay in completion of the Kalgoorlie W.A. to Port Augusta S.A. section was a point of frustration of the early 1900's W.A. secession supporters.

 
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