22 March 2024

With more artefacts than they can display, Wagga's Railway Museum is keen to expand

| Chris Roe
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Robert Gannon and Phil Horwell have a vast collection that they want to show off in an expanded Railway Heritage Museum.

Robert Gannon and Phil Horwell have a vast collection that they want to show off in an expanded Railway Heritage Museum. Photo: Chris Roe.

When yarning with the blokes from the Wagga Wagga Rail Heritage Association, make sure that you never use the term ‘train station’.

Railway station Chris, in Australia it’s a railway station,” corrected Phil Horwell, immediately pouncing on my Hollywood-influenced faux par.

With my terminology sorted, Phil and fellow railways veteran Robert Gannon laid out their plans for a new and expanded museum.

“Unfortunately, we’ve collected all these things that we can’t show to the public because we don’t have enough room,” Phil explained.

“We’re working towards building a new museum in Railway Street beside the existing 1881 Enginemen’s Barracks to be able to show this vast amount of remarkable railway heritage to the public.”

READ ALSO Saving artefacts and getting Wagga’s rail history back on track

Through the 80s and 90s, the pair were part of an endeavour to prevent the region’s rail artefacts from being sold to collectors by the state government.

“Back in the day when they were closing down all the stations down this way, they were taking everything and selling it in the railway shop at Central Station and through auctions in the regions,” said Robert.

“So Phil and I drove around to as many places we could and reclaimed this stuff before it could be sold and we stored it for 20-odd years before we opened the railway museum.”

The Enginemen’s Barracks is one of several locations used by the Rail Heritage crew including the old Gang Shed and the current museum space at the end of the railway station platform.

“Because of the limited space on the platform, we can only really show the smaller items and we’ve emphasised the vast number of photographs to look at,” said Phil.

“As time has gone on, we have restored a lot of our larger items like the railway trikes, and we just need the space to allow people to see them.”

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In 2020, Bathurst opened its own government-funded rail museum and Phil and Rob reckon it pales in comparison to their extensive collection.

They hope that their new facility will not only showcase their railway treasure trove but also include space for other exhibitions.

“Wagga doesn’t have a lot of tourist attractions and we want to make this a place that people will travel to visit,” said Phil.

“It will be based on the railways, but we also know that we need to diversify and we have the opportunity to include a kind of sporting Hall of Fame with some amazing memorabilia.”

Robert takes a look over the plans for the new exhibition space.

Robert takes a look over the plans for the new exhibition space. Photo: Chris Roe.

Robert unrolled a detailed plan of the proposed new building that includes parking and amenities alongside a 32-metre-long exhibition space.

“We’ve had some great advice from the heritage people that have been helping us out with this and we’ve been going through all the appropriate channels and getting a lot of support,” Robert explained.

“By making people aware of what we’re doing we hope that we’ll be able to put forward a development application to be approved by the city council and then of course we need to fund it.”

The team has already been busy spreading the word and holding fundraising events but recognises that seven-figure sums will be required to make the dream a reality.

“What we have is like nothing else anywhere and our mission statement is that we will tell the story of the great southern railway,” said Robert.

“A lot of these little towns down here started because of the railway and the railway camps. Many of the stations are closed now but we keep that heritage alive.

“There’s such a big interest in railway artefacts and memorabilia and those thousands of collectors and railway buffs are what we’re banking on to support the museum.”

To learn more about the Wagga Wagga Rail Heritage Association check out its website and keep up with the latest on its Facebook page.

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