Museum keeps memories of railway history alive

22 September 2023

Just about everyone who visits Newport Railway Museum has a connection with the locomotives or carriages on display. 

From stories of grandparents who drove steam locomotives, long journeys on the Overland to memories of riding a Hitachi to school on a summer scorcher, museum guide John Hawthorne has heard plenty. 

“It's a real privilege to see the way that visitors relate to some of these exhibits”, John said.

“The kids absolutely love the steam engines and that’s a real treat to see. But you also have these incredible stories that people will tell you about the way a particular engine or carriage brings back memories for them.

The museum has one of the more than 400 community leases in VicTrack’s portfolio. Our community lease program makes underused land and buildings available to community organisations for social and cultural activities.

It's a real privilege to see the way that visitors relate to some of these exhibits

VicTrack and the museum work together to preserve around 50 mostly state-owned heritage railway assets on display, as museum president Nick Hewitt explained. 

“VicTrack is the landowner and owns the locomotives and carriages,” he said. 

“We work with VicTrack to make the museum available to the public and show everyone the history of our railways and Victoria's industrial heritage.” 

An important part of the museum’s work is to protect the assets so they can be enjoyed by visitors for many years to come. 

In 2020, the museum and VicTrack collaborated to build a roof over the heritage-listed ‘Heavy Harry’  locomotive. 

“Locomotive H220, known as Heavy Harry is a very, very special exhibit because it really does represent the peak of steam locomotive development in Victoria,” John said. 

“It was designed in-house by Victorian Railways and built right here in Newport. Heavy Harry represents pretty much everything they knew about steam locomotives all condensed into one design. It was exceptionally sophisticated for its time.

“When it went into service, it was originally intended to take The Overland over the steep hills between Melbourne and Ararat. Unfortunately, World War II intervened and it never got to perform that role because they weren't able to upgrade the track to take the locomotive's 264-tonne weight. 

“Instead, it ran on the Melbourne to Albury line, hauling freight and the occasional passenger train, even the flagship Spirit of Progress express. It did an exceptionally good job. It only ran for 15 years before it was replaced by diesels. But in that time, it ran over 1.3 million kilometres. So, we certainly got really good use from it.”

Today Heavy Harry is one of the museum’s most popular exhibits, alongside a collection of steam locomotives spanning the 1880s to the 1950s, passenger and goods carriages, as well as more modern diesel and electric locomotives. A grant from VicTrack will help keep more of these important heritage assets protected from the elements. 

Newport Railway Museum was one of 16 tourist and heritage rail operators and museums who received funds to support works to preserve state-owned asset, in line with Preserving our rail history – a blueprint for the future.

The museum is using the grant to contribute to the cost of expanding the roofing over locomotives to ensure more are protected from the weather. 

“I really like being a museum guide because people come along to look at the trains, and then they start to realise there's not only railway history here, but also social history tied up in these old engines and carriages, and even some of their own personal history, John said. 

“It’s just a wonderful privilege every week being able to introduce people to that.”

Newport Railway Museum is open to the public every Saturday from 12.00–5.00pm. During school holidays it is open both Saturdays and Sundays from 12.00–5.00pm.

Find out more about our community lease program.