World Record History

Article | Updated 2 months ago

Marani Greatorex is a cadet with the WA Museum. She worked on the World Track Laying Record exhibition, engaging with community members to record and share their story.

She writes about the project and how it’s being developed for the New Museum.

World Record History:

On May 8, 1968 a track laying crew involving mostly Torres Strait Islander workers broke the world record for laying the greatest length of railway in a single day.

In the heat of the Pilbara, seven kilometres of railway track was laid, spiked and anchored in 11 hours and 40 minutes. This railway project enticed the Torres Strait Islander community to migrate to Western Australia, where they have now established their own community.

Since 2017 we have been meeting with family members whose fathers were involved in the Mount Newman to Port Hedland railroad projects and other railway projects around Western Australia, who have expressed their pride and honour of this particular event.

It would be great just to visit, just to be there in the place of the event as proud people.”

Sonya Stephen, daughter of ex-railway worker

Through a process of engaging with family members of original track laying workers, we have collected memories and stories of family experiences during the time of the railway projects. We hope to capture the voices of the Torres Strait islander community in regards to this significant story, and to further engage with the Torres Strait Islander community in the future to ensure the story is told correctly and represented appropriately.

The WA Museum engaged with the Torres Strait Islander community to create a display that is currently being displayed in the State Library until 11 June.

This story will be further developed in the New Museum Voices gallery and will explore and share the powerful and unique local story of the 1968 world record track laying event in the Pilbara.

Hailing of a 1,444'm string of rail, 1968. BHP Collection (BH0520).
Image courtesy of the State Library of WA.

It’s evidence of hard work and it was hardship them times but for them to come here leaves a legacy and it says ‘Hey we were here’.

George Pitt, former railway worker

From the mid-1960s, Torres Strait Islander workers made many sacrifices leaving their homeland and communities to seek new opportunities in Western Australia. Back on the Islands, the 1897 Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act (QLD) strictly controlled the workers and their employment benefits. Working in Western Australia on railway projects they were paid the same as the other workers as these were union sites. This enabled them to escape the government’s control of their conditions, wages and movements.

Following that, the experience of the Pilbara contributes to the incredible feat of the record. The extreme heat of the Pilbara became a challenge for the workers. Physically and mentally demanding work was done in 40+ degree heat. For the Torres Strait Islander workers, the thought of supporting their families and children back home kept them going through the conditions of the Pilbara.

For ex-railway workers, this story carries their legacy throughout each generation, allowing their hard work to be acknowledged through stories, memories and songs.

Lunch break on the Mt. Newman Railroad, 1968. BHP Collection (BH0506).
Image courtesy of the State Library of WA.

World Track Laying Recordis presented by the Western Australian Museum and the State Library of Western Australia. Visit this exhibition at the State Library from Tuesday 8 May.