Working life

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Stories from the Forge

The heats reached in the forge were such that wood or bitumen would catch alight, and cement would shatter


In the days when labour was inexpensive and materials were expensive, to minimise waste, recycling and using every material to it’s fullest was normal.

Testing the limits

The CME’s Mechanical Branch carried out physical testing to get the most from a locomotive and to identify faults in rails, axles or wheels before they caused an accident.

The Chief Mechanical Engineer communications

The Chief Mechanical Engineer’s (CME) world was one without electronic communication to reach the thousands of staff working under him at every railway depot across the state.

The Chief Mechanical Engineer

The Chief Mechanical Engineer (CME) managed the Mechanical Branch of the NSW Railways network from the Chief Mechanical Engineer’s Office on a hill overlooking the Eveleigh rail yards.

An all Australian triumph: The Governor general's carriage

The Eveleigh Workshops were a place of artistry as well as industry where many tradesmen took great pride in their craft.

You've had enough of hell

Work at Eveleigh was hard and workers relied on their wit to get them through tough times.


As the trains ran to timetables, so did the working day at the Eveleigh Workshops. Whistles gave warning that it was time to ‘get ready to start work’, ‘start work’, ‘pack up tools’, ‘wash up and walk to the gate’ and finally, ‘time to leave’.

We all washed in buckets

Washing facilities at Eveleigh Workshops were primitive at best. Standard issue for workers was a bucket of water to wash up in with a fortnightly scoop of soft soap.

Strikes, Unions and Activism

Eveleigh workers fought the weekend off and the eight-hour day.
  • 1878

    The Work's Manager and Timekeeper's Office is erected.

  • 1880

    Prior to the 1880s railway employees formed benefit societies to help deal with accidents and deaths at work.

  • 1882

    First trade union action occurs at Redfern Railway Workshops, when the Boilermakers Union claims overtime. In Australia during the 1850s skilled workers in Sydney and Melbourne generally worked a 58 hour week: 10 hours per day Monday to Friday and 8 hours on Saturday.

  • 1882

    Railway Commissioner Charles Goodchap promotes first aid training and an ambulance corps is formed three years later.

  • 1886

    All-grades Railway and Tramway Union forms to fight against the abolition of breakfast breaks and management's withdrawal of free railway passes.

  • 1886

    Eveleigh men mobilise towards the establishment of the eight-hour day.

  • 1886

    Australian Railway and Tramway Service Association (ARTSA) is established by two porters who realise unskilled workers, like signalmen and guards, have issues which could be better resolved by a unified approach.

  • 1889

    The Labour Electoral League (Labor Party) is established by the Trades and Labour Council.

  • 1892

    Union negotiations lead to the workshops being closed on Saturdays.

  • 1900

    Order for the Governor-General's carriage is placed at Eveleigh Railway Workshops.


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