Northam’s miracle restoration of heritage and pride at the Railway Station Museum

In a mindlessly savage attack, vandals – hurling the railway yards’ own track ballast – smashed every single window on the outside of the Northam Railway Station Museum’s three priceless, historic passenger carriages forming the main display at the museum platform.

It was a shattering disaster in more ways than one: Northam Heritage Forum – the not-for-profit volunteer organisation which manages the museum – had no way of paying for the expensive restoration of heritage assets which required the input of historians, government officials, craftsmen and heritage experts.

But Northam’s community of volunteers is made of stern stuff.

In the words of Forum President Genny Budas, “Good people have come together to achieve a remarkable recovery for Northam’s important heritage.”

The Forum, with a core staff of only ten volunteers, went looking for help.

It took time and effort – and a lot of optimism, but the results have been spectacular.

With infinite patience, the Forum explored many options: one was the total closure of the museum after more than ten years’ successful operation; or on the other hand, complete restoration and return to normal museum activity.

The second option called for funding and expertise far beyond the Forum’s limited means.

With the willing assistance of many like-minded people – historians, restoration experts, government officials and fund-raisers, they worked with people dedicated to ensuring the survival of an important part of Northam’s unique heritage.

“We needed $9,000 for total restoration, including windows, ceilings, fittings and walls,” said Mrs Budas.

Central to the effort was the volunteer organisation Rail Heritage WA based at the Rail Heritage Museum at Bassendean.

Key to RHWA input was restoration expert Ian Studham, who had the task of removing, restoring and replacing all 46 windows in the three display carriages.

Restoration required the new windows to look like the originals in every possible detail: window glass, broken frames, metal catchments, method of opening and closing – just as the originals looked and operated more than 100 years ago.

Mr Studham needed to carefully remove the damaged items in small consignments to be taken to Bassendean for stripping down, careful restoration and reglazing.

The empty window-holes could not be left for long as they were exposed to the weather, despite the temporary protection of huge second-hand tarpaulins from CBH’s grain storage facility at Avon Yard – again installed by volunteers.

When completed, each consignment of windows was brought back to Northam and the next set removed for the journey to recovery.

The only change in the restored windows is the glass, now replaced with tough polycarbonate.

Nobody has been charged following the vandalism, although a consequence has been the installation of more sophisticated CCTV surveillance and improved security systems.

The carriages are not only important display items in their own right; they also house other heritage items and information about Northam’s vital role in the development of the historic Eastern Goldfields and, subsequently, the vital agricultural region of the Wheatbelt.

The carriages have stood at the main platform since the early 1980s, following the closure of the original station with the introduction in 1966 of the Standard Gauge service and realignment of track from the centre of the town.

Mr Studham said the abandoned railway yards are a “treasure trove” of historical rolling stock and equipment, from rare and unusual wagons to infrastructure long out of service and not found anywhere else in the State.

One carriage in particular attracts historians’ attention.

Between 1942 and 1944 it was removed from normal passenger duties to be part of the Australian Military Force’s World War 2 Ambulance Train to carry wounded troops between the ports and the various army camps in Western Australia, including Northam and Merredin.