Ballaarat steam engine

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The Ballaarat Steam Engine was built in Ballarat, Victoria in 1871 and was the first 3ft 6inch locomotive built in Australia. It was purchased by Western Australian Timber Company, which was awarded one of only three WA milling concessions granted. The company had 181,500 acres to mill at Yoganup near Busselton.[1]

The Western Australian Timber Company built the State’s first timber railway line (it included a steel strip along the top to protect the timber) and a 300-foot landing jetty at Lockeville (near Wonnerup) in preparation for timber transport. Timber milling was the region’s biggest industry and timber was the biggest export industry in Western Australia until World War 1.[2]

The 3ft 6in narrow gauge steam locomotive was named Ballaarat by the Mayor of Melbourne, after the original spelling of the town where it was built, Ballarat. It was shipped to Western Australia to transport timber from the mills on The Ballaarat Tramline that ran from north of Busselton at Lockeville to timber mills initially 18km to Yoganup and eventually 30km inland.

The Ballaarat was used by the Western Australian Timber Company until the mill closed in 1887.

It was left abandoned in Lockeville and damaged by fire when it was stored in a shed in the early 1900s, and then left exposed to the elements on a paddock.[3]

What was left of the Ballaarat was later donated by landowner Percy Reynolds to the Municipality of Busselton. It was offered to the WA Museum and then the Western Australian Government Railways who after many years of correspondence, eventually accepted and moved Ballaarat to Midland for refitting. It wasn’t until 1929, 42 years after it was decommissioned, that Ballaarat finally received partial repairwork thanks to it being featured in a State Centenary parade through Perth.

Ballaarat remained in Perth for several years until the Busselton community intervened in 1934 when they requested the engine’s return. After three years of lobbying, the Ballaarat returned home and was installed as a display piece in Victoria Square in 1937. It had pride of place in the square and was visited by thousands of locals and tourists over the years but being exposed to the elements for 75 years left it weather beaten and rusted.

It was now the oldest Australian built steam train still in existence.

In 2012, following a Lotterywest grant, local business South West Machining Centre and a team of volunteers and a Rail Heritage Consultant undertook its preservation works. The engine was completely disassembled and more than 550 volunteer hours were recorded.

In February 2016 Ballarat was moved to its present site on the Busselton foreshore and the remaining work was carried out on it in situ.

When the City of Busselton planned to have the old railway station repurposed as the Visitor Centre, it decided to include a verandah area for the engine. This then became an enclosed area and eventually, a large enclosed room also used as an exhibition space and function venue.

The restoration was completed in March 2017 and since that time Ballaarat has been on public display along with information, artifacts and images on the region’s timber industry.

2021 marks the 150th anniversary of the building of Busselton’s Ballaarat Steam Engine and the City of Busselton has plans to mark the milestone with a special exhibition in 2021 showcasing its history and stories surrounding its 150 years.


  1. Australian Steamtrains (2014-04-20). "LIGHT RAILWAYS MAGAZINE April 2012". IGHT RAILWAYS MAGAZINE April 2012.
  2. "Timber and rail lines". Follow My Ride. Retrieved 2020-07-14.
  3. "Preserved Steam Locomotives Down Under - Ballaarat". Retrieved 2020-07-14.

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