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The Tramway at RAN Armament Depot Newington


The 1994 heritage study of Newington made for the Department of Defence asserts that the tramway was built in 1909. There is something not quite right about this assertion, which is not supported with a primary reference. Firstly, it is clear from a study of the surviving original buildings that they were designed to be serviced by a tramway. Secondly, the journalist from the Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrower's Advocate, who described the ongoing construction work in the edition of Saturday September 4, 1897, wrote:

"From the wharf, on which the iron gates will form the main entrance, there will be a thorough system of tram lines running around the reserve. One line will run to the gun-cotton store on the right hand side, and a double line of rails will run to the powder magazine."

There is convincing evidence that first section of the 2-foot gauge Newington tramway was built at the same time as the original magazine buildings in 1897-1898:

"From the available records, Sergeant Walker seems to have been a meticulously careful manager. He requested permission before burning off grass in the depot, and reported out-of-the-ordinary incidents to higher command. The theft of 25.6m (84 feet) of gunmetal plating from the tram rail in October 1907, and damage to the metal fence by 'lightening' (sic) the next year were two such incidents."(Royal Australian Navy Ammunition Depot Newington (RANAD Newington) - A Historical Survey for Explosive Ordnance Contamination for CH2M HILL AUSTRALIA Pty Ltd, page 11, referencing as a primary source Australian Archives (ACT), Series AWM 1, item 8/27 - Correspondence register, (technical and general correspondence), HQ Royal Australian Garrison Artillery, NSW 1907 - 1911 )

Even more convincing is this advertisement from the Sydney Morning Herald of 27 November 1897:

"Staff Officer for Engineer Service,
Victoria Barracks, Sydney
16th November 1897

Tenders will be received up to 11 a.m. on WEDNESDAY, the 15th December, for the CONSTRUCTION OF ROADWAYS, TRAMWAYS, TURN-TABLES, TRUCKS, CRANE, TRAVELLERS, LIGHTNING CONDUCTORS &c., &c., at NEWINGTON (one contract). Plans, specifications and terms of tender may be seen at the above office. Tenders to be forwarded to the Staff Officer for Engineer Services, and must be accompanied by a cheque or cash deposit for five (6) per cent of amount of tender.

By order. A.J. PINCHEN, Lieut., Division Officer South"

It's probable that the 1994 heritage study confused the tramway with the nearby Abbattoirs railway line which did open in 1909.

In May 1920, the tramway was described as "double line of rails 2 foot gauge with four trucks (from wharf to the magazine where they split to go into each compartment)". It appears that at this time the tramway did not extend past the magazine (Building No. 20).

In 1922 there was a proposal for a new line to be built from the wharf to a new empty case store and to extend the line to the proposed smoke apparatus store Building No. 24).

Map of Newington Magazine circa 1921

This map section, dating from the early 1920s, shows the original magazine precinct, its surrounding iron picket fence and tramway lines. North is to the right. The complete map also shows the residences, empty case store and smoke apparatus store.

In 1925 a recommendation was made to provide either a flying fox or a storage battery locomotive similar to that in use at the Swan Island Mine Depot. The present system was unsatisfactory because the maximum load per day that could be moved to the wharf was only 50 tons. The loco would carry 150 tons. The "present system" is not described, but could only have been man or horse haulage. The proposal did not proceed at the time, because there was no electricity supply for charging of batteries, and a local idea of charging them at Spectacle Island was deemed impracticable. (National Archives of Australia SP339/1; 262/7/429)

The following, although referring to a World War 1 filling factory in the United Kingdom, shows that man haulage was not exceptional at this time:

"The 2-foot narrow gauge railway system was designed for hand hauled trolleys as the rules for operation of magazines had been interpreted as disallowing animal traction. However, at least two other filling factories, at Leeds and Glasgow, made extensive use of pony haulage following a relaxation in the regulations in 1916 though no stabling was allowed. ...

Male labour accounted for about 20% of the workforce and consisted of young men under 18 and men too old or unfit for military service and also discharged or wounded soldiers. The men were mainly employed on maintenance work and trolley work on the narrow gauge railway. ..." (Brian Edwards "National Filling Factory No 5 Quedgeley" Gloucestershire Society for Industrial Archaeology Journal, 1994 P. 32-52)
Map of Newington Magazine in 1928

This map, dated 1928, shows the tramway lines (single line; the narrow double lines are roads). All construction during this period was serviced by tram lines.

In 1929, the rolling stock in use comprised 4 cartridge trucks and 6 shell trucks.

The exact date of introduction of horses for use in the ammunition haulage task is not known, however it was probably later than 1929 but before 16th December, 1937. On this date, Assistant (Armament) Bill Weekly was knocked down by a depot horse and suffered a fractured tibia and fibula.

This first depot horse was named "Hammer" and he was used for long distance haulage of the shell and cartridge trucks, the "Armstrong" method still being in vogue for the shorter hauls. In hauling the trucks the horse walked outside the rails and was adept at avoiding the heavy trucks when coming to a halt. (This information came from Harry Creighton, who commenced working at Spectacle Island in 1938 and transferred to Newington shortly thereafter.) More information on the Newington horses is available.

The tramway served all storehouses and laboratories constructed up until World War 2; the final total of lines amounting to about 6.5 kilometres. Wartime construction was designed for road transport only.

Anecdotal evidence says that imported Wingrove & Rogers storage battery locomotives (known as electromobiles) were introduced in 1940, with further locomotives being acquired in 1942 and 1948. These were replaced by Australian-manufactured Gemco locomotives in the mid-1970s.

Further Information

A video titled The Railways of Newington Navy Armament Depot - A 1997 Driver's View Plus was made by Rowlingstock Productions in 1997 (Catalogue No. NNAD). This video cassette has been re-released as a DVD, and is still available. (Enquiries: + 61 2 9890 1573)

An article titled "Gunpowder, cordite and tram tracks" was published in Steam Scene, Volume 2, Issue 3. This issue can be dowloaded (PDF file, 221 KB)

Sydney Olympic Park has restored the tramway which it operates as a tourist attraction, running each Sunday. Visit the Sydney Olympic Park website for more information.

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Robert Curran
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