Take a journey into railway history at the National Railway Museum in Port Adelaide.
by Katrina Gogel
Train enthusiasts big and small will be wowed by Australia’s largest undercover railway museum, which houses over 100 exhibits within two huge pavilions. It is a fun place for young families and the serious train buff – with a wide variety of steam locomotives, diesel engines and elegant train carriages to explore, as well as interactive and educational displays AND unlimited train rides!
Watch your little one’s face light up with joy as they enter through the doors of the Fitch and Fluck pavilions (both named after prominent railway figures) and see the array of giant locomotives spread out across numerous train tracks.
The Fluck pavilion is exciting with its rows of huge old trains and carriages, but the Fitch pavilion is where we spent the majority of our time. It is the first pavilion you’ll come to after buying your entry ticket, and is home to a rather famous train – the Tea and Sugar train!
It also houses special exhibitions from time to time, such as the golden anniversary of the Indian Pacific, which is currently showing until the end of March 2020.
The iconic Tea and Sugar train spent decades thundering across the Nullarbor plain, and became the lifeline for isolated communities along the line. The train pulled a number of rail cars to each remote town, including a grocery store, butcher, a pay van, and a welfare car – which carried a visiting nurse or doctor and medical supplies. Sometimes there were special rail cars, such as a theatrette, and once a year Santa made the trip to surprise and deliver presents to all the children.
The train ceased service in 1996 and now calls the museum home. Each rail car is open to the public, and is equipped with interactive touch screens that visitors can use to learn about its history. While our three-year-old was a bit too young (and impatient!) for a history lesson during our visit, he still had a great time testing it out, and we found hopping aboard for a look inside the cars really fascinating.
Another South Australian Railway’s icon whose memorabilia also calls the Fitch pavilion home is Bob the Railway Dog.
Haven’t heard of Bob? Bob was a bit like Red Dog. He jumped aboard steam trains back in the late 1800’s and spent his time adventuring all around South Australia, sometimes even interstate! A statue commemorating Bob, as well as photographs and his actual collar are on display in the museum. We are big Bob fans in our household, so master three had a wonderful time trying to spot Bob memorabilia throughout the pavilion.
Helpful hint: Both Bob and the Tea and Sugar train are captivating real-life South Australian stories that have been turned into childrens books. I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of each prior to visiting. Named ‘Bob the Railway Dog’ and the ‘Tea and Sugar Christmas’, these tales will enhance your museum experience and will be sure to become family faves at bedtime! See the pic below.
As well as the above-mentioned South Aussie icons, there are also numerous display cases throughout the museum which house small-scale trains and railway artefacts, and large display cells that you can wander through. We spent quite a bit of time in the Model Railway display cell, as our little one adores model trains and was completely mesmerised by them as they whizzed past.
We also couldn’t resist a stop at the signals in the Fitch pavilion near the exit door. These are working signals which flash to life at the press of a button, and make their ‘ding ding ding’ sound for all to hear.
And it’s not a visit to the National Railway Museum without climbing aboard some trains! Many of the loco’s and carriages are unlocked and have either ramps, staircases or a ladder leading up to them, so climbing aboard to check them out is a must-do. Just make sure you mind the gap as you do!
After exploring both of the pavilions we rounded out our visit with not one, but two rides on the 457mm train that circuits the museum grounds. This small train is sure to be a big hit with children! Regularly departing from Callington Station (located just outside the Fitch pavilion), listen for the driver’s announcement over loud speaker, join the line up and hop on board. Rides on the train take you on tour around the railway yards, and give you a distant look into the work sheds, where engines and carriages are painstakingly restored by volunteers. These small train rides are included in the admission price and are unlimited.
We had a great few hours exploring the museum, and our three year old has not stopped asking since if he can go back to the ‘train place please’. If you’re looking for a family outing destination, we highly recommend adding the National Railway Museum at Port Adelaide to your list.
What we like about the National Railway Museum
- So. Many. Trains. Our three-year-old was in train heaven!
- It is suitable for all ages.
- Reasonable entry prices.
- There is a large, free carpark right next door to the museum.
- The small train ride that takes you on a loop around the museum grounds- this is included in your admission fee and you can ride it as many times as you like. Winning!
- You receive discounted entry to the SA Maritime and SA Aviation museums which are also located along Lipson Street in Port Adelaide.
- It’s only a short five-minute stroll to the wonderful wharf precinct.
- The downloadable and printable resources available on the National Railway Museum website (there’s some great kid’s activities, including colouring in sheets and an adventure trail sheet, which would be great fun for kids to take along with them on their visit).
- Large, free car park.
- Toilets (inc disabled + baby changing).
- Undercover dining area with picnic tables (BYO food).
- Rubbish bins.
- Vending machines for drinks and food.
- Volunteer run gift and information shop.
- Dining car which is available for hire for children’s birthday parties and special occasions.
Things to consider
- The small train that circuits the museum yard runs daily, and leaves from Callington station regularly (keep a listen out for announcements over loud speaker). Bigger trains run only during special events and are an additional charge.
- The museum is pram friendly, and even offers pram parking at Callington station if the whole family wishes to hop aboard the small train for a ride.
- For safety reasons the workshops and locomotive sheds are not open to visitors.
- Mind the gap when wandering along the platforms.
- There is no cafeteria at the museum- only vending machines. You are welcome to BYO food and drinks and make use of the large undercover picnic area.
- The National Railway Museum is more than just exhibits, and can cater for children’s birthday parties, corporate events and special celebrations. Contact them to find out more.
Coffee and food options nearby
The museum is located in the heart of Port Adelaide, so you are only a short walk away from some great pubs, cafes and restaurants. After our visit we had a good meal at L.Law Café, which has a kid’s menu. Another great option is Folklore Café (read our review here), which is situated next to the awesome Harts Mill playground and overlooks the river.
76 Lipson Street, Port Adelaide
For more information and all enquiries please visit the National Railway Museum website.
What: National Railway Museum
When: Everyday 10am – 4.30pm (excluding Christmas day, and opens after noon on Anzac Day)
Where: 76 Lipson Street, Port Adelaide
Who: Train buffs of all ages!
At Play & Go Adelaide we make every effort to provide accurate information to the best of our knowledge at the time of publication. We recommend confirming times, dates and details directly before making any plans as details may be subject to change.
Image Source: All photos by Katrina Gogel
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