Ballaarat Engine Countdown to 150th Anniversary

Published on Monday, 15 June 2020 at 10:20:00 AM

Australia’s last remaining steam engine, the Ballaarat, will mark its 150th year in 2021 and members of the public with memories, photos or family connections are invited to contribute to a special exhibition which will be held in Busselton in August next year.

Members of the public who would like to share their Ballaarat story can contact the City’s Cultural Development Officer Jacquie Happ on (08) 9781 0335 or

Ballaarat arrived in Western Australia by sea from Victoria in 1871 and was the state’s first operating locomotive engine. It earnt its keep hauling logs on a tramline that ran from north of Busselton at Lockeville (near Wonnerup) to timber mills initially 18km to Yoganup and eventually 30km inland to Maryvale in what is now the Jarrahwood State Forest until the mill closed in 1887.

The steam engine fell into decline after the Mill’s closure and City of Busselton Mayor Grant Henley said it was a combination of luck and tenacity by heritage and locomotive enthusiasts that the Ballaarat still exists today.

“The Ballaarat was in service less than 40 years after the first settlers arrived in the region, making it one of Busselton’s oldest and most significant references to our early industry,” he said.

“But it had a rough trot before being recognised for its heritage and cultural significance. It was damaged by fire when stored in a nearby shed, and was then abandoned on the beach in Wonnerup exposed to the elements for a number of years.

“Fortunately, things started looking up for the engine in 1925 when it was donated to the then Shire of Busselton, who offered it to the WA Museum and then the Western Australian Government Railways who eventually accepted and moved it to Midland for refitting,” he said.

“It wasn’t until 1929, 42 years after being decommissioned, that Ballaarat finally received partial repair work thanks to it featuring in a State Centenary parade through Perth.

“Ballaarat sat in Perth for several years until the Busselton community intervened in 1934, requesting the engine’s return. After three years of lobbying, Ballaarat returned home and was installed on public display in Victoria Square in 1937.

“It had pride of place in Busselton town centre and was visited by thousands of locals and tourists over the years – including my sister and me when we were kids.

“Being exposed to the elements for 75 years left the engine weather beaten and rusted. A Lotterywest grant in 2012 allowed us to coordinate a local machining business, a team of volunteers and a Rail Heritage Consultant to undertake preservation works.

“By March 2017 Ballaarat was restored to its former glory. It is displayed in a dedicated room at Railway House on Busselton Foreshore along with displays on the region’s early timber industry. Railway House is also home to the Busselton Visitor Centre.

“The City is planning a special exhibition and celebration to mark the engine’s 150th year in 2021. We would love to receive information from the public on their memories, photos or family connections to Ballaarat,” Mayor Henley said.

Note to editors regarding the spelling of Ballaarat:
The engine was built in Ballarat, Victoria. The original spelling of the town’s name was “Ballaarat”, originating from two Aboriginal words: “Balla Arat” which means resting place. The spelling of the town’s name was eventually changed to Ballarat but the engine retained its original spelling.

Photo download link:

Attached Image for free use: Young Grant Henley and his sister visiting on the Ballaarat Engine.

The Objectives out lined in this media release are aligned to Key Goal Area 1 in the City of Busselton’s Strategic Community Plan (Review 2019): Welcoming, Friendly and Healthy.

Media enquiries can be directed to project coordinator Janine Pittaway 0418911796

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