History continued: the end of the railway

Bygone era: The Esperance Flyer, a direct rail link between the south-east coast and Kalgoorlie, cemented Esperance’s position as a coastal retreat. Photo: D.G. Swan courtesy of Rail Heritage WA.
Bygone era: The Esperance Flyer, a direct rail link between the south-east coast and Kalgoorlie, cemented Esperance’s position as a coastal retreat. Photo: D.G. Swan courtesy of Rail Heritage WA.

For Part One (Port town’s path to boom) click here

In earlier times most visitors to Esperance visited the lonely grave by the sea shore of Tommy Windich, erected by John and Alexander Forrest. The grave tells a story of pioneering and the friendship between European and Aboriginal Australians during explorations.

Esperance became the coastal playground for Goldfields residents. The increased demand for accommodation encouraged development along the Esplanade; E.W. Stearne converted a large ware house built by wholesalers Burns, Philp and Co. into self-contained flats, and shopkeeper W.C. Dixon built simple accommodation. The Hancock family hotel and boarding house was popular. Community concerts and movie shows at the Bijou kept many entertained. Goldfields visitors relished the cooler evenings.

A camping ground near the shore in the shelter of Dempster Head was popular for family holidays. The Fresh Air League organisation which formed in 1907 provided the means for Goldfields children to go to a seaside during school holidays. When buildings from the RAAF camp at Boulder became available they were transported to Esperance to be reconstructed into the Fresh Air League premises. The prime seaside land was purchased from Elsie Turner a local dairy farmer.

The Eastern Goldfields Fresh Air League was officially opened by Lieutenant Governor Sir James Mitchell in 1947.  The children enjoyed plenty of swimming, open air games and lots of fun during their stay. The Esperance Flyer, a direct rail link between the south-east coast and Kalgoorlie, cemented Esperance’s position as a coastal retreat. In 1952, WA Government Railways introduced a new class of passenger railcar hauled by a diesel –electric locomotive which further reduced travel time.  By 1961 there were five goods trains weekly in each direction between Norseman and Esperance.

Extra mixed trains were run on holidays and after harvest. In 1967 passenger trains were withdrawn and replaced by road coaches. The passenger rail journey introduced running three times a year from Perth to Esperance via Kalgoorlie was cut in 1996. The Prospector rail tours had operated for 13 years with the use of hired Westrail rail cars and locomotive engine.

A decision was made that the rolling stock would no longer be available and the successful tours were discontinued. Westrail indicated the company was not prepared to subsidise commercial operators or to enter an agreement unless instructed by government. The Kalgoorlie-Esperance passenger rail link was no more.