The first steam locomotive to work in Western Australia


‘Ballaarat’ displayed under a weather shelter at Victoria Square, Busselton on 12 May 2002.

One interesting feature to be seen is the running plate which extends over the buffer,

indicating where the former wooden buffer beam would have been.

This historic engine is the oldest surviving Australian-built steam locomotive and also the first steam locomotive to work in Western Australia. ‘Ballaarat’ was built at the Victoria Foundry and Ironworks, Ballarat, Victoria in 1871 and takes its name from the original spelling of its city of manufacture. It was ordered by the West Australian Timber Company for their 18km railway between the port and mill at Lockeville, near Busselton, and timber concessions at Yoganup.

‘Ballaarat’ was built as a 0-4-0WT however operating demands at Lockeville led to a 4-wheel tender quickly being added for additional fuel and water. The footplate was shortened by 12 inches at this time. Early photos show that a basic timber-framed roof of corrugated iron was also added over the cab. ‘Ballaarat’ was originally supplied with a cross-head driven pump for boiler water feed; this early design required the locomotive to be moving whenever the boiler needed topping up! Ballaarat appears rather squat and with a long wheelbase for a 0-4-0 locomotive; this appearance is probably because the rear axle is located behind the firebox. The valve gear (Gooch link motion) was driven from the front axle.

‘Ballaarat’ is not really typical of locomotive design in the early 1870's but may have been based on similar locomotives built by Fletcher Jennings & Co, such as 0-4-0T ‘Baxter’ of 1877 which is preserved at the Bluebell Railway, Sussex.

Ballaarat's working career ended when the locomotive shed at Lockeville was destroyed by fire around 1900. Ballaarat and tender, stored within, were severely damaged; the tender's wooden frame was destroyed and Ballaarat's wooden buffer beams, boiler lagging and cab were reduced to ashes. Ballaarat and tender subsequently lay derelict for many years at the loco shed site, during which time there was some consideration of having the locomotive restored by the state Railway Department for display at the WA Museum. The tender found re-use in 1922 and in 1925 the locomotive unit of Ballaarat was relocated to the Midland Junction Workshops where it was assessed for restoration, however the cost was considered excessive. Ballaarat appeared in the WA Centenary Parade of 1929 on a horse float, but otherwise remained in storage at Midland Workshops pending possible restoration and display. Concerned at the lack of progress, Busselton Municipal Council arranged for Ballaarat to be returned to Busselton in 1937 where it was placed on display in Victoria Square. Here it remained for many years, cared for by the Busselton Municipal Council and more recently protected from the elements by a weather roof.

Given its historical importance it is surprising that Ballaarat had not been restored for display in a major Australian museum. Perhaps various museum curators have assessed the locomotive as incomplete and unrepresentative and therefore not worthy of display; conversely, a parallel could be made with the somewhat incomplete and modified remains of Stephenson's Rocket - which is a key exhibit in the Science Museum, Kensington, London.

Philippa Rogers has written a comprehensive and well-illustrated history of this locomotive in ‘Ballaarat - Its story’ published in ‘Light Railways’ magazine for April 2012. This excellent article is recommended for further information about ‘Ballaarat’ and can be found in this free on-line sample copy of Light Railways No.224.

UPDATE: ‘Ballaarat’ recently received conservation treatment and has been relocated to a new indoor exhibition and function centre known as Railway House. This facility is based on the original but relocated Busselton Railway Station (built 1884) and opened to the public in March 2017. It is situated adjacent to the Busselton foreshore and railway jetty and includes the Busselton Visitor Centre. The locomotive is displayed within the eponymous ‘Ballaarat Room’ and photos show it is now housed in a suitable climate-controlled environment, with interpretive signage and certain fittings replaced such as wooden boiler lagging (although the front wooden buffer has not been replaced). The various parties involved to this significant and deserved improvement in Ballaarat’s state of affairs are to be congratulated.

Two further views of ‘Ballaarat’ displayed at Victoria Square, Busselton on 12 May 2002.



Higham, G. J., 'One Hundred Years of Railways in Western Australia',

Australian Railway Historical Society W. A. Division, first printed 1971.


'Light Railways - Australia's Magazine of Industrial & Narrow Gauge Railways',

Number 224, April 2012. Published by Light Railway Research Society of Australia Inc.


Casserley, H. C. 'Preserved Locomotives' (Fifth Edition),

published 1980 by Ian Allan Ltd, Shepperton, Surrey, page 136.


Page updated: 10 March 2018

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