This Northern Territory outpost is moving beyond a traditional reliance on farming and mining to tourism and a renewed interest in history.
Story By Chris Pritchard
The last train from Darwin to Pine Creek left 35 years ago but railway talk still dominates many conversations in this Northern Territory outpost. The town boasts a station – now a volunteer-run museum of rail memorabilia – and a stationmaster’s house. There’s also a couple of veteran locomotives – one diesel and the other, built in England in 1877 by Beyer, Peacock & Co, is reputedly Australia’s oldest restored steam engine.
Despite the talk, the trains are in the town’s past, as is its vibrant Chinese community, which peaked at 4000 in the 1890s as newcomers were drawn by gold or jobs building rail and telegraph links. “The Chinese community?” chuckles 77-year-old Eddie Ah Toy. “That’s me and my daughter. There were so many – now there’s just us. The others? Who knows? They went back to China, dispersed across Australia or settled in Darwin.”
Eddie, named Territorian of the Year in 2005 for his services to the community, recalls a childhood with his family in a corrugated iron bakery, now identified by a plaque as a historic site. Eddie ran Ah Toy’s, a general store, for 59 years until he retired two years ago. A tenant leases the business now, cannily keeping the name.
This story excerpt is from Issue #100
Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2015