A place of heart and soul

July 7, 2017

Lisa Havilah, Director, Carriageworks – from the publication 1917: The Great Strike

Located on Gadigal land, the Carriageworks building was built between 1880 and 1889 and, together with the rest of the former Eveleigh workshops, is regarded as one of the best examples of railway heritage in Australia. It was one of the first places to employ Aboriginal people and is also the place were generations of new migrants were first employed. By the 1900s several thousand people worked at the Eveleigh Railway Workshops, building and maintaining locomotive engines and carriages for NSW’s expanding rail network. The Carriageworks site has always been home to creativity and innovation; train carriages were built for the first Governor General and visiting royalty, and the very first electric trains in Australia were designed and developed at Eveleigh. Designers, engineers, blacksmiths, upholsterers – it was a place alive with invention and creativity. It was also a place of hard labour, where workers took the conceptual and made it material.

It was within the walls of Carriageworks and the nearby Randwick Tramsheds that the Great Strike started in 1917, a nationally important event which saw thousands of railway and tramway workers, families and communities march through Sydney’s streets to protest in The Domain. Although ultimately it didn’t achieve its desired objectives, the strike galvanised community networks to challenge the dictates of railway management and state law, radically remapping the social and political landscape of Sydney.

Eveleigh Railway Workshops were described in 2004 by former worker Richard Butcher as a place that … had a heart and soul. She forged friendships that would last a lifetime for the men and women who served there. To these everyday [people] …she was an inspiration; a gentle giant who …sheltered and protected as well as united, men from all walks of life… She provided the fabric to be creative, …to give men strength to allow them to give, in turn, to others less fortunate.

Through presenting this exhibition with our partner the City of Sydney, we celebrate the great tradition of the Eveleigh Railway Workshops being a place of work, creativity and resistance for our communities. We acknowledge that we have a responsibility to the cultural and social legacy that is embedded within this nationally important place.  It is through acknowledging and representing our shared histories that we carry forward the future of urban Sydney.


Exhibition information




IMAGE: Eveleigh Locomotive depot, undated. State Archives NSW.