On 26 February last year I wrote an article about the history of Bogantungan and the 1960 Bogantungan rail disaster and posted it on my “Love in a little black diary” Facebook page.

The response was overwhelming! Since that date, the post has reached 70,383 people, had 18,831 engagements, received 423 comments and has been shared 429 times! Clearly, people are interested in these aspects of Queensland’s history. To my surprise, I discovered that many respondents wanted to “talk” about the accident.

A number of people who commented on my post identified themselves as children who were passengers on the train and involved in the accident. These “children” are now in their 60s and 70s. Two of them agreed to “talk” with each other privately, via messenger.
 

Screenshot of some of the comments on my Facebook post

 

Without realizing it, one lady began telling me her story. Publicly, on Facebook. I found this very moving. She said it was hard to speak about the accident, and that some of the “children” still find it too painful. I asked if anyone had recorded their stories, and she replied “No”. She was one of 20 children from far western Queensland travelling from Longreach via Rockhampton to the Leslie Wilson Home, Yeppoon, for medical or dental treatment, or recuperation, under the Royal Queensland Bush Children’s Health Scheme. A number of other children on the train were travelling with their families.

The 1960 Bogantungan rail accident remains one of the worst in Queensland’s history. Seven lives were lost: three crew and four passengers, including two children. Forty-three people were injured. The event occurred 59 years ago but, for those involved, the memories linger. One Facebook respondent wrote: “I was 9 years old…still remember what went on.”

“Have you heard the children cry?” I think it’s high time we heard from them. Their stories need to be told and documented for posterity.

About Bogantungan

Bogantungan is located in Central Queensland in the foothills of the Drummond Range. It lies just off the Capricorn Highway, 367 km west of Rockhampton, 97 km west of Emerald and 11 km east of the Drummond Range Lookout. Once a thriving railway town, today Bogantungan consists of just a handful of houses and a railway museum.

One of the few remaining houses in Bogantungan

 

The railway line between Emerald and Bogantungan opened in 1880. Between 1880 and 1883, during construction of the line across the Drummond Range, Bogantungan was the terminus for the central western railway. It was declared a town on 7 February 1881. During the early 1880s, Bogantungan had 28 hotels, several churches, numerous businesses and sporting clubs and a racecourse.

Bogantungan’s history is on display at the town’s railway museum and preserved railway complex. The museum is housed in the former Bogantungan Railway Station building. It is not the original building, as it burnt down in October 1888. The current building, which also dates from the 1880s, was relocated here from Langton on the Clermont branch line in December 1888.

The former Bogantungan Railway Station. now a museum

 

Rear view, the former Bogantungan Railway Station

 

The former Bogantungan Railway Station is a rare passenger station dating from that period. Notable is its timber verandah. The railway complex includes the original Refreshment Room, built between 1916 and 1924, and the original water tank, thought to have been built in 1916.

The timber verandah of the former Bogantungan Railway Station

 

The former Bogantungan Refreshment Rooms

 

The original Bogantungan railway water tank, now grounded, dating from 1916

 

The Bogantungan Rail Disaster

Tragically, one of Queensland’s worst rail accidents occurred near Bogantungan on this day, 26 February, 59 years ago. Over the years there had been a number of rail accidents on the treacherous Drummond Range, with its steep grades and sharp curves, but none like this.

View of the railway line from the Drummond Range Lookout

 

At 2.30 am on 26 February 1960 as the east-bound Midlander passenger train made its descent, it crashed while crossing Medway Creek, 1.5 km west of Bogantungan. One of the pylons of the bridge over the creek had been damaged by the impact of a 12-ton tree washed downstream by floodwaters and gave way as the train passed over the bridge. A large number of children were in one carriage that plunged into the creek. Two children could not be saved. Altogether seven people were killed, three crew and four passengers. Forty-three people were injured.

An inquiry into the accident was held in March 1960. In March 1961, three men who were passengers on the train were awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct for “courage and resourcefulness” during the rescue effort: Lawrence Murray (posthumously), John Bennett and Alan Streeter. Amazingly, one person who responded to my Facebook post identified himself as a child on the train and his father as one of these bravery award recipients!

A project in the making

At the Bogantungan Historical Railway Museum you can view photographs and memorabilia relating to the 1960 Bogantungan rail accident. However, given Bogantungan’s location (off the Capricorn Highway, 367 km west of Rockhampton) and size (today just a handful of houses and the railway museum), few people go there and even fewer people have seen these materials. I wonder how many Queenslanders today know much, or anything at all, about the Bogantungan rail disaster.

An old railway trolley, Bogantungan Historical Railway Museum and railway complex

 

It seems to me that very little has been written about the Bogantungan accident, apart from official reports and newspaper articles. I would like to change this.

As a researcher and writer, I am keen to hear and document the stories of the “children” who were passengers on the Midlander that fateful day. My aim is to add to knowledge and understanding of the disaster and discover what impact it had on the children involved. Fifty-nine years ago, these children would not have been asked to tell their story. Children then were “seen but not heard”. I was a child then too. I know.

For me, this would be a major project, but one I am committed to. I would hope the stories form the basis of a book, entitled “Have you heard the children cry? Children involved in the 1960 Bogantungan (Queensland) rail disaster tell their stories.” I think the response to my Facebook post indicates people are interested in reading historical material such as this.

The stories may also contribute to the production of a film or documentary on the topic. Given that February 2020 will be the 60th anniversary of the 1960 Bogantungan rail disaster, a documentary (such as the ABC’s “Australian Story” or “Four Corners”) would be a potent way of commemorating the event and raising awareness of the impact of disasters such as this on children involved.

Considering the seriousness of the Bogantungan rail disaster and the number of children involved, it is critical that we hear from these “children” while there is still time.

What do you think?

 

53 comments on “The Bogantungan Rail Disaster: Have you heard the children cry?”

  1. Hi Judith,
    I recently went to the Southern Aurora 60 Th Exhibition and display. It was excellent what they have achieved in Violet Town in a short period.
    The big thing that learnt was how the locals were so involved, women and children assisting the injured.
    The guy who organised it told me that the tragedy was so traumatic that locals rarely talked about it . It was at the 60 Th anniversary that people opened up and talked. New photos emerged and stories untold. There was no follow up of victims at the time and no support to rescuers afterwards.
    Have a look at the Facebook page and you will get ideas of what can be done. Also the contact person will have his details there too.
    Thank you for your story too as I was unaware of this event.

    • Hi Judith the house you have in this story I was one my parents owned in the eighties . We nicknamed it candy cottage was a greeny blue colour with reddish pink trim they played a $1000 for it back then and dad worked for the railways along with my oldest brother . He is the one that actually made all the changes that are there now .Omg so many memories there good mostly .My auntie took over the running of the post office phone exchange bank and library off a ladt by the name Mrs Jacques her husband Kenny used to be the Ganger of my dads railway gang thank you for sharing a little of Bogantungans history .

  2. I was 10 years old and a student at Emerald Primary School.
    We were told there was a train accident- and I remember a lot of people bringing children to our school- we didn’t have any other information, and went home after school to tell our parents.
    I expect they used the school as an evacuation centre.

    My Dad, Val Yeomans, was a train driver based in Emerald , until he retired , aged 60, to Mermaid Waters, Qld.

    • Dear Valerie. Thank you for sharing your memories of this event. The fact that your dad was a train driver based in Emerald wold suggest he knew quite a lot about what was happening at the time. Kind regards, Judy.

  3. yes please… the stories of the children do need to be heard and documented before it is too late.
    My grandmother lived in a house on the Railway Reserve at Comet. From her eastern veranda (which doubled as an open air eating area) at night she would see the headlights of the trains as they snaked around the Tolmies range to the east. I remember visiting her some time after the Midlander crash and her commenting that she had heard the Midlander go west beforehand… but was puzzled why she didn’t hear it return. Until of course the news was released.
    When I went to work as a PMG technician in Barcaldine and Longreach 1971 to 1981 I remember locals talking about their experiences. A couple of lads from one family were going down to Brisbane to do their Post Office entry exams. They survived the crash and described how survivors trekked into BoganTungan Station in the dark and lined up at the Railway Station to ring their families via the local PMG manual exchange to tell them they were OK.
    Various retired train crews have also talked about knowing the men on the two locos; two of whom on the second loco were killed when the loco plunged into the creek.
    September 2017 I rode on a Section Car (powered fettlers maintenance vehicle from the 1960s-1970s and I remember passing over the new high level prestressed concrete bridge over Medway Creek and looking down to the remains of the piers of the old timber bridge set into the rock,.

    • Dear Dave. Thank you so much for sharing all these experiences with us. Your grandmother’s story, the stories of the locals at Barcaldine and Longreach, the train crews you have known, your own experience as you passed over Medway Creek – all of these are so relevant. I really appreciate your thoughtful response to my post. Kind regards, Judy.

  4. Those remarks on the screen shot Rings a bell with me. Judith I think I commented on this previous.
    I met a chap never got his name in my Lung Specialist rooms last year sometime He was living Agnes Waters or some where up that way and the story about Sam and sisters is about the same as he told me They were from Aramac by memory his dad was a driver there??

    • Dear Maurie. Thanks for your response. Yes, it sounds like the chap you met was one of the child passengers on the train. I do hope I can make contact with him. Kind regards, Judy.

  5. Wonderful project and will be insightful to learn the stories from the survivors. I was fortunate to work with and know a number of those directly involved in derailment and hear their stories. Driver Sambo Dean who was on the lead steam locomotive, Guard Kerrod Jaques (both from Alpha), Evan Van Mastre who was the Bogantungan Night Officer on duty, Ganger Ken Jaques (Kerrod’s brother) who ran the road ahead of the Midlander that night because of the rain & Flora Jaques (Ken’s wife) who assisted in assisting and treating the injured. Flora spoke highly of Doctor Charlie Whitchurch who accompanied a special hospital train from Emerald to collect the injured. The deceased were placed in the Bogantungan goodshed until their bodies could be collected Kerrod was the only one who didn’t say much other than to say the guards van didn’t end up in the creek and he helped where he could. He obviously didn’t want to talk about it. Sambo however spoke of coming down into the bridge and he felt the bridge start to give way under the weight of the engine so he engaged full power. He said the engine broke free of the second engine and shot forward but rolled on to its side on the far bank. His fireman ran to Bogantungan to raise the alarm. Tears welled up in his eyes as he spoke of the terrified screams and cry’s of the children as they were washed down the creek in the darkness. Ken Jaques said they ran the road from Hannans Gap to Bogantungan before the Midlander and stopped on top of the Medway Creek bridge and shine their torches down but didn’t see anything amiss. The creek was quite high and saw nothing but the swirling flood water. Evan Van Mastre said he heard the Midlander making its was down the Drummond Range so went back inside the office and contacted the train controller to get the working (Safeworking authority) and prepare for the train arrival. When he went back outside about 10 mins later there was no sound of the train at all. He sat there for about another 10 mins wondering what was going on when he heard the fireman coming up the track from Grasstree Creek (on the western end of Bogantungan) yelling out ‘help, help, the train is in the creek’.

    • Dear Graham. Thank you so much for providing this information. Clearly, you have heard a lot about the incident from the people who were involved in one way or another. It’s most valuable information, and ought to be documented. Perhaps we can be in contact privately. Kind regards, Judy.

  6. Hello Judith, keep up your Great work, most interesting reading, I was an only child living South West of Longreach on a property, mostly only my Mum and I there, with Dad away droving out stock. Mum was a Very avid ABC radio listener, I can clearly remember how upset she was explaining to me about this tragic train accident, and the children’s death. Mum came from Brisbane, so I knew about lthis long train trip as we had done it together. Yes I think an Australian Story would be a fitting way to mark the sixty year anniversary.

    • Dear Marjory. Thank you so much for your encouragement. Thanks also for sharing your own story in relation to the accident at Bogantungan (Medway Creek). As a child who grew up in the Longreach district, you would have found this story close to home. And yes, it was a long train trip from Rockhampton to Longreach (and vice versa). I took that trip on the Midlander in the 1980s. Yes, I hope the project goes ahead and an Australian Story is the result. My best wishes to you, Judy.

  7. In response to Graham’s post, I welled up with tears. I lived in Bogantungan from December 1990 until June 1993 as my dad was the ganger for the railway stationed there. I personally heard all to the stories from Ken and Flora Jaques and later married into the family (my ex-husband is Ken and Flora’s grandson). My siblings, myself and the other town’s children helped Flora (Grandma as she was affectionally known to all the town’s children) to put together all the information and photos of the Midlander disaster along with the Bogantungan history which is all in the museum today. Unfortunately Ken and Flora have since passed away but the story lives on with their families passed down through the generations.

    • Dear Amanda. Thank you for sharing your response to Graham’s comments, which clearly brought back so many memories for you. Clearly, you know a lot about the accident, having heard the stories and handled the photographs yourself. Marrying into the Jacques family gave you another connection to the story. Your comments here are much appreciated. Kind regards, Judy.

    • Hi Amanda my name is Lisa I lived in Bogantungan in the eighties across the road from MR AND MRS JACQUES as we called them the house in this story was the one my family owned my aunt took over the running of the phone exchange bank library and post office then Mrs Crash took it over when my aunt and uncle left loved my life there xx

  8. I would love to read the book and stories … albiet im sure they will be sad – yet inspiring…. history should be told & shared … being born after in tragedy- I know nothing about it ..
    I hope you get it to print … I will buy it ❤️

    • Dear Leanne. Thank you for sharing your response. Yes, I totally agree with you that history needs to be told and shared. I do hope the project and the book become a reality. I know one potential reader! Kind regards, Judy.

  9. Hi Amanda my name is Lisa I lived in Bogantungan in the eighties across the road from MR AND MRS JACQUES as we called them the house in this story was the one my family owned my aunt took over the running of the phone exchange bank library and post office then Mrs Crash took it over when my aunt and uncle left loved my life there xx

  10. Judith, I shared this to my wall and asked my brother how many of my family were in this as it was before I was thought of. This is his reply: My name is Myles Delaney, I was travelling from Jericho on the Midlander with my parents and my brothers Dennis 11yrs ,Wayne 9yrs,and Mark 2yrs old. I was 13 at the time. I clearly remember being thrown out of my seat onto the carriage floor. None of our family were injured. My most vivid recollection of this incident, is being carried by Mr Laurie Murray on his back across a wooden extension ladder which had been placed between two carriages which were precariously positioned on the wrecked bridge, and over the raging torrent below. Mr.Murray did this for numerous passengers including adults ! I clearly recall seeing grown men weeping openly and dressed only in their underwear, as they frantically hacked at the roof ofa carriage with axes to free trapped children within ! I remember seeing,as I later learned, sock clad feet of deceased people protruding from under a blanket in the back of a utility parked beside the railway station. We were all supplied with railway corned beef sandwiches and cups of tea. However, my father later told us that there would be no more free food,as the raiwaystaff apologetically advised that their head office had instructed that once all passengers had been accounted for, normal charges would apply. Not good news for we boys as dads wallet had been in his suitcase in the baggage carriage which had burst open on impact and the contents of same spread throughout central Queensland. I wish to add that Queensland rail came to my family’s rescue with transport and accommodation all the way home to Innisfail ! Lastly a big hug for Laurence Murray wherever he may be !

    • Dear Jodie and Myles. Thank you so much for reading my story and responding. Myles, I’m so sorry to read that you and your brothers and your parents were among the people on that train. Thank you for sharing some of your memories of the accident and its aftermath. Some of your recollections and comments are most sombre, others a little funny (like the contents of the suitcase being scattered…). Myles, it is good to read that you and your family arrived at your final destination (Innisfail) safely and that Queensland Rail looked after you. My best wishes to you both, Judy.

  11. Hi Judith – by strange coincidence, this was mentioned to me last weekend! I’m a journalist with the Qld Country Life newspaper, bases at Blackall, and would be keen to write something on this. I’ll even be driving past Bogantungan shortly.

  12. Hi my name is Judith I was one of the children on the train that I was only just five l was going on a holiday with my two big sisters Joyce and Jenny cozenes Gail jenny Chris and Martin I ow my life to my big sister Joyce I would love to hear from the other kids and here where they are now

    • Dear Judy. I am so pleased you have made yourself known. I can’t begin to understand what you and your sisters and your friends went through on that fateful train journey. How blessed you were to have had your big sister Joyce looking after you. Like you, I would love to hear from the other children. Many blessings, Judy.

  13. My cousin Neville Hellmuth (nicknamed Bimbo) lost his life in this terrible accident. I believe he was a rostered off train driver hitching a ride from Barcaldine to Rockhampton and travelling on the second loco.
    It was not long before this he got married and when he was on holidays traveling through Mackay to Cairns on his honeymoon, the local railwworkers in Mackay placed several detonators on the line. We went to the station to see Neville and his new bride and got one hell of a fright when the train left the station and the detonators went off.
    I can still remember clearly the morning when the ABC carried the news of the disaster and my parents were still in bed. Mum heard it on the bedhead radio that Neville (her nephew , One of her favourites) lost his life.
    The memory of her being wracked with grief is clearly with me.

    • Dear John. Thank you so much for sharing with us about your cousin, Neville Hellmuth. He was just 24 years old when he died, so tragically, in the accident at Medway Creek. I don’t think any of us can understand the impact of such a loss on close family members, such as your mother. Kind regards, Judy.

  14. It would be wonderful to commemorate this sad event. Even though I came from a railway family, I recall nothing of this as a child…perhaps my parents made sure I didn’t hear about it. Such a tragedy for so many people.

    In terms of finding out more, I wonder if any of the railway Facebook groups could assist? I’m a member of QldRail, daysgone by…they might be worth a try.

    • Dear Pauleen. I’m so pleased you appreciated my story about the Bogantungan (Medway Creek) rail disaster. It happened a long time ago. I doubt that many children of that day would have been told about it, even if you belonged to a railway family. Thanks for your suggestion about the Facebook groups. I do belong to several relevant groups, in which I have shared this story. Kind regards, Judy.

  15. Dear Judith, I was 10 years old when the Midlander crashed into Medway Creek. My mother, Maureen Humphris, was the Post Mistress at Bogantungan, and my grandparents, Bert and Lena Hall, ran the only Hotel, the Commercial. My dad worked on the Railway. My parents were away on holidays with my three younger sisters, and my three brothers and I stayed with our grandparents in the hotel. My aunt, Lynne Howard (nee Hall), was in charge of the Post Office at the time of the crash. It was very quiet at night after the diesel engine at the hotel was shut down just after 10 pm. I woke after hearing what I thought was a distant explosion, and wondered what it was. I was still awake when I heard voices, and then Everett van Mastright, the Railways night Officer, came running across to the hotel, yelling hysterically in English and Dutch, that the Midlander had crashed into Medway Creek, and that babies were floating down the flooded creek. My grandparents got my aunt to open the Post Office for telephone calls, and she did not get any sleep for two days. They also told my brothers and I to stay in our rooms. My grandfather loaded blankets into his Ford Mainline utility, and went to the accident scene. People started running everywhere trying to help, but the railway station, Post Office, and the hotel were the only buildings which had either electic lights or carbide lights. Not many people owned cars, so the bodies and the injured were brought into town in my grandfather’s ute, and my grandmother and others gave survivers food and comfort . As it started getting light, I looked over the upstairs verandah rail, and saw covered bodies in my grandfather’s ute, and the enormity of what had happened really hit me. My brother, Chris, took my Box Brownie camera, and, defying our grandparents’ orders, went to the scene of the accident.. I still have the photos he took just hours after the crash, not seen by many, (as floodwaters prevented media access, and not everyone had film in their cameras), and later, when the first train went over the repaired bridge. Most people do not know that, although the Midlander was a modern air-conditioned train, between Alpha and Emerald, it was pulled by two steam engines, as the diesel-electric locomotives could not fit around the very tight bends of the Drummond Range. The drivers had also switched engines against rules, and the surviving driver and fireman were demoted. Sammy Dean, whom we knew well, had dark hair before the accident, and it turned almost white afterwards, although he was still a young man.

    • Dear Carolyn. I am greatly moved by your contribution to this account. Clearly, your memory and experience is invaluable in relation to this event. I would like to follow up with you at a later date. Let’s keep in touch. My email address is: contact@judithsalecich.com. Kind regards, Judy.

  16. I my self have read all the official reports ,in relation to the injures of all the deceased which were very graffic and detailed .The poor drivers were basically cooked by boiling water as the steam engine entered the cold water .Was great reading but at the same time very very sad the way they passed . These papers were in a private hands at time of reading and I believe that they are still there.

    • Dear Glen. Like you, I have read quite a lot of the reports in relation to this accident. I have accessed the inquiry report file (which includes the coroner’s reports on each of the seven deceased persons) in the Queensland State Archives. Yes, it provides great detail and is incredibly sad. Thanks for sharing. Kind regards, Judy.

  17. I was at the high school attached to the primary school. We were aware what happened and the story I remember was that one of the primary school teachers was to celebrate her 21st birthday with a morning tea in the Domestic science room..she decided that the morning tea should be given to children from the accident .
    My grandfather was a driver much earlier and had an accident on that same spot! The accident of 1960 is in the Emeraldd centenary book 1979.

    • Lorraine, thank you for sharing your memory of this tragic time. Thank you also for tellig us about your grandfather’s role as a driver and experience of the same spot. Kind regards, Judy.

  18. Hi Judy. This story definitely needs to be told. My grandfather worked for the railway and was working on the train on the night of the tragic accident. It affected him for the rest of his life. His lasting memory was of the children screaming and trying to save them. My mother has photos if you are interested.
    Regards Trudy

    • Dear Trudy. I am so sorry to read about your grandfather, how that tragic accident affected him for the rest of his life. Poor dear. Yes, I would be most interested to see your mother’s photos. It is very kind of you to offer. My email address is: contact@judithsalecich.com. Kind regards, Judy.

  19. Hi, Thank you for adding this sad tragedy in Love in a Little Black Diary. At that time I was living with my parents William and Dulcie Karrasch when Evan Van Masright came and raised the alarm about the Midlander. My father, Ken Jaques,Ted Humpris and others who worked in the fettler gang attended the accident. I worked with Lou Goiack in No 8 gang at Hannams Gap on The Bogan range at the time.My mother had the Refreshment Rooms at the time and supplied what food she could. A very sad occurrence for everybody concerned.

    • Dear Bill. It was a great privilege to research this tragic accident and write this account. I wanted to highlight the need to further investigate and document its impact on the then-children involved in the accident before it is too late. Wow! Your connection to the event is incredibly close and your memories are important. I hope to have further contact with you at a later date. Kind regards, Judy.

  20. My mother was a Bianchi from Bogantungan and had moved away by the time of the accident. I heard many stories of the area as she was one of 8 kids. Her father worked on the line as did his father in the time of construction. Uncle Henry had the pub at one time.

    • Charmaine, thanks for your encouragement. I imagine that you’ve read through the comments (above) in response to my post, which are most revealing and extremely moving. Yes, the book needs to be written. Kind regards, Judy.

  21. Judith, what an interesting read this is. I so hope you will get to write the book and to also get Australian Story or another of the media interested in doing a story on it also. I am 69 who grew up in Biloela and had never heard of this tragedy. It needs to be told. good Luck

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