‘All of a sudden the calamity occurred’: The story behind Queensland’s worst train accident πŸ’₯πŸš‘πŸš“πŸš‘πŸš“πŸš‘πŸš“πŸ’₯

For Robyn Boundy, May 5, 1947 is a day still etched in her memory despite the passage of time.

It was the day she survived the Camp Mountain train crash, north-west of Brisbane – Queensland’s worst rail disaster,

Seventy-five years on, for many it is a little-known tragedy.

There was excitement in the air that day.

It was Labour Day in Queensland, World War II had ended a few years earlier and workers from the Department of Customs and Excise were taking their families on a picnic day in the Samford Valley, north-west of Brisbane.

The C17 class steam locomotive No. 824 left Central Station in Brisbane at 8:57am with 215 men, women, and children filling its six carriages.

It was the second of three trains making the 30-kilometre trip that day, all bound for a game of cricket, a picnic, and a dance at Closeburn.

Rescuers at the scene of train crash.(Supplied: Moreton Bay Regional Library)

Ms Boundy was just three and a half at the time, but she still clearly remembers the tragedy to this day.

“We were doing the annual May Day picnic, which was really a big event in those times compared to today, and my grandmother had brought mother and my younger sister and I on the train,” Ms Boundy said.

About an hour into the trip, as the train approached a bend on the Samford Range, disaster struck β€” the lead carriage came off the tracks at speed and crashed.

Wreckage of train that crashed at speed on a bend at Camp Mountain in 1947.
The lead carriage came off the tracks and the train crashed at speed on a bend at Camp Mountain.(ABC News: Curtis Rodda/Queensland State Archives)

Fourteen passengers, including three children, along with the train’s fireman, were killed and another 38 people were injured. The train’s driver died from his injuries the following day.

Ms Boundy still recalls the sights and sounds of that fateful day.

“There was the steam whistle releasing the steam out of the engine – that went for many hours,” she said.

“There was the scream of the fireman … he was putting coal into the firebox and got thrown onto that, so naturally that was just horrendous for that poor man, obviously the driver, and then the crumble of everything.

Medical staff, emergency services and spectators at the rail crash at Camp Mountain in 1947.
Medical staff, emergency services and spectators at the rail crash site.(Supplied: State Library of Queensland)

Ms Boundy’s sister was only nine months old at the time.

“They lost her little container of her food, but then they found that and brought that to us,” she said.

Ms Boundy said she remembered hearing the sirens from the ambulances even though they were a long way away.

“I’m not sure of the height that we were but the ambulances looked like little matchbox toys coming along the road,” she said.

“My next memories were seeing all of the deceased being laid out just near us with sheets over them.”

A survivor on a stretcher being carried from the wreckage of the rail crash at Camp Mountain in 1947.
A survivor is carried from the wreckage.(Supplied: State Library of Queensland)

As was common at the time, Ms Boundy’s family did not speak about the crash and it was not until she was about 10 that she mentioned it to her mother.

“There was … a timber mill at Tolga where we were living and the timber mills always blew the steam whistle for the lunch break, 12 o’clock break,” she said.

“I happened to be with my mother at the time, hearing the steam whistle for lunch break reminded me and I said to her ‘oh, that reminds me of the train accident’ and that was the start of the conversation about the incident.”

The wreck of the second carriage that Robyn Boundy was travelling in the 1947 train crash.
The wreckage of the second carriage that Robyn Boundy was travelling in with her mother, grandmother and baby sister.(Supplied: Moreton Bay Regional Library)

Ms Boundy said the sound of the whistle and her other memories of the crash were the earliest she could recall.

She understands some people are surprised that she can remember back to as young as three.

“I guess that was a very traumatic incident, so it has a greater impact on you,” Ms Boundy said.

It was not until a few years ago that Ms Boundy decided to look up information about the crash that helped piece things together.

“I saw a lot of the pictures and the museum they’ve set up [in Samford] and they were all picture perfect of the images that were imprinted in my mind, so that was very interesting,” she said.

With the 75th anniversary of the crash in May, Ms Boundy would like to travel from her home in far north Queensland to the crash site at Camp Mountain one day.

“I would like to go back, yes … that can be a bucket-list activity,” she said.

Emergency crews working at night treating those who survived the rail crash.
Emergency crews worked late into the night treating those who survived the crash.(Supplied: State Library of Queensland)

Inquest finds speed was to blame

Hand-typed transcripts of witness statements from an inquest into the disaster, as well as evidence books from the railway inquiry held in June 1947, are carefully stored at the Queensland State Archives in Brisbane.

The train crashed at speed on a bend at Camp Mountain on the May 5, 1947.
The train crashed at speed on a bend.(Photo: State Library of Queensland)

The inquiry found the train’s driver had been rostered on a line he had never driven before and was exceeding the speed limit by 15 miles (24 kilometres) per hour as it came around the bend at Camp Mountain.

Senior archivist Julanne Neal said the train was going too fast.

“It was an inexperienced driver on that particular line,” Ms Neal said.

“The fireman, the engine person, who was supposed to be supervising him wasn’t paying close enough attention, the brakes weren’t sufficiently applied as they went down.

“The train just got too fast and out of control and jumped the lines.”

Queensland State Archives senior archivist Julanne Neal with some book items stored at the facility.
Senior archivist Julanne Neal said the inquiry found the train was going too fast with an inexperienced driver.(ABC News: Meg Purtell)

Ms Neal said the importance of having a record of Queensland’s worst rail disaster cannot be underestimated.

“It was supposed to be a fun day, a family day, people were excited and really looking forward to a fun picnic just out in the country and it turned to tragedy so quickly,” she said.

“They talk about meeting the train, getting on the train, being really excited with their family and their girlfriends, looking forward to a lovely day out on this special train with all their friends.

“And then telling the story of what they heard and what they saw and what happened as the train derailed and the tragedy unfolded.”

Inquiry evidence books from 1947 sit on a bench.
Evidence books from the inquiry into the rail crash, kept at the Queensland State Archives.(ABC News: Meg Purtell)

Ms Neal said it was “absolutely vital” to have the stories of what happened to people in Queensland.

“These were not ‘important’ people, these were not the premier or politicians … they were your uncle, your brother, your sister β€” they were just people who were working as clerks or people with the railway taking their family on a public holiday picnic,” she said.

‘People need to remember what happened’

Memories of the tragedy are on display at the Samford Historical Museum, a short drive from the crash site at Camp Mountain.

Samford Historical Museum president Geoff Harris said people need to remember what happened there all those years ago.

“Particularly now when we still have some people with living memory of what happened that day,” Mr Harris said.

“[It was] a very significant event in Queensland history β€” it affected so many people in so many ways.”

Rescuers search the train wreckage for survivors in the rail crash at Camp Mountain in 1947.
Rescuers search the train wreck for survivors.(Supplied: State Library of Queensland)

Mr Harris said a number of survivors had visited the museum over the years and recalled their experience.

“[One of them] listened to the roll call of the people who were killed and who were injured and knew an awful lot of them,” he said.

“She went to work the next day and there were all these empty desks around her.”

Locomotive on display

Restored red and black steam train on display at Injune.
The steam train involved in the 1947 rail crash has been restored and is on display at Injune.(Supplied: Roma Revealed)

After the crash, the locomotive was repaired and put back into service by Queensland Railways.

In 1958, it was transferred to Toowoomba on Queensland’s Darling Downs where it continued to operate until May 1967.

After it was retired, it was donated to the Bungil Shire and has been restored to its historically accurate colour scheme of black and red.

It is on display in Injune in Queensland’s Maranoa region.

The rail line beyond Ferny Grove is now a popular cycling trail after it was removed in 1955, as one of several lines that were closed at the time.

The Camp Mountain train crash remains Queensland’s worst rail disaster with the loss of 16 lives, with May 5, 2022 marking the 75th anniversary of the tragedy.

‘All of a sudden the calamity occurred’: The story behind Queensland’s worst train accident

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