Medway train crash remembered

Queensland's worst train crash remembered on 60th anniversary

Life & Style
The railway bridge that currently crosses Medway Creek west of Bogantungan. The steam train plunged seven metres into floodwater here in the dark morning of February 26, 1960.

The railway bridge that currently crosses Medway Creek west of Bogantungan. The steam train plunged seven metres into floodwater here in the dark morning of February 26, 1960.

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If the Midlander passenger train had been running on time 60 years ago on February 26, 1960, five siblings on board would not be alive to tell their story of one of Queensland's worst rail disasters.

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If the Midlander passenger train had been running on time on February 26, 1960, five siblings on board, plus many others, would not be alive today to tell their story of one of Queensland's worst rail disasters.

At 2.30am Kevin, Samuel, Bevan, Leanne and Colleen Streeter were asleep in one of the carriages with their parents when the steam train crossed the flooded Medway Creek, not far from the central Queensland railway town of Bogantungan.

Unbeknown to the train driver, an 11 tonne gum tree uprooted and carried downstream in the wet conditions had crashed into one of the rail bridge's pylons, weakening the structure.

While the 72.5 tonne locomotive was able to cross to the other side, propelled by its own momentum, the bridge collapsed under its weight, plunging the second engine, power van, three sleeping carriages, and the dining car seven metres into the water below.

Three crew - engine driver George Krause, fireman Neville Helmuth and conductor Samuel Hedges - died in the accident, along with four passengers - 55yo Alexander Fraser from Winton, 64yo Darryl Large from Barcaldine, 11yo George Sundergold from Ilfracombe, and 10yo Alan Martin from Longreach.

The latter two were among 17 youngsters taking part in a Bush Children's Health Scheme holiday to Yeppoon.

A total of 43 people were injured in the tragic accident being remembered 60 years later.

Interpretative signage of the terrible accident details the night's events and the station's place in Queensland railway history.

Interpretative signage of the terrible accident details the night's events and the station's place in Queensland railway history.

The Streeter family were on the train because their father, a railway fireman, had finished his employment with the Barcaldine Shire Council driving the train to Aramac, and was travelling to Gladstone for new employment.

Kevin had just turned 10 and remembers their father picking himself and his brothers and sisters out of the water in the carriage they had fallen into and placing them out of immediate danger on the top of bunks.

After that they were passed from hand to hand in a human chain, out through a window, to rocks on the creek bank where they spent the rest of the night.

"The water level was higher when the train was due to cross - if it had been on time we wouldn't be here today," Mr Streeter said. "Dad knew something was wrong, he felt the train come off the line."

Each of his brothers and sisters remember different things; for Bevan it was the dark chocolate he was fed by two women while they huddled on the rocks in the dark.

"I still remember that taste," he said.

He also remembers the sight of all the water up against the window of their carriage, saying he could see that because someone had run the 1.5km into Bogantungan to raise the alarm and return with a locomotive that could light the scene.

"I remember Dad grabbing Leanne and Colleen and throwing them up on a bunk - the angle we were at, they couldn't stay where they were."

Their father, Alan Streeter, was one of three men to receive a bravery commendation from the Queen, along with John Bennett and Lawrence Murray posthumously.

The citation details the circumstances Mr Streeter found himself in, in a carriage that had come to rest in the creek bed, tilted over at an angle of 75 degrees.

"Within a few seconds the water was waist high inside the compartments," it reads.

"As soon as he had attended to the safety of his family, Mr Streeter set about the rescue of other passengers.

"At great risk to his personal safety, working without cessation in the flooded waters and in darkness he extricated many people who had been trapped in the carriages."

"Once Dad got us out he disappeared, we didn't see him til daylight," Kevin remembered.

Some passengers remained trapped and injured at the site for several hours, where it was still raining.

A flying surgeon had been sent from Mount Isa while a Dr Charlie Whitchurch made his way out from Emerald to the accident site by special hospital train for the injured.

Among the jumble of the Streeters' other memories is one of being on the train platform at Emerald in the clothes they stood up in, having strangers donate clothing for them to wear, and being billeted out in the town for a week, all while they were on a missing persons list.

"Communications at Bogantungan in 1960 wasn't the best, you can imagine the confusion," Kevin explained.

Four of the five siblings were among around 50 people gathered in Emerald on Wednesday as part of Central Highlands Regional Council's 60th anniversary commemorations.

"It's important that we be there for Dad," Sam said. "It's something we'll never forget, it feels like it happened yesterday."

Part of the commemmorative display erected at the Bogantungan railway station.

Part of the commemmorative display erected at the Bogantungan railway station.

Other memories have been gathered by Judith Salecich on her Love in a Little Black Diary blog, including a woman identified as Joyce, who said she was in the second sleeper that fell in the creek.

"I think they broke a window above us and took us out one at a time and walk us along the top edge of the carriage it was scary and slippery," she wrote.

"One of my sisters was washed down the creek and got caught up by her clothes in a barb wire fence. Two...boys saw her and saved her they were also going to the bush Children's home."

A council spokeswoman said tragic events like the Medway Creek rail disaster remained in communities' memories over many generations.

"Commemorating the disaster gives people that were involved and their families the opportunity to get together and share memories and experiences, and establish relationships," she said.

"The event itself is part of the region's history and hearing peoples' stories and memories forms an integral part of collecting this history."

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