Full steam ahead for trip back in time with special Newcastle Museum exhibition

07 Jul 2023

Newcastle Museum is turning back the clock to the days of paddle steamers and horse drawn carriages as part of a special exhibition showcasing one of Australia's best model railways.

Created by noted modeller Ross Balderson and a small group of fellow enthusiasts, Newcastle 1899 depicts the Newcastle Railway precinct in miniature at the turn of the century, complete with steam trams chugging their way up and down Scott Street.

The working model is complemented by a bustling harbor filled with historically accurate ships including tugboats "Champion" and "Commodore" and the paddle steamship "SS Namoi".

Creating it was a labour of love for Mr Balderson, who has been working on it for more than a decade after being inspired by an image in a railway book taken by renowned Newcastle-based photographer Ralph Snowball.

"I have produced numerous model railway layouts throughout my life recreating New South Wales locations and capturing moments in time of our past history," Mr Balderson said.

"I chose to model Newcastle after first being inspired by one single photograph published in a railway book, which showed a scene looking across Newcastle's railway station platforms and rail yard to a row of moored sailing ships loading goods at Queens Wharf.

"With the assistance of Greg Ray and David Hampton I have been given the opportunity to show the model at Newcastle Museum, displaying how the city once appeared back in the days of sailing ships and horse drawn vehicles."

City of Newcastle Director of Museum, Archive, Libraries and Learning, Julie Baird, said Newcastle Museum welcomed the opportunity to showcase this unique peek into Newcastle's past.

"Ross and his supporters have spent the past 10 years painstakingly recreating the Newcastle Railway Station precinct, drawing from historical photographs, measuring existing buildings, and hand-painting backdrops to develop a breathtaking record of Newcastle in the age of sail and steam," Ms Baird said.

"The model is a superb reflection of the complex and varied skills that contribute to model-making, combining artistic flair, precision accuracy and detailed research to create one of the finest examples of historically accurate miniature railways in Australia.

"Newcastle Museum plays an important role in interpreting and preserving our city’s fascinating history for future generations and we are proud to be able to display the model for the first time in Newcastle."

Local history buffs and railway enthusiasts who have been following the progress of the build through the Lost Newcastle and the Rediscovered Newcastle Facebook groups will finally have the chance to see the model in real life when it is displayed in Newcastle Museum's Link Gallery from 7-9 July.

Lost Newcastle founder and Newcastle Councillor Carol Duncan said it has been wonderful watching this project from afar and can't wait to finally see it in person.

"Ross and his supporters are so incredibly passionate about this project and it's been fascinating to see this model come together over the years," Cr Duncan.

"I encourage everyone to take the chance this weekend to check out this working model at Newcastle Museum, which provides an insight into a time in Newcastle's history that otherwise could be lost to future generations."

Newcastle 1899 will be displayed alongside Hexham-ish, a model railway built by Steve Curry based on the J & A Brown railway that operated for over 130 years between Hexham and Minmi.

Steve has been responsible for scratch-building highly detailed models of the J & A Brown locomotive fleet, including a representation of The Buck, which is on permanent display at Newcastle Museum.

Entry to the museum is free, and both model railways will be available to view during regular opening hours of 10am-5pm. Both layouts will operate, with trains running throughout the day.