Travelling Australia - Journal 2015c




8-10 June 2015


Peterborough is a small township (2011 census population was 1,486) located just off the Barrier Highway between Adelaide and Broken Hill but sitting astride the best road route between Broken Hill and Port Augusta. After a long and proud history as a railway workshop town (when the population was much larger) Peterborough has turned itself into a railway tourism town as well as a most attractive place for recreational vehicle travellers to pause and refresh. The town is in the south Flinders Ranges at an elevation of 540 metres.

First settlers moved into the area in about 1875 and the first building in town was built in 1879. This town is inside the higher rainfall areas of this part of South Australia (marked by 10 inch or 254 millimetres rainfall) and was suitable for cropping or grazing, so the future looked promising as an agricultural town. In 1880 news spread that the town (then called Peterburgh) would be the site of a railway junction where the east-west line between Port Pirie and Broken Hill would cross the north-south line between Adelaide and Alice Springs (via Quorn); the first of these lines (from Port Pirie) reached Petersburgh in 1881 and the line to Broken Hill was completed in 1887.

Situated at the junction of heavily used tracks Peterborough was the logical place to establish railway workshops and Peterborough quickly became a railway town. By 1927 the Peterborough Division of the South Australian Railways employed 1800 people, two-thirds of them living in Peterborough. Major building works took place at this time including the Railway Roundhouse providing shelter while locomotives were repaired or maintained.


Garratt locomotive from about the 1950s mounted as a memorial to the steam-train days of Peterborough. This locomotive burnt oil but could easily have been converted to coal burning. It was used on narrow-gauge (1067mm) tracks but could have been converted readily to standard gauge (1435 mm)

The end of steam on the railways (replaced by diesels), combined with a general trend away from the use of rail for moving freight and people, led to the railway workshops closing and to the 'railways' leaving Peterborough. The only railway line through the town now is the Broken Hill to Adelaide line used by frequent freight trains and the Indian-Pacific passenger train twice a week, neither of which needs and any support from Peterborough.

The former railway workshop has been converted into a steam railway display centre named Steamtown which displays locomotives, carriages and special purpose rolling stock (such as the break-down van) of the steam era as well as the Roundhouse, Turntable and Diesel Workshop.

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Steamtown is given credit for attracting many tourists to Peterborough who stay for one or two nights and boost the local economy.

The railway history theme is common in the town with a retired steam locomotive mounted on a plinth beside the main street to remind everybody how important steam trains were to the town; as well, the town's information centre is in a converted sleeping carriage, also in the main street.


Peterborough Information Centre in a converted sleeping carriage

Peterborough itself is a mixture of building types; many shops along the main street are dated in the 19th century and have been recycled while the Town Hall, built in 1926, is clearly the product of a well-off town. But many shops in the older part of the shopping street are now closed-up and empty. In the side streets are many solid stone buildings, some with red brick trimmings, indicating a more extensive shopping and business area than remains and no doubt reflecting larger population when the railway workshops were fully operational.

Peterborough has a remarkably relaxed attitude to caravans and has provided extensive, well-signed, caravan parking parallel to the shops and within easy walking distance of the supermarket, newsagent and post office. Caravan parking at Steamtown is easy. Overall a very pleasant place to visit.

junction hotel

The Junction Hotel in Peterborough was built in 1881 and extended (including adding a second storey) in 1891. The construction of dressed stone walls with red brick trim around doors and windows was common at the time in South Australia and may be a consequence of the large number of Cornish miners who had emigrated to the area.

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Many shop premises in Peterborough, such as this one, display construction dates in the 1890s when the township was growing.

main street

One side of Peterborough Main Street dominated by the imposing Town Hall (the longer building) built in 1926.

main street

The other side of Main Street with shops old and new. The two storey building in the distance is a hotel.