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image icon John Curtin and Mary McGuire on the Trans-Australian Railway, 1942

John Curtin and Mary McGuire on the Trans-Australian Railway, 1942
John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library


This is a black-and-white photograph of Prime Minister John Curtin and a member of his secretarial staff, Mary McGuire, dining in the saloon of the 'Prince of Wales' carriage as they cross the Nullarbor Plain on the Trans-Australian Railway in 1942. A table is set with a white linen tablecloth, crystal glassware, silver cutlery and a vase of flowers. A fan is mounted high on the wall, and a wall clock is visible above the wooden wall panelling.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • This asset shows part of a purpose-built special service carriage - also known as SS44, or Special Car No 1, the 'Prince of Wales' carriage was constructed by Commonwealth Railways' own workshop at Port Augusta in South Australia; the carriage was made of Australian timbers, had ornate interior lights and Wunderlich pressed-steel ceilings, and accommodated ten people, including two railway staff; at 23.3 m long, 4.3 m high and 3.2 m wide, it was the highest and widest carriage on the Australian railway system when it entered service in 1920.
  • This asset indicates that the 'Prince of Wales' carriage provided luxury rail accommodation for distinguished people, including members of the royal family and prime ministers - in 1920, Prince Edward (1894-1972), then Prince of Wales and later (briefly) King Edward VIII, was the first to travel in the carriage; the Prince, after whom the carriage was named, journeyed from Port Pirie in South Australia to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia as part of an Australiawide tour to thank Australians for the part they had played in the First World War.
  • This asset shows the opulent interior of the saloon of the 'Prince of Wales' carriage in 1942 - Curtin used the saloon as a dining and meeting area, but the carriage also had a well-equipped kitchen, a bathroom complete with a full-length bath, four two-berth and two elaborate single-berth sleeping compartments; the saloon opened onto an observation platform, where passengers could stand and watch the passing scenery.
  • This asset shows John Curtin (1885-1945, Prime Minister 1941-45) sitting at the dining table in the saloon of the 'Prince of Wales' carriage - Curtin made six return trips across the Nullarbor (which covers vast areas of South Australia and Western Australia) from 1942 to 1944, travelling in the comfort of this carriage between Port Pirie and Kalgoorlie each time; the carriage became not only a means of travel, but also a mobile office and a refuge for him from the pressures of wartime leadership.
  • This asset indicates that Australian parliamentarians often face long journeys and endure extended periods of separation from their families - Curtin spent long periods in the national capital of Canberra once he entered parliament in 1928, especially after he became Leader of the Opposition (1935) and then Prime Minister (1941-45); as federal member for the Western Australian seat of Fremantle, Curtin's visits to his family and the home he maintained in the Perth suburb of Cottesloe were major and infrequent undertakings.
  • This asset suggests that travel by rail was the usual means of crossing the Australian continent during the Second World War - the journey by train between Canberra and Perth took four-and-a-half days and, due to different railway gauges, involved several changes of train; the Trans-Australian Railway was the main route for the movement of Australian troops during the Second World War and, being fully self-contained, the 'Prince of Wales' carriage could be easily attached to the military specials that were at times the only trains operating across the Nullarbor between 1939 and 1945.