All aboard the Root Canal Express!

Do you remember visiting the school dental clinic? Many of us are familiar with clinics in classrooms or even mobile caravans, but did you know one of the first travelling dental clinics in Queensland was a rail car? The school dental scheme was developed by the Department of Public Instruction in the late 1920s. The Rail Dental Clinic ensured children from the country got the same level of care as those living in the city.

External view of the Department of Public Instruction Rail Dental Clinic Car carriage and motor wagon, Roma Street, 1929

The rail cars were created from existing rollingstock. The carriages were fitted out with surgeries that had electric lighting, heating and the latest dental equipment. The rail cars also had a waiting room, kitchenette and living and sleeping quarters for the dentist. A carriage behind the dental clinic held a small truck, allowing the dentist to visit locations away from the towns on the scheduled rail stops.

Rail Dental Clinic, 1946
Rail Dental Clinic, 1946

We hold a 1935 itinerary for a dental rail car that was based at Cairns and made scheduled stops at many towns across Northern Queensland, including Mount Molloy, Bamford, Georgetown, Tully and Port Douglas, to name just a few. Operating for another 50 years after that trip, the Rail Dental Clinic service was discontinued in the early 1980s.

An allied service – the Infant Welfare Railway Car service – treated mothers and babies throughout regional Queensland, and provided nursing advice and education. The rail car was constructed at the Ipswich Railway Workshops in 1929. Based in Hughenden, the rail car began its first journey across the state in early 1930. Initially the service had no fixed itinerary, and travelled to towns on the main coastal line and all the branch lines as needed. In 1939 it travelled to an itinerary across North West Queensland. In December 1982 the service finally rolled to a stop, and the rail car clinic was later donated to the Railway Historical Society.

Child welfare display, Brisbane City Hall, c 1946

For more information about these travelling clinics, visit us and view the correspondence files created by the Department of Public Instruction and the Commissioner for Railways.

We would love to read comments from any readers who have bitter and/or sweet memories of these travelling health clinics.

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5 Responses

  1. Just would like to say thanks for an amazing blog. This just makes sense.
    Once I consulted my doctor and he stated the same matter I could not consider this at first.
    I guess that’s exactly what this is.

  2. Barry Merrick

    I have an excellent postcard by Comet Studios of a Travelling Dentist at Mount Isa School in 1930. His truck was the clinic and the tent was their accommodation. I have a resolution scan available. Also the same dentist set up at Camooweal Hospital listening to the election results in 1932.

  3. Wow, what a blast from the past. Wasn’t aware a rail dental clinic existed. Grateful for the advances in technology, treatment options and of course the RFDS Dental Service for those in remote and rural areas.

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