Another 3Rs! Railway Refreshment Rooms

To most of us the 3Rs connote literacy and numeracy, but did you know the initials also used to apply to the Queensland Railway Refreshment Rooms?

Originally run by enterprising locals, the Railway Department, Refreshment Rooms Branch was created in June 1916. The official public announcement that the Queensland Government would run the railway refreshment rooms (RRRs) was published in The Brisbane Courier on 29 April 1916.

The RRRs were administered under the Railway Refreshments Rooms Act 1868. They were either temperance rooms or licensed rooms with controls applied to those selling liquor. Included below is the card noting the surrender of the Warwick Railway Station liquor licence in 1963:

QSA Item ID 327769, Licences – liquor, revoked

RRRs could be found all across Queensland and provided welcome refreshment opportunities for travellers on long train trips.

QSA Item ID 1052323: Warwick Railway Refreshment Room showing top end of garden, c1925

Ice cream was available from the 1940s and in 1966, the Peters Arctic Delicacy Company was contracted to supply ice cream to the RRRs throughout Queensland.

However, the rooms did have a reputation for variable quality. Criticisms found in records at QSA include:

  • eggs not being on the breakfast menu
  • bread in “bad condition”
  • overpriced sandwiches and scones
  • cold soup
  • icy cold sandwiches
  • “putrid fillings”
  • no soft drinks available.

Although fine bone china and white linen may have existed in some RRRs, the standard was basic linen or even plastic table cloths like the samples below:

QSA Item ID 1002612, Batch file, railway

The popularity of the RRRs declined with the emergence of the buffet car and the transition from steam to diesel engines. Fewer stops to maintain the engines meant less opportunities for passengers to use RRRs.

Entered into the Queensland Heritage Register on 21 October 1992, the Toowoomba Railway Station has the last remaining commercially operating public refreshment room at a railway station in Queensland.

QSA Digital Image ID 27065: Toowoomba Railway Station building, looking north, 1993

Resource list

Queensland State Archives Item ID 1002612, Batch file, railway [Railway Refreshment Rooms Control – Criticisms – General]

Queensland State Archives Item ID 1002966, Batch file, railway [Purchase of ice cream for Railway Refreshment Rooms]

Queensland State Archives Item ID 1052473, Batch file, railway [Government taking over Railway Refreshment Rooms]

Queensland State Archives Item ID 275821, Correspondence [General correspondence – Railway Department, Refreshment Rooms Branch]

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3 Responses

  1. Mark Smith

    I remenber Dulcie was a one of the friendly faces at the Ref Rooms in Toowoomba when I worked in the Parcels Office in the early 1980s. I think she was the Manager.

  2. Joyce Stenhouse-Brown

    As little children aged 2,4,6,7 years, Mum (husband in army 2nd world war) took us to Brisbane by train from Chinchilla. The conductors were wonderful and helped with the luggage and seating. We travelled 2nd class. The conductor couldn’t find enough seating and so he took us to the 1st class carriage. One passenger only was in this compartment. The conductor told this man that there was no room left in 2nd class and he was putting us in this carriage. This very well dressed person said to the conductor he was not happy as he paid for 1st class tickets and had to travel with 2nd class passengers and when I get to Brisbane I will require a refund. Mum was so upset she did not reprimand us and let us run wild so we did as we liked. Think the journey was 8 hours or so.
    While in Toowoomba, Mum went to the refreshment rooms & the train shunted, unhinged carriages, shunted again and we were scared it would go without her.

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