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Wednesday, 26 October 1949


Mr RANKIN (Bendigo) .- 1 whole-heartedly support the Government's proposals for the standardization of railway gauges. I have had some experience of the disastrous effects of a break of gauge in time of war. During the retreat of the Turks from Palestine through Syria, accompanied by a large number of German and Austrian troops, the destruction of the Turkish Army was completed because of the break of railway gauge at Damascus. The Turkish Army of 135,000 soldiers had been defeated by the British forces in Palestine, but it was its inability to withdraw over the railway line from Damascus, because of the break of gauge, that utterly destroyed' its ability to go on fighting, so that five days later the Turks concluded an armistice with the British, and that was the beginning of the break-up of the forces opposed to the Allies. The railway line running from Palestine to Damascus was of 3-ft. 6-in. gauge, but the line from Damascus to Rayak and Beirut was of the French mountain gauge, with ratchet attachment. The rest of the line, right through to Berlin, was of standard gauge. The Turks were unable to get away with their men and materials. They were not even able to take away their currency, so that my own unit captured at Maidan railway station a 16-ton truck loaded with coined silver. I do not say that the whole 16 tons reached head-quarters, but, at any rate, 5 G.S. wagons reached there loaded with silver coin. Lacking the means of retreat because of the break of railway gauge, the defeated Turkish forces had' no chance to escape from the pursuing force, consisting of six divisions of cavalry, and so they were destroyed. I shudder to think what would have happened to Australia if the Japanese had landed, in force on any part of the Australian coast. I do not believe that there was ever anything in the " Brisbane line " story ; that was a lot of " tripe ". But if a considerable force had been landed in the vicinity of Newcastle and Sydney, and our forces had been compelled to retreat south, Albury, where the break of gauge occurs, would have been the scene of the defeat of the Australian forces. Therefore, irrespective of cost, and irrespective of what authority controls operations, I believe that we should standardize our railway gauges. I commend the Premier of South Australia for being statesman enough to enter an agreement with a government supported by a political party opposed to his own, and to accept the great benefit which is offered to his State, and to Australia as a whole.

Although I greatly regret to say it, I believe that we have not fought our last war. Australia has already fought in two major wars, and suffered a great loss in treasure and in its young manhood; but if we do not prepare for the next war, we shall lose, not only treasure and lives, but also our identity as a people, and the possibility of becoming one of the great nations of the world.

I do not agree that the railways, when gauges are standardized, should come under the sole control of the Commonwealth. That would not be in the best interests of Australia. There is no reason why the railway system should not be run efficiently under the control of the six States. The railways of England are owned and conducted by various railway companies, which interchange rolling stock. The same applies to the railway system of the

United States of America. If our railway gauges were standardized, there is no reason why trucks belonging to the Department of Railways, in Victoria, should not carry goods all the way to Perth and Brisbane, and return loaded with goods from those States. From Queensland, they would bring back sugar, which is so necessary to many of Victoria's industries.

I do not think that it would be possible to defend Australia, with its vast distances, unless railway gauges were standardized. I have heard people say that the railway connexion between Sydney and Melbourne could be broken by destroying the bridge at Albury, or that railway traffic could be stopped by destroying the bridge over the Burdekin River. The Rhine is one of the great rivers of the world, a fast running stream. It has always been considered a great natural barrier, which only military leaders of the type of Napoleon, or Adolfus of Sweden, could successfully cross with their armies. During the last war, our Air Force repeatedly destroyed the railway bridges over the Rhine, and within 24 hours the trains were running again. During the Palestine campaign, in the first world war, a force of 100 Australians, drawn from various regiments, together with 5,000 Egyptian labourers, laid 7 miles of railway track from the Wadi Guzze past Shellal. An engine pushed in front of it a train of trucks loaded with the rails and sleepers, whilst in front of that again, tractors with ploughs prepared the track for the laying of the sleepers, and the train kept moving all the time. Any one who says that railway traffic can be stopped by bombing simply does not know the facts. Bombs could stop traffic for 12 or 24 hours, but I believe that the destruction of railway bridges over the largest rivers in Australia would not hold up traffic for more than 48 hours.

As I have said, I do not agree with the proposal that the entire railway system of Australia should be controlled by the Commonwealth. For one thing, that would facilitate the holding up of railway traffic by industrial disputes. Recently, we had the experience of a trade union, controlled by theorists, who were antiAustralian and anti-British-







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