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Historical Sydney

NSW Rail Museum: Things To Do In Southwest Sydney

NSW Rail Museum: Things To Do In Greater Sydney

Bring your locomotive-loving kids to get up close to trains at the NSW Rail Museum in the historic town of Thirlmere. Since 1975 this little town has been home to a large collection of NSW’s railway heritage, including over 100 vehicles that move on a railway including locomotives, railroad cars and more.

NSW Rail Museum Australia

Thirlmere is approximately 90km from Sydney in its southwest region, a town built with the arrival of the Great Southern Railway in 1863 to 1867.

The NSW Rail Museum is divided into three sections:

NSW Rail Museum Australia

The Main Exhibition Building  
This is the indoor building where you’ll find plenty to learn about life on the railways, their purpose and development and information on their engineering and design. Kids will love the interactive elements in this building, such as the train play table, colouring in, crafts and train carriages that can be entered.

NSW Rail Museum Australia

We enjoyed looking at ​the Governor General’s Carriage, which looks like a palace on wheels, the Prison Van, even though it freaked out youngest member out a tad, the Steam Machine which kids can pretend to drive, and the mail van, which led to discussions about how mail was and is delivered.

NSW Rail Museum Australia

In this building you’ll also find Steam locomotive E18; built in 1866, this is the oldest train in the collection.

Worker’s Walk
Linking the Main Exhibition Building to the Great Train Hall, this is where you can learn about the jobs that keep the railways running.

NSW Rail Museum Australia

The Great Train Hall
Here you’ll find the biggest collection of “rolling stock” (which means anything that runs over railway tracks) in Australia.

​Keep an eye out for:

6040 Garratt: The heaviest and most powerful steam train to ever turn a wheel in Australia.

Steam locomotive 1905: The first train to cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The Rail Pay Bus: Used to transport employees’ wages, some carriages are able to be boarded.

Roundhouse
Take a look at the trains being restored and maintained inside the Roadhouse.

NSW Rail Museum Australia

Special Events
Several times a year, the NSW Rail Museum runs special events (check their page to see what’s next), such as their Day Out With Thomas the Tank Engine, Annual Festival of Steam and Summer Heritage Train Rides.

NSW Rail Museum Australia NSW Rail Museum Australia NSW Rail Museum Australia NSW Rail Museum Australia NSW Rail Museum Australia NSW Rail Museum Australia NSW Rail Museum Australia NSW Rail Museum Australia

NSW Rail Museum
10 Barbour Road
Thirlmere NSW 2572
​Tel: 1300 11 55 99​
The NSW Rail Museum is open 7 days a week.
Hours: Open daily, Mon-Fri 10am-4pm, Sat & Sun 9am-5pm
nswrailmuseum.com.au

More things to do in Sydney

Find a list of the best things to do in Sydney with kids here.

Find things to do in Sydney for free here.

Get a list of the best kid-friendly beaches in Sydney.

Find the best animal experiences in Sydney here.

Visit the best kid-friendly restaurants in Sydney here.

Find the best high teas in Sydney here.

Head to one of the best museums in Sydney here.

Check out things to do in Sydney on a rainy day here.

Enjoy one of the best ocean pools in Sydney here.

First time visiting Sydney? Get tips for first time visitors to Sydney here.

Secret Sydney: Uncovering The Paddington Reservoir Gardens

The Paddington Reservoir Gardens, Sydney, Australia

If you didn’t know it was there, you would walk straight past this unique slice of Sydney history, situated on busy Oxford Street, Paddington. I have actually walked past the Paddington Reservoir Gardens hundreds of times myself and never noticed the signs or just looked down!

Paddington Reservoir Gardens, Sydney, Australia

Paddington Reservoir Gardens is an award-winning location in Sydney’s east. It was completed in 1864, created as part of Sydney’s third water supply to contain water pumped from Lords Dam at Botany Bay.

Paddington Reservoir Gardens, Sydney, Australia

The reservoir operated between 1878 and 1899 when the Centennial Park Reservoir was commissioned. After it closed Paddington Reservoir was used by Sydney Water for storage, a garage and workshop. In 1934 the reservoir was sold to Paddington Municipal Council. The western chamber was leased for a service station while the eastern chamber was still occupied by the Water Board well into 1950s.

Paddington Reservoir Gardens, Sydney, Australia

After a roof collapse the reservoir was closed off and inaccessible until its regeneration project, opening in 2009 following major renovation and landscaping, which also  included the surrounding the Walter Read Reserve and John Thompson Reserve.

Paddington Reservoir Gardens, Sydney, Australia

The restoration project salvaged as much of the reservoir’s original framework and materials as possible, fusing them with contemporary and sustainable elements.

The garden contains wide boardwalks and green spaces free for the public to use. Pull up a deck chair or lie on the grass with a book. It’s a quiet spot in an otherwise very busy part of Sydney.

The Paddington Reservoir Gardens are now state heritage-listed.

Paddington Reservoir Gardens, Sydney, Australia

 

Paddington Reservoir Gardens
251-255 Oxford Street
Paddington NSW 2021

The gardens are accessible and entry is free. There is an elevator from the top that takes you directly down to the boardwalk. Bus routes 378, 382 and 380 stop nearby.

Paddington Reservoir Gardens, Sydney, Australia

Paddington Reservoir Gardens, Sydney, Australia

Travel Guide: Visiting UNESCO World Heritage Site Cockatoo Island

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

Sydney’s history hides itself in plain sight. Scattered around the sparkling harbour and lush bush are pieces of a past that was built on the backs of convicts sent to the colonies to pay for their crimes committed far across the ocean.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

It’s easy to forget the past when you’re faced with the present and future. Sydney is a vibrant city renowned for its pristine beaches, foodie scene and wildlife – but scratch beneath the surface a little and you’ll find two hundred years worth of history ready to be explored by the next generation.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

Cockatoo Island is one such place that is sitting right there in the middle of Sydney Harbour, rich with the past and full of tales to tell. Before the First Fleet arrived at our shores, the island was frequented by sulphur-crested cockatoos and the Eora people, Aboriginals from Sydney’s coastal region. They called the island Waremah and would have used it as a base to fish from, making their canoes from the bark of the red gum forests that once covered the island hill.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

In 1839 the Governor of the colony of New South Wales, Sir George Gipps, chose Cockatoo Island as the site of a new penal establishment and put convicts to work building prison barracks, a military guardhouse and official residences – a rather less idyllic island life than the previous residents had enjoyed.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

In the 175 years that follow, the island is used as a jail for “the worst of the worst”, a graving dock, a site for a girls’ reformatory, and a major shipbuilding site.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

After the closure of the last ship dockyard in 1992 the island lay dormant until the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust restored the island and opened it to the public in 2007.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

Since its reopening it has been used as a site for major films (see below for more details), events and art exhibitions, as well as a place for Sydney’s locals and visitors alike to discover the forgotten tales of its former residents.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

In 2010 Cockatoo Island, together with 10 other historic convict sites in Australia, was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, ensuring its stories will be preserved for all future generations to learn from.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

A visit to Cockatoo Island is perfect for the whole family, for people of all ages and abilities. It can be as relaxing or active as the participants in your group want it to be. We visited with our very active five-year-old and have plenty of tips for those visiting with a similarly energetic party!

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

Bring the scooter
The island has plenty of flat cement ground for kids to scoot everywhere on. While we were reading the fine details on the history of the island, the kid was scooting off a storm and having the time of her life. There was no complaining about tired legs or being bored, just one very happy scooting child.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

Pick up a kids’ activity pack
Ask at the Visitor’s Centre when you get off the ferry for a free kids’ activity pack. It sends kids on a treasure hunt around the island in a quest to find various clues and complete activities that engage them in the history of the island. Love it when you can blend education with some fun.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

Break for lunch
You’re free to bring your own picnic lunch and enjoy it on the island, but we really enjoyed our late breakfast from Societe Overboard, one of the two cafes on Cockatoo Island. Societe Overboard is right near the ferry terminal and serves breakfast plus lunch items (we ordered the Brekky Roll for $9.50 and the Euro Bruschetta for $16.50).

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

The second cafe is the Marina Café & Bar which is located just a short stroll through the Dogleg Tunnel from the main ferry wharf or through the Main Tunnel from the campground. Their menu offers pizza, nachos, toasted wraps and more, including vegetarian options.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

Stay the night
While there is comfortable accommodation available in the gorgeous heritage housing, the most fun to be had is glamping overnight in a tent with a killer view! The Cockatoo Island staff set up the tent and bedding, even providing toiletries from Appelles Apothecary.
All glampers have access to hot showers and communal camp kitchen with ten BBQ areas, fridges, microwaves and a boiling water system.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

Imagine life as a convict
The Convict Precinct on Cockatoo Island is a lesson in the harsh living conditions and deprivations endured in prison labour.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

Convicts were put to work quarrying stone, building prison barracks, a military guardhouse, granary silos and official residences, forged their own prison bars and constructed the Fitzroy Dock with their bare hands, often waist deep in water and shackled with leg irons. It’s easy to imagine the despair faced by the convicts who lived in appalling conditions on the island when you see first hand the brutal life they endured.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

Escape to the past down (kinda creepy) tunnels
There are two tunnels that cut through the middle of the island, Tunnel 1 and the Dogleg Tunnel. Both were built in 1915 to facilitate the movement of workers and materials from one side of the island to the other, and were later modified to become air-raid shelters during World War II. The Dogleg tunnel is seriously spooky as it has a giant kink in the middle (the “dogleg” for which it is named) so when you enter the 180m tunnel you can’t see where it ends.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

Take in the view
Walk up the hill or steep stairs (your Fitbit will thank you for it later) to Biloela House for stunning views of Sydney Harbour.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

The sandstone house was built in 1841 and intended for the island’s Superintendent, hence the gorgeous location and building. If you have time (and patient children) go inside Biloela House to check out the Shipyard Stories exhibition.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

Leave the kids in solitary confinement
I kid, I kid! Seriously though, a brief look into these cells where prisoners were kept as punishment will give you and the kids a very quick education in how bad it would have been to be a convict on the island.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

Get a glimpse at Australia’s naval history
Cockatoo Island was also the site of one of Australia’s biggest shipyards that operated between 1857 and 1991. A walk through the yard will leave you in awe at the pure size and scale of the ships built here – and the cranes are always a favourite with the kids.

Cockatoo Island Chess

Play a game of chess
A life-size chessboard is set up near the ferry terminal for anyone to play – it’s the perfect way to teach young ones the rudiments of the game.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

Spot movie filming locations
In 2008 X-Men Origins: Wolverine was filmed on Cockatoo Island. If you look carefully you’ll be able to see the remnants of the film set where the island was used as Stryker’s laboratory and a “mutant containment area.”

Cockatoo Island was also transformed into Japan’s most notorious Prisoner-Of-War camp Naoetsu during the 2013 filming of Angelina Jolie’s film, Unbroken.

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Want to know more about Cockatoo island? I highly suggest dropping by on Sunday March 26 to enjoy their open house event, a rare opportunity to take a sneak a peek inside the heritage houses and apartments.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney Australia

Getting to Cockatoo Island 
Catch the F3 or F4 ferry directly to the island. Our big tip is to use the unlimited travel on public transport for $2.50 on a Sunday.

Learn more about visiting Cockatoo Island online.