1873 NSW Railway Refreshment Rooms

Crockery from the NSW Railway Refreshment Rooms. Image: Katherine Anderson

The first Railway Refreshment Rooms (RRRs)  in New South Wales were at stations at Mittagong and Mt Victoria. In 1874, the refreshment room at Sydney’s Central Station was opened. The RRRs served beverages. hot grills, soup, sandwiches, cold meats and salads and pies. From 1926, some lines provided onboard dining.

Railway Refreshment Rooms had been a part of Australia’s transport history since shortly after the first steam trains chugged their way between Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station and Sandridge – what is now Port Melbourne – in 1854. In 1855, the magistrates at Melbourne’s City Court granted a licence to William Peter McGirr for the first Australian RRR at Sandridge. The following year, Henry Clifford obtained a license for the one at Flinders Street.

Queensland’s first railway opened in 1865. Among the first to offer refreshments was Mrs Littleton of the Royal Hotel in Toowoomba, who operated a purpose-built establishment close to the station. Many more followed. So New South Wales was relatively slow off the mark.

Over the years, there were many complaints about the quality of the food. In 1954 the New South Wales railways fought back, releasing figures to demonstrate the significance of its task in feeding the travelling millions. As the largest catering establishment in Australia, with a staff of 1500, it controlled refreshment rooms, kiosks, milk bars and even full railway accommodation at six country stations.

“The department has a special sandwich room at Central Station, Sydney, which makes 1,750,000 sandwiches a year,” a railway correspondent (aka PR person) reported. Each year the Railway Refreshment Rooms also accounted for 95,000 lbs of bacon; 235,000 4lb loaves of bread; 120,000 lbs of butter: 40,000 lbs of cheese; 14,000 lbs of coffee; 37,000 lbs of eggs; 320,000 lbs of flour; 12,000 gallons of fountain syrups; 20,000 gallons and 750,000 buckets of ice cream; 200,000 gallons of milk; 260,000 lbs of sugar; 33,000 lbs of tea; 900,000 lbs of meat; 26,000 lbs of fish and 150 tons of potatoes.

For more on the history of these now-vanished establishments see my blog post: Food to Go: tales of the Railway Refreshment Rooms.

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