Romantic views from the heyday of rail

VINTAGE VEIW: Byron Bay Beach, Byron Bay (NSW) Digital ID: 12932-a012-a012X2448000121.jpg
VINTAGE VEIW: Byron Bay Beach, Byron Bay (NSW) Digital ID: 12932-a012-a012X2448000121.jpg Photo: State Records NSW

YOUNG beachgoers at The Pass, Byron Bay, wave at the camera in a scene that is as familiar today as it was decades ago - with one notable exception: They have a deserted beach entirely to themselves.

The vintage photo - depicting Byron Bay before it was discovered by an estimated 1.8 million tourists a year, before property prices reached the millions, before the surfers and hippies and possibly before the last steam train chugged out of the station - was taken to entice tourists to visit by the preferred transport method of the day, train.

The image is believed to have been taken in the 1950s, decades before the stairs up to The Pass lookout were built in 1998. However, the date it was taken, along with the names of the photographer and subjects, is now a mystery.

We do know it was among more than 17,000 images commissioned by the Department of Railways to promote train travel from the 1930's to '60's.

The Department used the photos - of rural streetscapes, scenic views, beaches, dams and snowfields - inside train carriages or in brochures promoting train travel.

The original photo, a black and white print, is held in the archives of State Records NSW and its style is unusual for the era and could suggest the beachgoers were locals, said Susan Charlton, creative producer at State Records NSW.

"The photos were taken to promote holiday travel by train around NSW in an era when trains were the most popular way to travel long distances," Ms Charlton said.

"Many of the photos were of the landscape and were tranquil and serene, or if people were in the photos they were models and the photographer would stage the photo so it almost appears you are looking over their shoulder at the scenery," she said.

"This photo is unusual in that they are looking directly at the camera, waving. You get the feeling that these may have been young locals."

Not only does the photo show a deserted Byron Bay that is seldom seen today, it is evocative of a more romantic era of travel, Ms Charlton said.

"Train travel was an adventure and an experience in itself. It was affordable and comfortable and people would get dressed up to travel.

"The stations were sophisticated and there would be glamorous dining rooms both at stations and on the trains themselves."

Rail Travel History:

The first mainline diesel electric locomotives were introduced in November 1951 with the last steam locomotives were delivered in 1958. The fleet was completely diesel by 1971

In its hey-day, NSW had 6124miles of rail line with 60+ refreshment rooms at stations along the way.

A three-course meal cost from 2 shillings while a luncheonette cost 1 shilling

Can you shed some light? Do you know who is pictured in this photo? Email Byron Shire News at or go to our Facebook page.

Topics:  byron bay history

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