South West Rail and Heritage Centre: The Picnic Van

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines repurposing as  to give a new purpose or use to.” And on the South West Rail and Heritage Centre site, the practice of repurposing has meant that some buildings and collection items, some of which were destined for demolition, have been given a new lease of life.

Amongst others, the former Roundhouse that was relocated from Bunbury now serves as an exhibition display area and a workshop for renovations and restorations to railway rolling stock. An old goods van has been converted to a ‘Museum on Rails’ telling the story of railways in Western Australia.

Arguably, the most lauded of these repurposed projects has been the “Picnic Van”.  Now used as a welcome retreat for those who are in need of sustenance after viewing all of the displays at the South West Rail and Heritage Centre, this much admired icon had a very different history in the past.

The Picnic Van was originally a guard’s (brake) van Z 521 built in 1959, though the underframe may well have been used from a van built around 1910 and a new “body” only constructed at the Midland Workshops.

As used in traffic, it would have looked like the van shown above.  When constructed, the van would have been painted brown as per Z 15 in the yard.  When the WAGR name was dropped in favour of Westrail in 1975, the yellow paint scheme was gradually applied to goods wagons when they came to the workshops for attention.

The ‘repurposing’ was originally intended to simply provide a place for visitors to sit whilst enjoying their picnic lunch (hence the name” Picnic Van”), but due to visitor request and the growth of the Centre, it is now a ‘café’ serving mouth watering cakes and popular ‘toasties’ as well as ice-creams and hot and cold beverages.

Furnished with seating that was sourced from former rail cars, and still retaining features such as the ‘meat hook’ hanging from the ceiling, visitors delight in enjoying their refreshments in this facility and often remark that the only thing missing is the ‘rocking and rolling’.


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