Exploring The Workshops Rail Museum With Kids
A day out at Australia’s oldest operating railway workshops is a rite of passage for kids growing in South East Queensland. Although we live within an hour drive, we somehow managed to raise two boys to the grand old ages of 7 and 11 years without having visited The Workshops Rail Museum prior.
You’re probably thinking that’s tantamount to child neglect, but in our defense they’re still young enough to get cut-price therapy. To remedy the situation before they become full price, we hot-tailed it to Ipswich to discover why this homage to all things rail is such a hit with families.
It goes without saying, but if you have train enthusiasts in tow you’ll be lucky to make it into the main hall before they hyperventilate from excitement. Everywhere you look there’s meticulously-restored vintage trains of all descriptions on display. While many of these big shiny machines are just on show for their good looks and can’t be accessed, some are open for you to climb right on board. Our boys were blown away by the sheer size of some of the grand old stream engines.
There’s also all kinds of rail paraphernalia on display, from crossing signs to vintage station fittings. More than a museum, the grounds are home to an authentic heritage rail workshop operating as it has done for 150 years, so be sure to take a free tour behind the scenes to where the real work of restoring engines takes place too.
The Play Areas
Aside from the trains themselves, there’s train-inspired play areas, interactive science displays, and even train driving simulators. Little ones will love the large, rubber-floored Nipper’s Railway play area where they can climb on toy engines or ride pedal bikes around train tracks at a kid’s sized train station. Older children will appreciate getting hands-on to discover the science behind how trains operate with big, easy-to-understand displays.
There’s a craft corner too. And kids of all ages – even Mum and Dad sized ones – will love the model railways, and jump at the chance to drive a train and toot the horn in the simulators.
As a nice bonus, the historic Workshops buildings themselves are fun to explore. Our kids were as taken with all the giant old rail warehouses as they were by all the contents. The old timekeeper’s building and the main museum’s high ceilings, exposed beams and shaped windows really added to the old-time ambiance of the place. The vintage industrial workshops to the rear are also distinctive and one of the most Instagrammed spots in Ipswich.
If you’re a photographer, it’s worth doing a tour just to access this section – although you’ll have to be quick, as they don’t let you dawdle or veer from designated walkways or you’ll slow the tour. And at the side of the complex there’s a fine old building that looks as grand as a church, but was originally built to house the railway power station (we obviously weren’t the only ones who thought it looked magnificently churchy – there was a wedding getting set up nearby when we left).
The Workshops has an onsite Café and gift shop if you’re feeling the need to fill your bellies, kick up your feet or lighten your wallet. It’s also worth noting that semi-regular themed events include stream train rides, night markets, and the ever-popular A Day Out With Thomas (a must for Thomas The Tank Engine fans). There are often temporary exhibitions happening too; while we visited a Room For Wild Animals was on show, and the boys were given clipboards and worksheets to find animal prints as they explored the grounds.
Making A Day Of It
If you’re planning a visit to Ipswich just to see the Museum, there’s so much to see in and around the nearby CBD if you’d like to expand your trip into a full day trip or weekender. Let the kids run and play as you soak up Ipswich’s heritage vibe at Queens Park, one of Queensland’s oldest and most stately parks. Set amongst the giant old fig and beech trees you’ll find a big modern playground and café, tranquil Japanese Nerima gardens, and a chance to get up close with wildlife at the park’s Nature Centre, all with free entry.
Also free admission, the Ipswich Art Gallery was one of the first in Australia to have a dedicated kid’s space, with exhibitions changing regularly (some require advance bookings, so be sure to check online before you go). The gallery is in d’Arcy Doyle Place in the CBD, an area rich with historic buildings and only a short stroll from Brisbane Street’s Top of The Town filled with quirky restored buildings, eclectic shops and cafes, and lots of great lunch or dinner options.
Lastly, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to explore the rail museum itself. We thought we’d be in and out fairly quickly, but the boys were enthralled. They spent four hours checking out the train exhibits and were still reluctant to leave, only letting us drag them away after one last tug on the now-silent brass whistle outside the Powerhouse and the promise of a hearty lunch.