History of Live Steaming in Australia

Model Engineering and construction of Miniature Live Steam Locomotives in Australia dates back to the early 1900s. Sydney Society of Model Engineers seems to have the distinction of being the first Society formed in this Country.

Over the years more and more Societies have been formed in various centres, and at the same time possibly hundreds of 'loners' have been building some model or other in a tiny workshop, crowded into the corner of a garage, or house. Yes I say house, because in my travels I have seen workshops in corners of bedrooms, laundries, and even a disused toilet converted to do that which some Model Engineer had in his mind to build.

As far as the records show, in 1956 some of the more enthusiastic Model Engineers arranged to gather at the track of the Sydney Live Steam Locomotive Society at West Ryde. This appears to be the first ‘convention’, although it did not get that title until some years later. There was no sit down and talk meeting, but just a good old get together and swap yarns and ideas.

The following year some members of the then Surry Hills Live Steam Locomotive Society journeyed to Adelaide to visit the South Australian Society of Model and Experimental Engineers at Millswood. There is no record of visitors from other Societies being present.

1958 saw a gathering from other Societies at ‘Modok’ the property of one Captain James at Beaumaris, a suburb of Melbourne.

From then on there were regular gatherings during the Easter Holiday period, somewhere, and these gatherings appeared to alternate between Melbourne. Sydney and Adelaide.

In 1966 they aspired to the title of ‘Conventions’, and it was at that meeting, that a Committee was formed to investigate the possibility of a Code of Safety for the construction of miniature boilers. The following year 1967, the Convention in Adelaide was recorded as the first Annual General Meeting of the Australian Miniature Boiler Safety Committee, which is now known as AMBSC.

A draft of a Code had been prepared since the 1966 meeting and was presented for consideration. At the meeting in 1968 at the new Property of the Steam Locomotive Society of Victoria, in Moorabbin, the code was officially adopted.

At each Convention since that time, meetings have been held to discuss mainly boilers and the Code, and the possibility of a Code for Steel Boilers. This was eventually adopted in the early 1980s.

Other matters crept into discussions, such as braking, couplings, safety of running, and it was considered that some standards were needed. It became apparent that another body, or Committee should be formed to handle matters other than boilers, on a national level. So it was that at the Convention Meeting 1975 the Australian Association of Live Steamers was formed with a Secretary to try and coordinate these other matters.

The late Ken Tinkler filled that position for 9 years. During that time we progressed to a Constitution, By-Laws, and a Code of Safe Operation, to ensure the smooth operation of the Association.

The matter of Public Liability Insurance became an urgent requirement, and after a couple of false starts we did organise a group Insurance. This later 'fell apart' due to the Insurance Companies withdrawing their support for Public Liability Insurance. This left each Society to find their own insurance cover. Other group schemes have been put in place with the current Policies offering very comprehensive cover for Association Members.

The AALS started with 17 Societies, and by 1984 had progressed to 48 Affiliated Societies. That number seemed to be fairly constant, but over more recent years there has been a gradual increase. At present we have 81 Societies affiliated.

The Association incorporated as a Limited Liability Company in 2005. The Board of Directors consists of a President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, Insurance Officer, Chairman AMBSC, Hon. Secretary AMBSC, Chairman Australian Live Steamers Safety Committee and the Hon. Secretary of the Safety Committee. A Representative in each State acts as the contact point for local members.

Over time, standards have been evolved for Wheels and Track plus couplings and brakes.

A Code of Practice for Operations and Training has been produced to meet requirements of Amusement Device Regulations and Occupational Health and Safety matters. This document, along with our Boiler Codes for Copper (Pt 1) and Steel Boilers (Pt 2) are recognised throughout Australia and also overseas. Work on Pt 3 for sub-miniature boilers is complete and it is now available.

From Club Membership Returns, there appears to be around 3,000 Members of Affiliated Clubs, a number that seems to be fairly stable at this time.

April 2008