It was a step back in time on Thursday with the Powerstation Museum celebrating an impressive 135 years of light in Tamworth.
In 1888, Tamworth became the first municipality in Australia to have electric street lighting – beating the likes of Sydney and Melbourne.
George Hooke of ‘The Observer’ and Alderman William Smith, a tanner, proposed that the town should install an electric street lighting system in 1881.
Unfortunately for these progressive gentlemen, they were just too early with their enthusiasm for the very new, untried technology and in 1882 the borough Council decided to go ahead with a gas street lighting system consisting of 25 gas lanterns. In the following years Alderman Smith gathered material and information from England and other overseas countries which meant he was well prepared when the street lighting contract came up for consideration again in 1887.
“Alderman went over to the UK to see what was needed to make the switch to electric lighting, and after a lot of convincing, Council eventually came around on the idea,” told Naomi Blakey, Tamworth Regional Council Museum Operations and Visitor Engagement Officer.
From the time of approval by Council and officially switching the 21km worth of street lighting on, took just nine months.
What made it so quick was the ability to refit the already established gas lighting.
135 years on…
In 2023, the Powerstation Museum keeps the powerstation days alive with original 19th Century engines and extensive antique displays.
Although the engines on display are not the original engines used to power Tamworth, they are original to that time period.
And on special occasions the engines come to life.
“We have a boiler with two John Fowler Under Type steam engines which look like stationary trains with turning mechanics which then powers the electricity,” explained Ms Blakey.
The engines are maintained by steam engine drivers who are fully licensed and qualified to operate them.
“The main maintenance happens before an event to ensure everything is in there. This includes thinks like oil, have we got the right amount of water treatment for the town water being used in the engines, and has it had its annual boiler inspection,” explained Ms Blakey.
“Once its in action, it takes about three hours to actually generate steam and start to get the engines moving, then it’s fed with wood. At the end of the day it goes through a cooling process which takes at least a full day to properly cool down.
“The engine drivers will then do some final maintenance and cleaning.”
The next event the engines will be running for is the Toyota Tamworth Country Music Festival in January.
Tamworth Powerstation steam engine drivers.