Labour History

Perverse Transformation: Railway Development and the Shaping of Queensland Society, 1880–1901

Labour History (2015), 109, (1), 1–23.


The railways played a central role in the development of New World societies. In the United States, Shelton Stromquist found that in the American Mid-West and West, two sorts of communities were formed. The first were “merchant towns” under the domination of commercial interests and hostile to organised labour. The other were “railway towns.” These towns, within which railway workers were numerically significant, were supportive of labour militancy. In using census to explore the social impact of railway development on Queensland society between 1880 and 1901, however, this study finds that Queensland’s railways produced only “merchant towns.” Perversely, the railways also impeded local manufacturing as Queensland’s “railway towns” increasingly acted as conduits of imported goods to the colony’s rural population.

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Author details

Bowden, Bradley