Railway refreshment rooms guide

In New South Wales during the 19th century, passenger traffic was the largest single purpose for train journeys. As the rail system expanded across the State the journeys often involved passengers in several hours travel, making the provision and availability of refreshments an essential part of the trip.

Historical Overview

There is a comprehensive description of the activity of Railway Service Provision (Activity 155) in our catalogue which includes a listing of all the record series documenting the activity.

The first Railway Refreshment Rooms were leased to private vendors. The earliest rooms were at Sydney, Mittagong, Penrith, Mount Victoria and Singleton. The direct administration of the Railway Refreshment Rooms by the Railway Commissioners began on 1 July 1917. According to the Annual report of the Chief Commissioner of Government Railways and Tramways for the year ended 30 June 1918 'with the exception of that at stations on the Grafton to Tweed line, and unimportant refreshment stalls at stations on other lines of the system, the whole of the railway refreshment business is now conducted departmentally'. In 1938 the NSW Industrial Commission made the first comprehensive award for staff (mainly women) working in the Railway Refreshment Rooms.

Railway refreshment services developed and expanded over the next 40 years. A mobile tea and light refreshment buffet was introduced on to the steam platforms at Central Railway Station in 1948. Buffet dining cars were inaugurated in 1950 when they were added to the new eight car Riverina Expresses. The following year a dining service was added to the Northern Tablelands Express.

In the post war period the role of the Refreshment Rooms gradually changed. Table service was replaced by counter service, set menus were encouraged for time economies and in the mid to late 1950s some rooms closed and others were leased to private enterprise.

A select list of sources

NSW Railways

Annual reports
The Reports were compiled annually for the minister responsible for railways and were presented to the New South Wales Parliament. They frequently report on the Railway Refreshment Rooms.
Commissioners correspondence
- File No 1888/20698 Murrundi/Singleton Refreshment Room charges and letter of tariffs, 1888
- File No 1916/8807 Refreshment Room Service at Railway Stations, c.1915-16
Contracts Bonds and Agreements
This series includes leases of railway property for various purposes including for the provision of Railway Refreshment Rooms and food and book stalls at railway stations. Examples include:
- Agreement to sell fruits and confections at Newcastle Station J Hayne, 1860 (Item number 1860/18)
- Lease of refreshment rooms at Sydney Terminus by W Moon and B Dyer, 1864 (Item number 1864/1), and
- Lease of refreshment rooms at Gosford Station by J Everingham, 1890 (Item number 1890/17).
Estates and Refreshment Rooms Branch Minute Books
The series contains copies of individual minutes adopted by the branch but not the minutes of entire meetings. The subjects covered include the management, stocking, and staffing of Refreshment Rooms.
Index to Estates and Refreshment Rooms Branch Minute Books
Alphabetical index to NRS 15563 (above)
State Rail Parliamentary Papers
This series comprises copies of reports, correspondence and papers relating to railways, tabled in the Parliament of New South Wales and retained by the Department of Railways and its predecessors. It includes material on tenders for the management of Railway Refreshment Rooms. Examples from the series include:
- Sale of liquor at Railway Refreshment Rooms (Regulations) [page 108] 1883 (Item number 372)
- New South Wales Railways. Invitation for tenders for renting Refreshment rooms at Albury Station on the Great Southern Line 1.4.1883-31.12.1888 [page 94-95] (Item number 366)
- New South Wales Railways. Invitation for tenders for renting Refreshment rooms at Singleton Station on the Great Northern Line 1.1.1884-31.1.1889 [page 88-89] (Item number 363), and
- The Commissioner for Railways. Invitation for tenders for renting the Refreshment Rooms at Werris Creek Station, on the Great Northern Line 1.6.1884-31.5.1889 [page 21-23] (Item number 510).
NRS 17420 
State Rail Authority Archives Photographic Reference Print Collection
This series consists of a collection of around 35,000 photographs covering a wide variety of subjects relating to the activities of the various agencies responsible for railways in NSW. A selection of images from the series, including the Railway Refreshment Rooms, has been digitised. View samples in the catalogue (follow the link to the left or view the related Stories tab).
General instructions for the guidance of sub-managers, etc., Railway Refreshment Rooms
This volume gives detailed instructions about the running of railway refreshment rooms (such as cleaning; the display; the serving of wine and spirits). It was originally kept by the Sub-manager of the Railway Refreshment Rooms at Hornsby Station.

Industrial Commission

Transcripts of proceedings of the Industrial Commission
The transcripts of the award hearing for staff working in the Railway Refreshment Rooms before the Industrial Commission in 1938 are located at [2/508-13]. The transcript of the judgement is in [2/515].

Licences Reduction Board

Files re Railway refreshment room licenses
A Railway Refreshment Room license gave the licensee permission to serve Australian wines to patrons. Each file details a Railway Refreshment Room's location, licensees for the period of its existence, liquor purchases made and profits.Some Railway Refreshment Room licenses were withdrawn by the Licenses Reduction Board thus forcing the closure of the establishment. Railway Refreshment Room licenses were superseded by 'Liquor licenses' in 1929.
License fee books for spirit merchants, packets, registered clubs and railway refreshment rooms
The entries are arranged alphabetically within their respective categories and give the following information: number, date of fixing fee, situation of premises, amount of liquor purchased in previous year (the value is shown in both monetary pounds and in gallons for wine, spirits and beer), license fee and notations.
Lists of license fees due annually
Each licensed premises was required to pay an annual fee assessed by the Licenses Reduction Board and due on 1 July each year. These lists are arranged under categories including Railway Refreshment Rooms. Within these categories they are arranged by licensing district and give the name of the premises, location and license fee.
Fees sheets
These sheets are arranged in various subject categories including Railway Refreshment Rooms. For each particular licensee is listed: total value of liquor purchases made during the year, license fee, quantity of liquor delivered for the twelve months ending 31 December.


Railway Refreshment Rooms' liquor licences
The volume provides the following: date, licensee number, licencee's name, railway station, period of licence and amount.