Thirlmere Festival of Steam : Rotary Club of Picton

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Thirlmere Festival of Steam

Thirlmere Festival of Steam


Thirlmere Steam FestivalThere is something emotionally stirring in many of us when, from the distance, comes the faint urgent whistle from an approaching steam locomotive. The billowing smoke and familiar chuffing of steam pistons adds to the excitement and soon a locomotive comes into view.

For a brief moment there is an air of expectancy as the years roll back and the mighty engine swoops by drawing its cargo of train buffs, young children revelling in a new experience and families enjoying memories from the past.

To many this has been the culmination of yet another year’s planning.... the presentation of another Thirlmere Steam Festival of Steam. President Greg Cartwright and his Sub Committee from the Rotary Club of Picton, NSW Rail Museum and event professionals BD Productions, can now look to the reality of yet another year of behind the scenes work.

Last year there were five working locomotives “On Track", we wait to see this years offer, will it be 3801 or the mighty City of Canberra Garrett 60 Class on display? Will we be enjoying afternoon tea on the Southern Aurora or shall I buy a ticket to the Night Photography workshops ?

The destination is the annual Festival of Steam at Thirlmere, an event that has been running for 30 years and now attracting between 16000 & 20,000 visitors annually. This event has this year been stretched to two days as one day is not enough to satisfy all the visitors attending.

For 29 years the Steam Festival has been a major draw card for the Wollondilly Shire and for the fourth year running, The Rotary Club of Picton in partnership with the vast NSW Rail Museum, has set the stage to celebrate the great contribution that steam has made to Australia’s national development.

The Museum, which is home to the largest collection of railway rolling stock in Australia, organises the vintage heritage train schedules throughout the day whilst Rotary is responsible for the corporate sponsorship drive, over 100 street stalls, traffic control, street parade, amusement rides, entertainment, information booth, VIP stewardship and general overall management.

Community engagement is a primary focus and we boast supporting over 20 community groups and charities by way of free sites, donations and contract payments. The event is estimated to annually inject approx. $250,000 into the business community including the micro business stallholders, rides providers, community BBQs both locally and regionally not to mention the tourism visitation generated.

Rotary itself returns a modest profit into the Clubs projects throughout the following year via the Picton Rotary Thirlmere Festival of Steam grants.

The day is punctuated by whistle blasts from regular vintage train departures to Buxton and Picton along the old southern highlands Loop Line. Fire engine inspections, vintage vehicle Show & Shine, mini train rides for the younger children, vintage steam and kerosene engine displays, model train club exhibitions, carnival rides, vintage bus rides, a gala street parade as well as a full concert in the park for those needing to rest awhile after all the excitement makes for a full day of fun for all ages and all help to provide added attractions for visitors who have travelled long distances to be part of the festival.

For Rotarians and the team of community volunteers such as RFS groups, Footy Club, schools and local community clubs and charities, it is 2 full days starting about 5.30 and running through till after dark with all members allocated duties according to scheduled activities.

Rotarians move through a rotating list of activities tending to regulating visitor flow, parade supervision, waste management, information booths, stage presentations with final clean up duties well after visitors have departed. It is after all Clean Up Australia Day & we pride ourselves on leaving the village of Thirlmere cleaner than it started.

Yes, the 2 festival days have successfully culminated after many weeks of planning, encouragement and personal dedication but the resulting high profile Rotary presence had again lifted the community’s awareness of yet another promotion of Picton Rotary Clubs wide ranging community service activities.

As the trains move mightily amid clouds of smoke and steam either back to the city or to return to roundhouse and turntables, there is a lingering spirit of nostalgia for times gone by, a spirit that is somewhat moderated by the thought that it is only twelve months to the next great gathering for true steam enthusiasts.

Scripted by Rotarian Barry McConville

For more information about the Thirlmere Festival of Steam, send an email to


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