Did you know that for 81 years (from 1915 until 1996) a train travelled from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta delivering provisions to the workers and their families that lived in the settlements along the train line? Until I read Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen, I was unaware of exactly how this service worked.

Tea and Sugar Christmas

These workers – fellers, maintenance workers, and gangers, who were in charge of a group of labourers – lived in basic railway camps along the railway line and it was their job to maintain the line across the Nullabor Plain. The train, known as the Tea and Sugar train, delivered provisions, services, and a link to the world beyond these tiny settlements. The arrival of the train was the biggest event around and children and adults alike would watch out for the train coming. And, once a year, before Christmas, Father Christmas arrived on the slow mixed goods train No. 5205. Which brings us to our story:

Nullabor Plain

Image © Google Maps

This book is referred to as a narrative non-fiction. This means that it tells a story that is created using fact. And not the ‘based on real events’ that we see in so many bio-pics.

The book mixes a section with photos, dates, maps, and facts about the Tea and Sugar train with the story of a young girl – Kathleen who discovers they have no sugar or tea at the beginning of the book. The train comes through once a week – on Thursday – and they will have to make do. But it’s a special train this time around – it’s the Christmas train and Santa is going to be visiting. This actually happened every year around Christmas time and the children who visited Santa received a gift – no child missed out. It was the best day of the whole year. The story part of the book follows Kathleen as she waits for the train, and Santa, and then her excitement when he finally arrives.

The book is a lovely read and it combines black and white pencil drawings with fold out, full colour, illustrations – included a centre fold out with a picture of the whole train.

I enjoyed reading this book and whether you save it for Christmas as a book to talk about how Christmas is different for everyone, a book to show children how the remote parts of WA differ from our lives here in Perth, or just a nice picture book to read there is a lot on offer with this book. Definitely one I would recommend.

Tea and Sugar Christmas


Tea and Sugar Christmas was shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year – in the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books category.

Tea and Sugar Christmas also recently won the ABIA2015 Award for Small Publishers’ Children’s Book of the Year.