The Australian railway boom of the 19th Century had barely begun to pick up steam before it went completely off the rails in 1883, in a little town called Albury.
That’s where the English Standard track from New South Wales bumped into the Irish Broad track from Victoria and where we realised the problem:
That never the train shall meet.
As more and more lines tried to connect the awful truth emerged; Australia had not just two incompatible rail systems, but six. It seemed that none of politicians of the period had imagined a future in which the states might work together.
They didn’t imagine trade, travel, manufacture or export… and they never imagined a need to transport soldiers and supplies in wartime, even though an official Army report said as much in 1889. (1,600 Australian soldiers spent WWII lugging 1.8 million tons of freight from one train to another!)
Designing a system that allows for future collaboration is tricky, which is why ‘going your own way’ seems like a fast track. But it’s a train of thought that inhibits progress and innovation, which is why it took Australia 165 years to get a train from one end of the country to the other.
Unfortunately, we brought the same parochial attitude to our electricity, water, data, health and education systems because we never imagined they’d ever work together, either.
If history tells us anything it’s this: that ultimately, everything connects up.
Whether you imagine it or not.