The principal mill in the Matanzas region was Australia mill, one of the most popular amongst visiting enthusiasts and close to
the Great Cuban Freeway.  Most mills in Cuba are named after revolutionary heroes or countries sympathetic to the Cuban
regime and although Australia is still populated by the relatives of ex-convicts from the British Isles it didn't quite seem to fit
with the theme!  However a thumb through my Spanish-English dictionary revealed that 'austral' means 'southern' and given
the mill's geographic location this seems the most likely reason for its name.  

The mill suffered a number of serious setbacks in its latter years including the destruction of many of the mill buildings during
Hurricane Michelle and the loss of Baldwin 2-8-0 No.1513 as a result of a catastrophic boiler explosion in March 2002.  The
closure of this system was particularly unfortunate as it had one of the longest standard gauge sugar lines and like Ifrain Alfonso
mill near Santa Clara,  it featured a level crossing across the island's only motorway!  Being Cuba there were no warning
lights or barriers, simply a man with a red flag who stood in the middle of the carriageways warning on-coming traffic of the
approach of a train.  Cuban law requires all vehicles to stop at level crossings to check that the line is clear but nevertheless the
potential for a spectacular accident was always interestingly high!
Baldwin 2-8-0 No.1513 stands in
front of Australia mill in morning
light.  The length of running line
meant that water supply was an
issue and so most, if not all,
locomotives had a secondary
water tank attached immediately
behind the engine before departing
for the fields.
Prior to our visit there had been
considerable overnight rain - not a
bad thing as it served to water
down the notorious orange dust on
the many roads around the mill
system - and it also provided an
unusual opportunity for a reflection
shot as Henschel 2-6-0 No.1716
moved across the yard at the mill
An unusual sight at Australia were
several locomotives originally built
for steam power which had
subsequently been converted to
diesels.  Bearing the number 1420
(also used by a 2-8-0 Baldwin at
Obdulio Morales) is a 2-4-0
Baldwin with the works number
42346.   To add further to the
confusion this locomotive was
originally built as a 2-4-2.  I have
no details as to when or where the
conversion work from steam to
diesel was carried out.
Also converted from steam to
diesel was 2-6-0 Balwin with the
works number 52102.  This
locomotive was build in 1919 but
once again I have no information
as to when or where it was
converted from steam to diesel
Close up of Baldwin 2-8-0
No.1513 (built 1920) as it stands
in the yard in front of Australia mill.
On a long system like Australia it
was not desirable to have long
sessions of tender first running.  A
triangle was installed close to the
mill to allow locomotives to be
turned prior to taking trains of
empty cane wagons out to the far
loading points.  There were also
turning triangles at the far ends of
the system to turn the locomotives
before their return to the mill
Baldwin 2-8-0 No.1513 on a train
of empty wagons heading out
towards the loading point at San
Ramon - a journey just short of
At various points along the lines of all the sugar mills were the loading
points (shown on mill maps as LP) or 'acopios' - Spanish meaning
collection.  Cane was normally cut by hand in the fields and then
brought to the acopio by either tractor and trailer or less commonly
by bullock hauled cart.   At the acopio the cane would be unloaded
from the trailers or carts and then loaded into the cane wagons ready
to be hauled by locomotive back to the mill.  The loading process was
slow and so wagons were usually moved by winch until eventually they
were all loaded.   Locomotives from the mill would bring more empty
wagons before turning on the nearby triangle and then hauling the
loaded wagons back to the mill, stopping en route to collect more
wagons from other loading points.
Whilst most of the large mi;lls had
2-8-0 locomotives, the fleet at
Australia was largely comprised of
2-6-0's which were underpowered
for the tasks expected of them.  
Added to the was the somewhat
cavalier attitude of the crews and
trouble often ensued when trying
to climb the bank at Palmarito.  
Henschel 2-6-0 No.1620 requires
considerable amounts of hand
sanding as it slips and loses
adhesion on the rails.
The lack of health and safety had
to be seen to believed on the mill
systems.  To provide the sanding
necessary, two of the crew carried
scoops made from old car exhaust
systems and gatyhered dust from
the adjoining road.  They then
jumped back onto the front buffer
beam and risked life and limb to
pour sand onto the rails in front of
the engine.  On this occasion the
train made it to the summit but on
other days it was necessary to
reverse and split the train before
having another attempt.
More potential for disaster!  The
system crossed the Great Cuban
Freeway on a flat crossing!  There
were no barriers or warning lights -
just a flagman standing in the road
waving down the traffic.  The
railway had priority and vehicles
were expected to stop and ensure
it was safe to cross the railway
tracks.  It seems miraculous that
there were never any reports of
serious accidents.
Henschel 2-6-0 No.1716 brings a
train of loaded cane wagons
through Caimital in the early
evening as it heads back to
Australia mill
With the evening light rapidly
beginning to fade, No.1716 climbs
the bank at Palmarito - without
the need for hand sanding!
ALCO No.1515 was one of the
rarte 4-6-0's to be found working
on the sugar lines in Cuba.  Built
during 1914 this engine was still
providing sterling service on the
line in 1997.  
The orange dust which was such a
nightmare when photographing at
Australia can be clearly seen as
Henschel 4-6-0 No.1515 climbs
away from the Great Cuban
Freeway with a train of empty
wagons bound for San Ramon
Later the same day and No.1515
crosses the almost deserted Great
Cuban Freeway.  This road was
built by the Soviet Union to allow
rapid tropp movement between
the two ends of the island and in
places the central reservation was
concreted over to create
emergency runways for aircraft.  
The project was left unfinished
when the USSR withdrew its
support for Cuba and in places the
motorway simply terminated in a
ploughed field!
Baldwin 2-6-0 No.1607 (built
1920) in the yard at Australia
Baldwin built No.1513 was the
only 2-8-0 at Australia and is seen
here on the triangle at the mill
prior to working empty wagons out
to the far loading points
Two of my visit to Cuba were
made as a driver with Steam In
Paradise, a company operated by
two enthusiasts - Andy Clarke and
Ron Lingley.  Their almost
encyclopedic knowledge of the rail
and road systems meant that we
found many excellent
photographic locations - such as
this scene of No.1513 taking
loaded wagons from the mill to the
loading points along the system.
Whilst waiting for No.1513 to
return we were surprised - and
delighted - to find Baldwin 2-4-0
No.1420 at work - the unusual
steam-covered-to-diesel locomotive
busily hauling a single cane wagon!
Baldwin 2-8-0 No.1513 on its way
back to the Australia mill with the
first few loaded wagons
No.1513 crossing the Great Cuban
Freeway.  Driving the road at night
was always an adventure as there
were frequently unlit lorries,
cyclists without lights and - on at
least one occasion - a bullock cart
on the wrong carriageway!
Henschel 2-6-0 No.1620 leaving
the acopio at San Ramon
The crew seem to have the
situation well in hand as No.1620
brings a relarively short train up
the bank at Palmarito
With more loaded wagons added
to the train at Apodaco the train
begins the climb at Palmarito
Since 2002 there has been a
dramatic decline in the number of
sugar mills operating in Cuba due
to the loss of Soviet support and
the decline in world sugar prices.  
Australia was one of the many
mills to close.  However despite the
ending of commercial sugar
production No,1716 has been
preserved to provide rides for
visiting tourists and several other
locomotives are reported to be still
at the abandoned mill.
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