Since 1882 Nellie Mitchell and the Marian/Mackay area have had a close relationship. It was the building of a sugar mill for the fledging sugar industry at Marian that bought David Mitchell and his daughter Nellie to North Queensland.
Nellie met and married Charles Armstrong and the couple moved into a newly built home at the Marian Sugar Mill where Charles had been appointed manager.
At Marian the couple’s only child George Armstrong was born on October 16, 1883 but by early 1884 Melba had had enough of the heat, rain and isolation and returned to Melbourne. She never returned to Mackay.
However, Melba continued to own the land purchased near Sarina prior to her marriage which was named Armstrong Beach in her honour. But that is another fascinating story.
When Nellie became the famous Australian opera singer in 1887 Mackay was proud of their part in her early married life and the common thread of the sugar industry.
To strengthen that link many years ago Marian Mill now part of Mackay Sugar Limited named one of their engines Melba and the other Nellie.
Engine driver Lorraine Emery heard about my interest in the Melba and Nellie engines and asked about the engines and Daniel Dutton of Mackay Sugar Limited happily sent me a series of images which I have now put up on our society’s Flickr site.
He has personal links with the Melba locos:
“Just bit history. Melba 2 was the first Melba loco. Not sure the year it was purchased. It was 24 ton Clyde loco and its run was MT Jukes. This loco was my first loco when I started as a Driver’s Assistant during the 1970s. My driver was Syd Smith. Unfortunately the original loco went over a bridge was replaced with a new loco built by Baldwin Company using parts from the original loco. The name remained the same but changed to Melba 15. After it was transferred to Racecourse Mill, it has been refurbished again with a Mercedes Engine and Alison converter and repainted. It is now based at Racecourse.
“Nellie 12 is an 18 ton Clyde it used to work on the Mia Mia line at Marian and later was given to navy’s for ballast duties and navy work at present I think it decommissioned at north Eton Depot.”
Melba 2 crashed off the bridge across the Pioneer River in 1964.
Nellie was built in 1958 and de-commissioned a year or two ago. Today she spends her retirement in the loco sheds at North Eton where eagle-eyed Wally Thompson spotted and photographed her.
With Melba’s former home at Marian Sugar Mill, now Melba House, the home of the Pioneer Valley Visitor Centre and the Melba engine working amongst the cane the name Nellie Melba will never be forgotten.
To learn more about cane railways and engines go to: