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The Bullion Van    by Peter Skehan

With the establishment of the railway to Kalgoorlie, following the discovery of gold, it was decided to build a railway wagon for the express purpose of transporting the bullion to the Mint in Perth. In 1898 wagon VY 4999 - Bullion Van - was built. Its construction was considered to be a technological breakthrough at that time, being the only van to have a high 6 feet (183 cm) radius roof rather than the much flatter 12 feet (366 cm) radius roof.

In 1908 it was fitted out by the WAGR to house a large walk-in safe measuring 13 feet 6 inches (411 cm) by 3 feet (91 cm) wide. The van itself was 30 feet (914 cm) long and, in addition to the safe, contained two sleeping berths at one end and a toilet at the other.

The escorts were locked in the van at Kalgoorlie, with the bullion being secured in the safe. The van was unlocked at the Perth end by a key-holder from the Mint. This duty was not a very pleasant one, especially when the train would stop at the various Railway Refreshment Rooms en-route, with the public enjoying refreshments and a break from the journey, whilst the escorts were confined in the Bullion Van.

When wagon VY 4999 ended its life as the Bullion Van in 1948, it was converted to a workmen's unit. It was taken out of service in 1991. Later the Special Air Service Regiment used the former Bullion Van for counter-terrorist training and, in 1997, the van received some red livery for its role in the Barron Productions film "The Gift".

Today wagon VY 4999 is in the hands of the Railway Historical Society who have it stored in the old Midland Workshops, awaiting possible restoration to its former state as the Bullion Van.

In April 1926, Inspector John Walsh and Sergeant Harry Pitman of the Gold Stealing Detection Squad in Kalgoorlie were murdered whilst inquiring into the theft of gold and their bodies were dumped down a mineshaft in the bush south of Boulder. Following the recovery of the remains of the two murdered policemen, they were transported to Perth in the Bullion Van and, on 17th May, they were buried at Karrakatta Cemetery after a procession through Perth, where thousands lined the streets to honour the men. At Karrakatta the hearses were escorted to their burial places by a large contingent of police officers.