Children grinned widely and pointed in excitement as a bright and colourful miniature train made an impressive entrance at the Ballarat Specialist School farm on Thursday.
The Ballarat Express is the end result of a big effort from the Work for the Dole project participants.
The federal government initiative helps job seekers develop practical skills and work experience through projects that benefit the community in return for income support.
Project supervisor Greg Wright said once participants had come up with the idea, created a design and sourced the materials, it took six months to build the train.
“There is no set design for these things, so in any project you do there are always going to be hurdles and nothing ever runs smoothly,” Mr Wright said.
“A lot of hours went into it with different participants coming and going… some might be there for a month or two and some might be there for the full term depending on whether they get a job or move on somewhere else.”
He said the experience was a rewarding one for many of the participants as they worked in a team, developed skills, put together ideas and began to see progress.
“As they start to see what they’ve done for their work, their attitudes change dramatically and they really enjoy it,” Mr Wright said.
The train was created by stripping a ride-on mower down to the chassis and drive chain, and restoring the engine, the brakes and the gear box.
One of the carriages has even been modified to accommodate a wheelchair.
Envision Employment Services director Stephen Murphy said mechanical, metal and wood work skills were all required to complete the project.
“People really put in more than they need to because they are pleased by the outcome,” he said.
“And when you give something like this to the community, the value to the community is fantastic.”
The groups and agencies involved in the gifting of the train to the specialist school, decided it would be best to surprise the students.
School principal Kim Yearwood said nothing could top seeing the “pure delight” and “joy” from the students, who were eager to take the train out for a test ride around the farm grounds.
“All kids love stories about trains and movement, and we often do things around language, transport, wheels and colours, so there is a whole range of things it can be used for in an educational sense, but it will also give them lots of fun,” she said.
“I’m sure the students will be nagging (farm manager) Graham (Cheeseman) to get the train out every time the sun comes out.”