Image Sheet music cover for 'The Man in the Signal Box'

TLF ID R2863

This is the front cover for the music score of the song 'The Man in the Signal Box', with words by Nugent and O'Neil and music by Joe Slater. The cover includes the lyrics from the refrain and has an illustration showing a man in a signal box pulling a lever as a train approaches on the railway line at night time. The three-page score was published in Sydney by D Davis and Company, probably in the early 20th century.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset is an example of the use of popular music to celebrate aspects of everyday Australian life - the song extols the work of railway signalmen, who ensured safety on the rail systems; the lyrics compare signalmen with more glamorous and more frequently praised servicemen such as soldiers, firefighters and sailors.
  • It illustrates the way in which traditional railway signal boxes worked - the signal box was built on stilts with large panes of glass all around, to ensure that the signalman had a clear view of approaching trains; inside the box were a series of long levers which the operator pulled in various combinations to change the semaphore-like signals to the train driver and to move the track points that directed the trains along the correct tracks.
  • It reflects the fact that railway travel was the main means of long-distance public and freight transport in the early 20th century, hence the essential duties of the signalman - steam trains were used until the 1950s to deliver the mail, and there is reference in this song to the 'midnight mail', which ensured that mail was delivered efficiently by travelling overnight.
  • It shows the importance and popularity of music scores in the early 1900s - until the invention and popularisation of technologies such as the phonograph and radio, buying sheet music was one of the few ways to experience music without going to concerts or the theatre, and sheet music publishers such as Sydney-based D Davis and Company were very successful.
  • It shows an example of competitive pricing in the early sheet music publishing industry - D Davis and Company published the 'Popular Sixpenny Edition' series, which only cost sixpence instead of the standard two shillings that most other publishers charged; by publishing songs that had already proven popular for one-quarter of the price of normal sheet music, the publisher was able to make this series a success.

Other details

  • Content provider
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: National Library of Australia
  • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of National Library of Australia
  • Author
  • Organisation: D Davis and Company
  • Remarks: publisher
  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 30 Aug 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
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  • Image
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  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements