No doubt people who read this blog will have noticed a recurring theme of trains.
Railways have played a big part in my life from the time I was a small child being taken on trains in England to today. I think it is a wicked waste that we don’t utilise rail better in Australia and especially here in Tasmania but this is not a rant about what’s wrong with public transport it’s a nostalgic look at my life with trains.
When I was very young I had a memory of looking over a bridge and seeing trains. We used to spend our summer holidays in Clacton On Sea and there was a bridge over the railway line which we occasionally went across. I’d try to look over it and see the trains but I couldn’t, the fencing was too high. Eventually I asked my mother about this. I knew I had seen trains there before. “Your grandfather used to lift you up to see them.” she told me. This was when I stayed with my grandparents when my sister was born. I was two years old. Nothing else about that visit stayed in my memory, just the trains. Obviously this was the beginning of me and trains.
As a small child I would occasionally travel by train from Romford to Clacton and those were my favourite trips. I remember waiting for the train there and worrying a bit when mum put the suitcase, the folding push chair, my sister and me onto the train before boarding herself. “What would happen if the train went without her ?” I wondered. It never happened of course. Once on board it was fun to see the scenery roll by, to spot sheep, cows and horses in the fields and once I’m sure I saw a windmill. For mum, the journey with two little girls was probably quite a lot of work, especially if we had to change trains as sometimes happened. I found railways stations interesting though. We weren’t allowed to run about of course, we sat in the waiting room and sometimes mum might take us to the Refreshment Room. She’d have a cup of tea and get us something to eat or drink while we waited. When we arrived at Clacton Station I would often make a beeline for the vending machine that had chocolate in it. Putting the money in the machine was as much the attraction as the chocolate.
We had a few trips to other places by train too. On two occasions we all went to London for a day out, once to visit Kew Gardens and another time to Hampton Court. I remember wondering if cemeteries were always built next to the railway as I caught glimpses of grave stones towering above red brick walls. I liked looking down into people’s back gardens when the railway was on an embankment. We went on the Underground which was very dark, very crowded and very loud to a seven-year old. I have to admit that I didn’t appreciate it as much at that age as I did as an adult. I missed seeing things out of the windows and there was a peculiar “Underground” smell that I wasn’t sure if I liked.
We had an aunty who lived near a railway line too, in fact the trains went past the bottom of her garden. Our house in Romford was not too far from the railway line either and often when we went into the town to the shops we would take a route past the gasworks and through a tunnel under the line. I recall that I would always run through the tunnel in case a train fell on top of me while I was in there.
The last train I travelled on in England was the boat train to Southampton the day we left to come to Australia and the first train journey I took in Australia was a long one from Melbourne to Adelaide which took more than twelve hours and was my introduction to Australian trains. It was January when we arrived and it was a hot and tiring trip in a train with no air-conditioning. I remember being shocked from the beginning to see people standing in the open doorways of passing trains as we travelled through the Melbourne suburbs. English carriages had, and as far as I know still have, outwardly opening doors so I had never seen people do that before. Our train, which was full of British migrants going to Adelaide, stopped two or three times that day for meals. I don’t know where we stopped but the first time was in the middle of the day, everyone got off the train and we were given a hot lunch in the railway refreshment rooms. Later in the day and again in the early evening we stopped for passengers to buy food and drinks at wayside stations. I still don’t know where but I do know that in those days Serviceton and Tailem Bend both had refreshment rooms. Finally the lights of Adelaide came into view and we arrived in Adelaide late at night. I’d had enough of trains for that day but it didn’t damp my enthusiasm for long distance rail travel one bit.
For the next few years trains did not figure largely in my life. Adelaide had diesel rail cars and I did not view these as “real” trains. We did use them occasionally to visit the city. Many years later I got to know them quite intimately as a cleaner working for the State Transport Authority (later TransAdelaide).
ARHS Tours and How I Met My Husband
When I was twelve or thirteen I saw a sign at the Adelaide Railway Station advertising school holiday steam train trips from Adelaide to Bridgewater in the Adelaide Hills. I persuaded mum to take us and that was the beginning of several years of travelling on ARHS (later Steamranger) tours, volunteering and eventually where I met my husband to be.
After the first trip mum allowed my sister and I to travel on the school holiday specials by ourselves or with our slightly older cousin. I’m sure that would horrify parents now as we were both under fifteen at the time. Our biggest adventure during this period was an overnight trip to Victor Harbour. We slept in a compartment on the train as we didn’t have enough money to stay in a hotel for the night. Most of the other people who camped in this way were men but we never felt anxious and nobody ever bothered us. This was in 1972.
It was still possible to go to quite a lot of country towns by train in those days and over the next few years we visited parts of South Australia that I probably would never have seen otherwise. I have wonderful memories of those times, the mystery trips where you might end up anywhere from the Port Adelaide wharves to rarely used branch lines or places like Hamley Bridge or Riverton. We couldn’t wait to get to the Adelaide Station where each trip began and along with many other rail fans would stand at the very end of the platform straining our eyes to be the first to spot the approaching locomotive as it came around the “Jail Loop” after leaving Mile End Depot.
My favourite trips were the all day trips and once or twice a year there would be a weekend trip. We went to Renmark for the Orange Week Festival, Wallaroo for Kernewek Lowender, the Cornish Festival, Peterborough for the town’s Centenary, Mount Gambier and to Quorn to visit the Pichi Richi Railway. Occasionally there would be evening trips to wineries or dinner trips using the Dining Car Adelaide, now at the National Rail Museum in Port Adelaide.
The Kernewek Lowender (http://www.kernewek.org/) was always a favourite outing whether we went for a day or a weekend. It was held in May and usually fell close to my birthday so several of those trips have been memorable. One of them was life changing. It was 1975, the year I turned eighteen, and we’d gone to the festival on a day trip but things had gone awry, our locomotive had a broken headlamp and nobody was sure what was going to happen so all the passengers were asking each other “Have you heard anything?” Nobody wanted us to have to go home behind a diesel, the ultimate horror for a steam buff. I saw a young man who I had seen on a couple of previous trips that month and we fell into conversation. After that we started to look out for each other and after a couple of months he asked me out. Well he asked me to come on the next steam trip with him but it was a date I guess. Later he asked me out to dinner and that was a date. A year later almost to the day we were on another trip, this time to Mount Gambier for the weekend and that’s when he proposed.
David and I decided that rather than a church or registry office wedding we wanted to incorporate steam trains in some way. This idea met with some opposition at first. Nobody in David’s family had done anything so unconventional. As for my family, mum was fine with it but my some of my aunties in England thought it was just not right not to have a church wedding. However we went ahead with our plans and were married on Platform 8 of the Adelaide Railway Station on the day of the last steam trip of the 1977 season. Our reception was in the Dining Car Adelaide as part of the that train’s consist. Our families loved it in the end and we actually made the news which was a bit embarrassing for us but good publicity for the ARHS which is why we agreed to the media being informed. The upstairs of the Adelaide Station which is now the entrance to the Adelaide Casino is very ornate and that’s where we had some of our wedding photos taken. That same area was also used in the film Gallipoli a few years later for the ballroom scene. But more about that in Part Two.