For The Love Of Trains

Part Two

image 520 class loco
SAR 520 class “Sir Malcolm Barclay Harvey” at Adelaide Railway Station


After David and I got married we felt that rather than just travelling on steam tours we’d like to give something back so we became volunteer carriage cleaners. David didn’t last long. He worked for the railways and after a while he said that spending his weekends at the rail yards after being there all week was a bit much. However, I stayed for several years and although it was often hard and dirty work I enjoyed it and ultimately it did lead to me getting paid work.

At first the carriages were stored on unused track in the Adelaide rail yards. Sometimes the cleaners who were on duty would come over to see what we were doing. They were bemused by group of young people who would clean railway carriages for fun but as they all knew David they were always helpful if we needed hot water or cleaning rags.

image car cleaner
Me as a volunteer cleaner circa1979 at Dry Creek

Later we moved out to a new site at Dry Creek where the engines and carriages were stored together. The carriage cleaners job was simply to prepare each consist for a trip and to clean it when it came back again. We had toilets and ashtrays to clean which wasn’t pleasant and the soot on the cream coloured paintwork of our Centenary Cars was very hard to shift. It had to be scrubbed off with detergent  and then we would polish the paintwork with car polish. We cleaned the windows and polished the brass handrails, we mopped floors and vaccuumed carpets. We even climbed onto the roof to fill the water tanks. Quite a feat for me as I was and still am scared of falling and find it hard to climb ladders. Our friend Robert decided to cure me, he would climb up to put the hose in the tank and then when it was full yell at me to go up and turn it off. If I didn’t there would be water everywhere. I did it. I wish I could do it now. I can’t get more than two steps up a ladder these days without getting frightened.

While I was a volunteer I helped to prepare a train consist to be used in the film “Gallipolli” directed by Peter Weir and starring Mark Lee and a very young Mel Gibson. We were allowed to go and watch the day’s filming at the Adelaide Station which was fascinating. The scene, our heroes disembarking from the train in Perth WA, probably took less than a minute on screen but it took half a day to film and I was impressed to hear Peter Weir directing the cast of extras who played the passengers as if theirs was the most important scene in the movie. Incidentally, another scene from the movie was also filmed at the railway station. Marble Hall, where David and I had our wedding photos taken, was transformed into the ballroom at the Nile Hotel in Cairo. Marble Hall is now the foyer of the Adelaide Casino.

Scene from Gallipolli
Scene from Gallipolli
“Perth” The driver, a railway employee had to have a period haircut.


image carriages
We cleaned all the windows until they were spotless but they all had to be raised so that they would not reflect the cars in the car park nearby.

I didn’t only clean though, sometimes I would help out in the refreshment car, especially on school holiday trips. For one trip we took the Dining Car Adelaide to the Kernewek Lowender and while the passengers enjoyed Devonshire Tea in the morning and a seafood lunch we volunteers worked in the kitchen area plating and serving the food and doing the washing up.  For most trips refreshments and souvenirs were sold in a converted baggage car and a brisk trade was done in chocolates, cold drinks and tea and coffee. Even if we were not rostered on as volunteers on a long trip the regulars would always lend a hand if the Bar Car got busy.  I also occasionally helped with fund raising, walking through the train selling raffle or Bingo tickets. They were wonderful times for me. I gained a lot of confidence from my years with SteamRanger Tours.

My Railway Career

image railcar depot
Inside the shed on the left a 3000 class, centre, a Redhen and on the right a 2000 class “Jumbo”

In August 1987 I joined the railways myself and spent the next twelve years working as a railcar cleaner just a few hundred metres from where I had started off as a volunteer. I enjoyed most of that time and took pride in doing as good a job as I could to keep the city’s fleet of rail cars clean. I arrived as the first 3000 class rail cars were going into service and the first of the old Redhen rail cars were being phased out. I was very happy that smoking was outlawed on trains soon after I arrived. No more dirty ashtrays!

The Redhens were horrible to clean in the yard. In summer they would be like ovens as they had no air-conditioning. The drivers and shunters would sometimes forget to close the doors before taking them through the train wash and they would get flooded or there would be a dust storm and all the seats would be covered in red dust and would have to be washed. We all hated that job so much. The air-conditioned 2000 and 3000 class cars were better, they had sealed windows so the dust didn’t get in as much but if they had been stabled in the yard all day with the motors off they were just as hot and stuffy in summer. On the night shift you had to go out and clean cars in the yard no matter how cold or wet the weather was. I can recall getting soaked on more than one occasion as I struggled to open a battery box or shut down a motor that didn’t want to shut down.

Big events like New Year’s Eve, the Royal Show or Skyshow meant extra work for us. There were more trains and more mess. We had a railcar cleaner working at the station at night and that person could expect to spend most of his or her shift with a mop, a shovel and a bucket of sawdust! Graffiti was a big problem too. Hardly a night went by when we didn’t clean some off the insides or outsides of the rail cars. Sometimes they would come back from traffic covered in huge murals. The hours of scrubbing and the nasty chemicals we had to inhale means that I will never see this sort of thing as art!

TransAdelaide 3000 class railcar at Adelaide R...
TransAdelaide 3000 class railcar at Adelaide Railway Station (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Concourse and ticket barriers at Adelaide Rail...
Concourse and ticket barriers at Adelaide Railway Station (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite how physically hard the work could be I found the Railcar Depot and the station good places to work until the last couple of years.My sister worked there with me for a few years and we found ways to entertain ourselves with guessing games and quizzes if we were doing something monotonous like scrubbing dirty seats. The majority of the people who worked at the Adelaide Depot were men, fitters, electricians, drivers and shunters as well as cleaners and many of the older ones had come from Europe in the 1950s and 60s. On night shift we would often encourage them to talk about their younger days and how they came to Australia. It was fascinating to hear their stories. Of course we talked about many other things too in the quiet times late at night between trains. At least one of our workmates would get a bee in his bonnet over certain subjects and my sister and I took care not to mention Americans, Unions or the State Bank unless one of us was in a mischievous mood!

Some of my former workmates at our Christmas Party
Some of my former workmates at our Christmas Party
The "A" Service where railcars were refuelled, cleaned and had minor servicing done.
The “A” Service where rail cars were refueled, cleaned and had minor servicing done.

Eventually I decided to leave because I could see it was a matter of time before the whole cleaning department was outsourced. The depot which had once had about 200 staff had about 50 people left. At night the place was almost deserted. I was a Leading Hand by this time and found the job more stressful than fun. I decided not to wait for the end.

The last time I was in Adelaide we stayed at a hotel not far from where the Railcar Depot was on the corner of North and West Terraces. It isn’t there now.  It was demolished to make way for a new hospital and the rail cars were all moved to Dry Creek, not far from the old SteamRanger Depot I believe. SteamRanger have moved too, they are based at Victor Harbour now and only run trains on the branch line from Mount Barker to Victor Harbour. The closure of most of the country lines and the standardisation of others has made it impossible to run trips like the ones we enjoyed so much and Public Liability insurance has become so expensive that Steamranger probably wouldn’t do it even if they could. That makes me sad but I  think I was very lucky to do what I did when it was still possible.

In Part Three I’ll talk about holidays on rails.

For The Love Of Trains-with apologies to Patsy Adam Smith


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.

800px-Romford_Up_Southend_train_approaching_geograph-2846970-by-Ben-BrooksbankAs 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.

Clacton Station in more recent times courtesy of Wikemedia.
Clacton Station in more recent times courtesy of Wikemedia.

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.

Tailem Bend Station 2011
Tailem Bend Station 2011
image silo
How different the scenery in Australia was to England

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).

This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. Information from its description page there is shown below. Commons is a freely licensed media file repository.
Redhen Railcars
This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. Information from its description page there is shown below.
Commons is a freely licensed media file repository.

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.

National Railway Museum 50th anniversary celeb...
National Railway Museum 50th anniversary celebrations (Photo credit: Community History SA)

The Kernewek Lowender (  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.

image wedding group
Coming down the stairs to platform level with my stepfather followed by all our guests.
image wedding photo
David and I on the red carpet.
Adelaide Railway Station
Adelaide Railway Station

Travelling Alone

image car on bridge
I love setting off on a journey.

I was meant to be meeting a friend to go and see the Tall Ships in Hobart. However she contacted me before I left home to say she was unable to come. I was sorry not to catch up with my friend but it did mean that I would have a day out by myself.

I look forward to those times when I can go on an outing on my own. Perhaps it’s the freedom it brings. I can plan the day exactly the way I want. I don’t have to feel guilty for taking too long browsing in the shops. I can look at dolls and clothes and craft supplies. I can eat at my favourite café. I don’t have to worry that my companion is getting bored or tired and sometimes it means I have rewarding conversations with strangers. Yes it may sound selfish to some people but I make no apology for that. The same applies to holidays. I love any kind of travel and I’m happy to have a companion sometimes. I enjoy trips with my husband and my sister and I have had many enjoyable trips together over the years but travelling with another person, even one with very similar interests and habits still involves compromise.

image Station Pier
Station Pier, Port Melbourne

I’ve had holidays on my own twice in my life. The first time I was only nineteen and visiting the United Kingdom. Of course I went on visits to relatives but I spent some of the time travelling around by myself. This was in the days before mobile phones and emails and I felt completely cut off from everyone I knew. I was a very shy teenager and being alone meant that I had to push myself to speak to strangers and do things like booking rooms in hotels if I wanted a roof over my head at night so I think it was a very good experience for me.

Many years later I had a short holiday in Melbourne alone. I stayed with a friend for a couple of days and spent the rest of the time staying at a Youth Hostel in the city. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and was not in the least lonely. Since that time I’ve longed to do it again.

image Spirit of Tasmania
Boarding the Spirit of Tasmania

I love reading travel books especially those by solo travellers. I once read a book by a writer who decided to travel the USA on Greyhound buses and I wished that I could do something similar. I like to imagine myself catching the bus to Hobart which passes my house every day and then catching another to Launceston for a week on my own or, if it is a big budget daydream, on to Devonport to catch the ferry to Melbourne.  I daydream about visiting other parts of Australia too. One thing that I would really like to do is to travel across Australia on the Indian Pacific. Sometimes I imagine myself winning the lottery and  flying off to London and travelling around the United Kingdom and Europe, preferably by train of course.

I know that I’ll never see half the places that I’d like to visit but I’m determined that I will make a solo holiday a reality one day even if it is just a weekend in Launceston.

image Virgin jet

Here are some of my favourite travel books:

Paul Theroux-The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, The Kingdom By The Sea, Riding The Iron Rooster-I would hate to travel with Paul Theroux who must surely be one of the grumpiest travellers ever but I do love his descriptions of the places he visits.

Diana and George Spear-Square Pegs-A hilarious story of an English family complete with dog who decided to emigrate to Australia and set out to drive across the Nullarbor Plains towing a caravan.

John SteinbeckTravels With Charley-I just love this book.

Gladys Taylor-Alone In The Australian Outback-A Canadian woman drives around Australia alone

Emily Kimbrough-A Right Good Crew,  Pleasure By The Busload-These books make me laugh out loud.

Daily Prompt: Thank You

The internet is full of rants. Help tip the balance: today, simply be thankful for something (or someone).

This Daily Prompt post struck a chord with me because since I started “My Other Blog” I have used it quite often to rant about things that annoy me. I am not really a cranky person but I do enjoy the opportunity to publicly vent.

I’m thankful for many things though. I’m thankful that I live in Australia. For all the things that we complain about we are far luckier than people in many other countries. We have the right to vote for the government of our choice and nobody will try to kill us for it. Our cities, while they have their poor districts, are not deserted wastelands or riddled with gun toting gangs. If we can’t find work we get some support from the government to help us.

For myself I’m grateful that we own a home of our own and have no mortgage and that we have enough money to eat, pay bills and still enjoy some of life’s little pleasures.

I’m thankful that I live in a state with beautiful scenery, a wonderful climate and friendly people.

I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to travel and see some of the places that I always wanted to see.

In fact I feel like I have had a pretty good life, some sadness and hard times of course, we all have that but I’ve not experienced the tragedies that some people do and for that I’m the most thankful of all.

image rowboat
Rowing boat, Franklin, Tasmania