All Aboard for Puffing Billy

As you know I was in Melbourne last week visiting my friend Gillian and her husband Bruce. It was Gillian’s 60th birthday and as we live in different states and don’t see each other often we try to get together for the milestone birthdays and do something special. Five years ago they came to Tasmania and we all went to the West Coast to visit the West Coast Wilderness Railway and the do the Gordon River Cruise. This time it was my turn to travel and we decided on a visit to the Puffing Billy Railway in Belgrave in the Dandenong Ranges about 40 kms east of Melbourne.

Puffing Billy is one of Australia’s oldest and most well known preserved railways. I’ve visited there at least  three times in the past with David, with Naomi and once with Mum when I took her to Melbourne for a weekend. Gillian thought that she might have been there when she was younger but Bruce who is a born and bred  Victorian said that he could not remember ever having been there at all.  We certainly had to fix that!

As it was a special occasion Gillian booked us on to “The Commissioners Train”. This train is run once or twice a year and allows passengers access to the railway’s museum and workshops which the normal excursion passengers don’t get to see. It also included morning tea and lunch.

The three of us, plus Gillian’s assistance dog Dusty, arrived at Belgrave at around 8 am on Saturday morning and the station was already humming with activity as the consists for the days trains were marshalled onto the platform and several locomotives were being prepared for the day. As well as our train there were three other scheduled departures.

Belgrave Station Puffing Billy
Outside Belgrave Station
Gillian with Dusty who is a Lions Hearing Dog.

Bruce went up to look at the workshop, I wandered around on the platform taking photos of the buildings and carriages. I came across a set of old carriages with familiar names and went to ask the volunteer platform staff

“Are these Tasmanian carriages?”

They were, they came from what is now the West Coast Wilderness Railway, acquired by Puffing Billy years ago after the railway had closed for normal traffic and decades before it became a tourist attraction itself.

“And no, you can’t have them back.” they told me.

Dubbil Barril
Dubbil Barril, ex Tasmanian carriage.


I will include a link at the end of this post to the Puffing Billy website but for those of you not familiar with this little narrow gauge railways here is a bit of background.

The Puffing Billy railway was one of four low-cost 2’6″ (762mm) gauge lines constructed in Victoria in the early 1900’s to open up remote areas.

The present line between Belgrave and Gembrook, through the forests, fern gullies and farmlands of the magnificent Dandenong Ranges, is the major part of the line which opened on 18 December 1900 and operated over 18.2 miles (29km) between Upper Ferntree Gully and Gembrook until 1953. In 1953, a landslide blocked the track and, because of operating losses, the line was closed the following year.

Public interest resulted in the formation of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society, whose volunteers, with the blessings of the Victorian State Government and the assistance of the Citizens’ Military Forces, by-passed the landslide and reopened the line to Menzies Creek in 1962, Emerald in 1965, Lakeside in 1975 and finally to Gembrook in October 1998.

The last time I traveled on the railway was prior the reopening of the Lakeside to Gembrook section so I was very excited to finally get to go to the end of the line. The whole trip is very scenic and I’d never get tired of it.

Many, if not all of the people who work on the railway are volunteers. They are drivers, firemen, guards, station masters and platform staff and many others who work to keep the trains running behind the scenes. Puffing Billy maintains a timetable of four trains a day, seven days a week plus various special trains like ours. They have themed trains that run in the evening where you can dine and be entertained with jazz or R&B at one of the stations and even a Murder Mystery evening.

Volunteer driver


It was a chilly morning so rather than ride in the open carriages we opted for a vintage carriage where we were able to have a compartment to ourselves. It was Dusty’s first time on a steam train although he’s travelled with Gillian on Melbourne’s electric trains several times since she got him a couple of months ago. He was not too sure what was going on at first but soon decided that it was fine and settled down on his mat on the floor. Bruce decided to be brave and ride in one of the open carriages for a while so he could take some photographs and he also elected to jump off for the photo run later on. As I did not get off for the run past myself he has kindly agreed that I can use some of his photos of that portion of the journey.

Open carriages Puffing Billy Railway
Open carriages Puffing Billy Railway

Another treat for the Commissioner’s Train passengers was our first engine of the day, the wood burning, Climax locomotive. The Climax is a “foreigner” to the line having been built for the Victorian Forests Commission and used on the now defunct Tyers Valley Tramway. I had never seen this locomotive before as apparently it is only used for special trains as it runs on what I heard the volunteers jokingly call “Climax Time”. It looks like something out of the American west although it was built in 1928.

Climax locomotive at Belgrave.
Climax locomotive at Belgrave.
Climax Locomotive on Puffing Billy Railway
Climax Locomotive on Puffing Billy Railway

The day reminded me a lot of the old times when we used to go on steam train trips in Adelaide. The special train had attracted a lot of the die-hard rail fans who like to record steam sounds and will follow the train for the entire journey by car to get photos or film. The ones travelling on the train rode in the open carriages and especially enjoyed the photo run.

Rail fans form a photo line by the track.
Climax photo run by Bruce Laughton
Climax photo run by Bruce Laughton
Climax photo run by Bruce Laughton
Climax photo run by Bruce Laughton
Behind the Climax. Photo by Bruce Laughton
Behind the Climax, What railfans do. Photo by Bruce Laughton.

We enjoyed morning tea prepared by the volunteers at Menzies Creek  and later another treat when one of PBR’s fleet of NA class locomotives coupled on to our train. The NA class were used on the railway when it was in service and PBR still have several of them. We were to have a double-header!

NA 6A at Menzies Creek


NA 6A on Puffing Billy Railway
The Climax and NA are coupled for a double header
The Climax and NA are coupled for a double-header

We travelled on to Emerald  where we had another break to look at the carriage workshop while the Climax was uncoupled from our train. The two locomotives posed for a photo-op and we waited for the scheduled train to Lakeside to pass us before going on to Lakeside ourselves. This was a great opportunity to photograph three locomotives together.

Climax and NA 6A
Climax and NA 6A pose for a picture.
Waiting for the scheduled train hauled by another NA class
Waiting for the scheduled train hauled by another NA class NA 7A I think.

After a brief stop at Lakeside we went on to Gembrook for lunch in the old station building. There were trips to another workshop for those that wanted to go but I preferred to stay around the station area and take more photos. Another locomotive arrived. NA 8A was to join our train so we had double-headed locomotives for the whole return journey.

One last picture I’d like to share is to show you the traditional way of riding in the open carriages.I first saw this many years ago and I had thought that OH&S might have put a stop to the practice. Passengers in the open cars may sit on the window sill with their legs dangling down outside the carriage. As it was getting on for four thirty by the time we reached Belgrave it must have been a chilly ride.

How to ride Puffing Billy.

I hope you have enjoyed this much longer than usual post about a great little railway. I know I will be back there again someday.


Further Information:

This is a great old film made in 1967 and shows what a long way they have come since then. When it was shown at the Australian Railway Historical Society meetings we used to attend everyone laughed at the man with the screwed up tape in his machine no doubt because many of them had experienced that same feeling with a tape recorder or movie camera.



Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge

Which Way At The Airport

Airport’s are great places to do which ways and as I had plenty of time during my layover in Melbourne recently I went looking for some for this post. One thing you can find plenty of at an airport is signs. Signs that tell you where to go and when, maps, warnings and of course advertising signs.

The colourful map of the Sydney rail system caught my eye. Strangely I did not see one of Melbourne perhaps because they don’t yet have a rail link to the airport. I don’t know what airports elsewhere are like but I did not raise an eyebrow wandering around with my camera, not even near the doors with the “keep out” signs.

This part of the airport houses Gates 1-10 and only about half of them were busy. I ventured up to Gate 10 and it was deserted. Gates 11 -22 are on the other side of the terminal and I could not be bothered going out and back through security again to see what I thought was probably more or less the same.

I watched a few planes taxiing out to the runway and now I understand what those little circles on the tarmac are for.

Apron Domestic Terminal Melbourne
On the Apron.

Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge – #Week 3

Which Way Melbourne

These photos were all taken in October when I went to Melbourne for the weekend. I had wanted to visit Docklands for some time and especially to use the walkway which I had not been over before.  I did that on my first afternoon when I went to ride on the Star Observation Wheel. On my last day I did an enormous walk from Southern Cross along the banks of the Yarra to Federation Square and then up Swanston Street  and back to Southern Cross where my bags were via Bourke Street. Banana Alley is an area I read about while looking for new things to see. I thought the name sounded familiar but could not remember if I had been there before. If I had it was many, many years ago. I enjoy walking along river paths and I got some good photos around the Southbank area that day. I also wanted to see the Sandridge Bridge which I remembered as a rail bridge. It is now a pedestrian walkway.

I’m not a fan of the modern Federation Square buildings but they are interesting in their ugliness. I much prefer St Patrick’s Cathedral and the Melbourne Town Hall.  I stayed at the Victoria Hotel in Little Collins St on my first ever trip to Melbourne in 1976 so I had to include it. I liked the street sign as well. Swanston Street and Bourke Street I’m very familiar with although I had forgotten what a long hot walk it is from Swanston Street to Spencer Street when your feet are already tired. I was lucky to have beautiful weather for my walk although it was quite warm after Tasmania.

Cee’s Oddball Challenge-Week 43

Odd Ball Challenge

I saw these at Melbourne’s Federation Square in the foyer of one of the buildings.

Giraffe sculpture - Federation Square -Melbourne
Giraffe sculpture – Federation Square -Melbourne
Penguins -Federation Square Melbourne
Penguins -Federation Square Melbourne
Another creature featured at Federation Square.
Another creature featured at Federation Square.

The National Sports Museum & The MCG

There are two sporting events that begin on December 26th. One of them is the Sydney Hobart yacht race which I will be posting about later in the week. The other is the Boxing Day Test Match held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

When I was in Melbourne in October my friends and  I went spent an afternoon doing the tour of the ground and visiting the National Sports Museum which is situated there.

The MCG and National Sports Museum, Melbourne.
The MCG and National Sports Museum, Melbourne.

The tour took us all around the public and not so public areas of the  building. Each group is led by a very knowledgeable guide who encouraged questions and ours was a mine of information about events that had been held at the MCG. For example the largest crowd ever at the ground was not for a sporting event but for a rally by evangelist Billy Graham in 1959. That event attracted more than 130,000 people and will never be surpassed due to modern OH&S regulations.

During the winter the MCG hosts AFL football and due to that they now use a drop in pitch for cricket. Our guide told us that the new wicket for the summer cricket season had just been relaid. “If you had been here last week all you would have seen is sand.” he said. If you are interested in how these are created you can read about it here

I’ve seen the MCG on television many times but it was quite amazing to be standing high in the grandstands looking down on the ground. I like Bellerive Oval in Hobart, it is the first place I went to watch cricket, it’s small and you feel very close to the action. I wasn’t sure if I would like to watch cricket in a big stadium although it would certainly be more comfortable. I was impressed though and when I sit down to watch the Boxing Day Test and see those stands packed with fans it will be easier for me to imagine what it would be like for the players to walk out there to the roar of the crowd.

I didn’t actually mind how high up we went in the stands but when my friend Bruce offered to take my picture standing by the railing I refused. I didn’t think I would feel comfortable standing with my back to the drop.

Some of the seating areas.
Some of the seating areas.


Our guide points out features of the ground.
Our guide points out features of the ground.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground.

We were also taken to see the more private where players train, have meetings, physiotherapy etc. That was quite a fascinating part of the tour. I have always enjoyed “backstage” tours where you get to see how things are done.

The Indoor nets at the Bill Lawry Centre.
The Indoor nets at the Bill Lawry Centre.

The MCG has been the home of the Melbourne Cricket Club (established 1838) since 1853 when they relocated to the site from a nearby area. There is a lot of heritage and traditon associated with both the club and the cricket ground. We saw the Long Room, used by MCC members, the tapestry created for the 150th anniversary of the MCG and photographs and paintings of various sporting greats including one of Sachin Tendulkar with Don Bradman which the Indians on the tour rushed to be photographed with. The tapestry is an amazing piece of work detailing the chronological history of the ground.

The Tapestry
The Tapestry

At the end of our tour we went into the Sports Museum. By this time I realised that with the time we had available I would not be able to see everything so while Gillian and Bruce went to check out the Olympic and other sporting memorabilia I decided to concentrate on cricket.

There is a good collection of memorabilia, bats, uniforms and other items belonging to or associated with past players. Somewhere in the museum is a hologram of Shane Warne talking about cricket but I did not get to see this. I’m not a great fan of Warnie though so I was not particularly upset about that although I’d like to have seen a hologram.

This section of the museum houses the MCC Museum Collection and is curated by members of the MCC who volunteer their time. The collection included valuable artworks, silver and ceramics. One of the most valuable is the Baer Collection of fine porcelain. If you like decorative arts this is worth seeing even if you don’t like cricket. I was browsing in there when I got into conversation with one of the volunteers. We had a nice chat about the history of the Ashes and Rupertswood and he told me how the MCC Museum came to acquire the Baer Collection from England. He was a very nice man and I stayed talking to him until Gillian came to tell me that it was time to leave. Regrettably I had not seen half of what I wanted to see so a further trip to the Sports Museum is on my To Do list for a future trip to Melbourne.

On our way back to the station I stopped to photograph two of the statues on the Avenue of Legends outside.

Shane Warne Statue
Shane Warne Statue

Neil Harvey Statue.


If you are planning a visit to the MCG and plan to do both the tour and visit the Sports Museum I recommend allowing at least 4 hours. The tour takes about 75 minutes and does involve  a lot of walking. If you are like Gillian and myself and don’t care for escalators be aware that they are used to reach some levels. You can purchase a combined tour and museum ticket if you wish. We took a train from the Southern Cross Station to Jolimont and walked across the park. Another alternative would be the train to Richmond as it is not far from there either. There is also good access by tram and it’s really not that far to walk from the city either.  – The National Sports Museum website has plenty of practical information for visitors. – The MCG website is also full of information about past and present activities, facts and figures. – The MCC Museum website.


Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge -Cities and City Structures

Capital Cities

I haven’t visited every Australian capital city yet but I hope to eventually. I do enjoy photographing the built environment of cities.

Melbourne I visited recently. There are always cranes everywhere, the city has changed so much since my first visit in 1977. The photo was taken from the Star Observation Wheel.

I lived in the suburbs of Adelaide for most of my life and worked there for some years so I know the city well but I’ve seen a lot of changes in the twelve years since we left. This photo was taken on our last visit there.

Hobart is now the city nearest to where I live. The photo of Elizabeth Mall was taken  last summer. I was in town to see the Sydney Hobart Race yachts and go to a cricket match. It didn’t stop raining all day. I love the colours of the pavers and the flower boxes.

The photo of Sydney Harbour Bridge was taken from Milson’s Point on the North Shore. I had taken the train over the bridge in order to walk back over it.

Rundle Mall, Adelaide
Rundle Mall, Adelaide
Elizabeth St Mall, Hobart
Elizabeth St Mall, Hobart

A Photo A Week Challenge: Crowds

Jehovah's Witness Convention by Taswegian1957
70,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses converge on Etihad Stadium Melbourne.


On the morning that I was due to fly to Melbourne for a weekend visiting friends I heard on the radio that Melbourne’s Docklands area would be inundated with around 70,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses visiting the city for an international convention. My only thought was that I hoped they would not all be visiting the Star Observation Wheel at the same time as me.

I arrived in Melbourne and made my way to Southern Cross station intending to walk to Docklands via the bridge there. Coming from Hobart I could not help noticing how busy the station concourse was. Then I reached Etihad Stadium and there they were; maybe not 70,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses but there were an awful lot of them.