Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sentimental Journey - a Lost Railway

Two years ago, they closed my local rail line. I wrote this before and after taking that train for the last time to Sydney.


I grew up in the '50s and '60s when air travel in Australia was expensive and rare for our family. I think my only flight was on a DC-something in 1955, before I joined the RAAF in '64 and discovered slightly faster aeroplanes.

We were a far-flung family so I spent many nights on the trains in New South Wales, on nearly all of the north and north-western lines. I loved those nights, watching the little stations flash past, or stopping at the "RRR" (Rail RefreshmentRooms) while the engine wheezed and the water and coal were replenished. I spent many christmasses at my Grandparents' house beside the shunting yards at Narrabri, watching fascinated as they re-arranged the wheat, coal and goods carriages.

Now the short-sighted state government has decided to close our local line. Local politics would mean little here, but I'm about as angry about that as I can be. But that's a battle I can't win.
So tonight I'm off to the Big Smoke for a week or so, for a nostalgic 14-hour ride ride on the Murwillumbah to Sydney line before they let the trestles decay and the sleepers rot.
See you all in a week or two.


Thanks to all those on the alt.support.diabetes group who asked about the little journey to nostalgia. Therefore, a brief trip report on a relaxed week away. Well, it started off brief, and then got Topsy-like.

Departed, an hour late, about 11 pm, so missed most of the scenery through the hills. I like watching the little stations flash past: Stoker's Siding, Burringbar, Bilinudgel, Byron Bay, Mullumbimby, Bangalow (where the palms come from, not BUngalow), Lismore and we've only gone two hours with eleven more to go. It's this section, Murwillumbah to Casino, that's closing.
Shared my twinette sleeper with an old Digger returning to Sydney who had gone to Brisbane to march with his mates on Anzac Day (25th April). 90 years old, spry and alert, and diagnosed Type 2 two years ago. Fascinated by my Accu-chek; he'd never seen a meter.

Broken sleep punctuated by lights flashing past and the doppler effects of passing sounds. Woke at 2:30 am while we slowly shunted back and forth on the bridge over the Clarence at Grafton as they changed engines and crews. Nothing more silent and still than a river in the half-moonlight.

I grew up swimming in that big river, rowing fours and butcher-boats, building rafts, catching bream and throwing back catfish, square-dancing at the Jacaranda Festival.

More broken sleep through Glenreagh, Nana Glen (Russell Crowe's farmlet), Coramba, Coffs Harbour, Urunga, Nambucca Heads, Macksville, Kempsey. Woke up properly at dawn as we passed through the misty lush green valley of the Manning River at Taree. Then the quiet farms and hamlets through Gloucester and Dungog, the wine and coal country of the Hunter Valley, Maitland, Newcastle. Spectacular scenery as we passed through the central coast districts and Wyong, Gosford, Broken Bay on the Hawkesbury.

Finally, into the urban sprawl of Sydney. Spent the next three days using my ex-soldiers pass to travel on buses, trains and ferries around the town like any tourist. Chinatown, Paddy's Market, Australia Square, off to Manly on the ferry watching all the tourists happily snapping the Opera House and the coat-hanger (then joining them :-). I'm a water person, so also on the ferries again - to Balmain, Hunter's Hill, Parramatta. It's a wonderful harbour. Saw a show at the Darlinghurst Theatre, ate in pubs (no chips please, just salad with the fish, and how rough is the house red ?) and Chinese and Indian (naan bread, no rice:-).

Then back by commuter train for two hours to Newcastle for the three-hour bus ride to Forster-Tuncurry on the lakes, to do all the little jobs Mum's been saving for me to do at her place. She wants them done before she heads off for her next odyssey in her motor-home (RV); She's leaving today (alone) for four months up the coast to the Daintree Rainforest in North Queensland. Hopefully she'll be back in time for her 80th birthday celebrations that I and my siblings are planning for November. Obviously, this travel bug is hereditary. Sat beside a lady in the train who, when she saw me test, chatted about her hubby who recently passed away eighteen years after diagnosis, with 'opathys for his final ten years (retin-, neur-, neph-). "But he ate exactly what they said he should..." Accu-chek as a conversation piece.

And, finally, departed Taree at 12:35 Tuesday for Murwillumbah and home. The final stages wonderfully bright in the full moon, watching roos bound along beside us at dusk, arriving at 9 pm. Amazed to find the car still sitting in the car-park, even more surprised when it started, then home to Pottsville through the cane-fields.

Well, it started out to be brief.....

Cheers, Alan


txdave said...

I like the look of this blog much better, still larger pics would help, some format variety.

Oz is gorgeous.

Please also check out:



Alan said...

Hi Dave

Thanks again for the comments. I answered the format comments on the World Travel Blog.

But I do agree about Oz:-) I'll be adding a lot more to this one over the next couple of months on my wanders.

Cheers, Alan

Karin Kolbe -TOOT said...


Thanks for sharing your story with us. I know there is a lot of sadness in the community about the loss of rail.

But we're fighting back. The community group TOOT - Trains on our Tracks (www.toot.org.au) - is lobbying hard to restore a rail service on the Casino-Murwullumbah line. Specifically we would like to see a 2-car set making frequent journeys (up to 8 each way per day) . Such a service would connect the towns and villages along the line.

We also want our line linked with the Qld line. Increasingly, our links are with the Gold Coast and Brisbane rather than Sydney.

Some people may be sceptical about our chance of success. My reply is that other rail lines have re-opened - eg Armidale in NSW and Bairnsdale in Vic. And in Qld they are re-laying tracks from Robina to Coolangatta that were ripped up 45 years ago in the name of 'progress'.

The current NSW Iemma Govt has very limited vision and does not understand the needs of regional people. This is why they are letting our tracks lie dormant.

The sheer weight of public opinion, as well as greater awareness of environmental concerns means that we will again have Trains on our Tracks. So I urge people to add their voice to the campaign - write a letter to the paper or join our email list.


Karin Kolbe
President TOOT

Alan said...

Hi Karin

Nice to meet you at Pottsville Market today. I dropped back to check that I had published your comment - and of course I had:-)

Cheers, Alan

Tomas Kalmar said...

Great just reading and remembering the names of those towns -- especially Narrabri and Coffs Harbor. First girl I ever kissed (40 years ago) came from Coffs Harbor. I now live in Vermont. Nice to have those memories come back.

Tony Bowes said...

I know its long past but I have just found your blog being recently diagnosed T2.

Growing up in Grafton in the 60's with family in Sydney we also did this trip often and reading your blog bought back many fond memories.



Tomas Kalmar said...

Five years ago I reminisced that the first girl I kissed (now 45 years ago) came from Coffs Harbor. I remember her name was Diane and she sand "Many a new day will come my way" from Oklahoma at a music school we both went to as teenagers at Broken Bay. We were shy and discovered we didn't know what to do with our noses. Now, fiver years later, you comment on my comment! The internet is wonderful. Thanks.