RBTU Song and Poem Competition 2009: Judges’ Report

First of all the three Judges (Bernard Carney, Kate Fagan and Mark Gregory) found it most rewarding to take up the challenge of deciding on the winner for this competition. Union competitions for songs, poems and stories have a long history in Australia as shown by the number that have been published for over a century in union journals, magazines and newspapers.

Railways in many countries have been a source of inspiration for writers and artists for whom railway work or railway travel has been a big part of their life over generations. In Australia the poet Henry
Lawson both worked on the railways and wrote about them in poems like ‘Second Class Wait Here’ and ‘The Night Train’. Paintings of trains by Australian artists like Streeton, Coutts, Roberts, Smart, Kingston and Zofrea hang in our galleries.

Railway electrician Brian Dunnett who has collected railways songs and poems for over 30 years has shown that at least 500 Australian songs and poems have been published or recorded over the 150 year history of the rail system. The first train to set off from Central Railway Station in Sydney was farewelled by a brass band playing music written for the occasion, ‘The Railway Waltz’, written by the young composer William Paling.

Given this history it is no surprise that a Railway Song and Poetry Competition should arouse enough interest to add some 30 more items to the store of lyrical material associated with rail.

The three judges listened to the songs and read the poems and were able to pick a winner (over a couple of months’ deliberation) just in time for the Illawarra Folk Festival Railway Song Concert.

The winning song was ‘Don’t Close The Depot Down’ written for the competition by singer/songwriter John Hospodaryk.

The judges came to the view that this song best fitted the suggested issues proposed by the Rail Tram and Bus Union, such as:

  • what role railways could play in lowering the impact of carbon on the environment
  • the advantage of general public railway services over the car
  • industrial relations associated with employment conditions in the public transport industry
  • the CFMEU ‘Green Ban’ being placed on the Pyrmont Metro station building
  • ideas for overhauling Sydney’s rail system
  • Perth’s new Mandurah rail line
  • the electrification of Adelaide’s rail network
  • the importance of rail lines in regional areas

‘Don’t Close The Depot Down’ certainly met all the criteria for the competition with a plea for the movement of fuel transport from roads back to rail. Hospodaryk’s lines speak for themselves:

Two thousand trucks across the Great Divide,
Two thousand truckloads of fuel that will ride
Upon the road when there’s a train that can bring it safely to your town


We gotta let that rolling stock stay upon the rail,
It’s rolled a hundred years, it has never failed.
Don’t wanna see them trucks crowdin’ up the whole highway


They’re layin’ off the workers, I heard it on the news,
’Cos private contractors is what they wanna use,
You know we gotta get together, people, spread the news all around

along with a chilling warning of the dangers in store, both for the environment and safety, associated with long haul transport of fuel by road. This issue has made headlines recently and has been an important focus for a union campaign:

Carbon footprints are truckin’ up ’n’ down the road,
Up ’n’ down, up ’n’ down the road.
One of these days one of them rigs you know is bound to explode,
How can we bear such a heavy load!

The judges agreed that Hospodaryk’s song had wide appeal and a catchy chorus, and thought it might find a broad audience beyond the competition. It made strong use of traditional blues riffs and themes
but brought them up to date by addressing a topical issue. Hospodaryk’s song continues a long grass-roots history of Australian protest songs.

Many other songs and poems submitted for the competition made good use of historical stories. The judges would also like to commend:
‘Everleigh Railway Workshops’ by John Warner and ‘The Engines Sleep’ by Penny Davies; and among the poems, ‘Country Travel’ by Narelle Morris and ‘A Symphony of Steam’ by Marie Patrick.

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