Australian Railway Story: Chapter 16

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Only Rust and Memories

Many poets’ songwriters and artists in recent times have recorded the demises of Australian Steam Railways in many ways. The steam engine as we have seen was felt to be a live living creature whose very sound can induces nostalgic feelings and excitement into young and old alike. This era is sadly missed The lifeless railway yards railway towns and the rust however is about more than just the disappearance of steam locomotives and their replacement with lager powerful diesels engines. Many feel that economic decisions on the closure of much of the railway systems were made on poor economic information and a failure to see the wider social costs of such a decision. Some of those social costs to Australia are described below by those who felt them and continue to question the political decisions involved.

Only Rust And Memories

Nostalgic sound
Of a time before
Echo over lifeless railway ground
In a town which helped pave the State's core

Sounds of hissing steam
Of throaty whistle
And piercing metal screams
Sounds of engine power, pounding, tough, like gristle

Where standard, broad and narrow gauge
At one time mingled and met
Alive and seemingly unchanged
With a stance of prosperity hanging on each sunset

The lifeblood once, for many
Cinder and ash in their veins
With a comradeship better than any
Sadly, for some, only faded headstones now remain

And the town now, in present time
Faces once again the reapers' hook
Amidst the strangling economic decline
Becoming statistics upon which history will look

E. McLean
Written in '92 after spending time in Peterborough and seeing the
changes as the railways wound down. Published in Ripping Up the Tracks

Town Of Fates And Pleasures
(dedicated to Jack Cockshell)

I have lived a full life
In more than sixty years
I know that change moves quickly
And it's no use crying tears.
But sometimes I can't help thinking
Of the place where I was raised
How Terowie changed from a bustling town
To a place of quiet ways.

REFRAIN: We were born in a town of fates and pleasures
Born in a town of destiny
And if ghosts may come to roam
Through the walls and streets of home
Still we'll know the past lives on
In dear Terowie.

We've had our days of glory
Been a hive of industry
From the early days of horse teams
Till the end of Cabbagey.
We've had our wild race meetings
Where thousands came to punt
And we've nourished wartime soldiers

Coming weary from the front.
The change of gauge changed everything
The town began to slide

Our jobs and families sacrificed
To a god called modem times.
Progress is a money game
Where the big blokes always win
They go on to better things
While we go down the drain.

Abbott's went and Walkington's
And Brookie's Four Square store
The convent and the hospital
Could carry on no more.
One by one the doors were shut

The empty windows stared
And a grand old street of grocer shops
Slowly disappeared.

We've all stuck together
Through the bright times and the dark
Farmers, grocers, railway folk
Each person's made their mark.
Struggle made us stronger though
The women and the men
The spirit that's between us all
Will live on to the end.

Peter Hicks in Ripping Up the Tracks

Harry's Last Run

I fired for Harry Viney, on the Eurelia water run,
It took all day to fill those tanks, we had 600 tons,
On the way to Walloway, Harry did his level best
To empty every water tank, he put me to the test.

We rocked and swayed around the curves, hand brakes screwed up tight,
While Harry boiled the billy and told me 'she'll be right'.
As we hit the last tight curve, I looked behind to see
If the train was still behind us, while Harry made the tea.

Harry had no family here, and it was Christmas Day
He volunteered to work that job, such was his friendly way.
So Harry went to Cockburn and had his normal rest
Then went to work his final run on the Adelaide bound Express.

The Signalman at Paratoo saw his headlight top the ridge
As Harry shut the throttle, on the run down to the bridge.
Then suddenly the night went black, as half way down the hill
The Beyer Peacock Garrett took its final spill.

No! Harry wasn't speeding, on that fateful night
The track had buckled through the day, and no one put it right.
The leading unit made it, they said, but only just -
The boiler parted company and ploughed into the dust.

Yes, I remember Harry as I roll on through the night,
. And now I travel twice as fast, that’s progress, and it's right
On rails that snap like carrots, the track's a bloody mess,
So keep your fingers crossed me lads, for IN GOD'S HANDS WE REST.

Brian Watkins in Ripping Up the Tracks

Days Run Too Long

Almost twelve hours
away from you
No smile, no beautiful flower
and my loneliness ensues

Three and a half hours
in another town
Thinking of you amid the city towers
I wait, listening to the silence of different sounds

The quiet, falls solidly
my watch ticking, beside me, on the chair
A lone train, sounds once, blaringly
then it's gone, like it was never here

I lay on the bed in this tiny room
look at your face on film, I carry with me
Hoping to see the real you, soon
pining for you, wondering where I really should be

I do not like where I am
the days run too long
Meaningless, like sand
and nothing seems to belong

I want to be with you, to exist within you
not to be cast into another place
Breaking my heart into shades of blue
one moment's notice, I'd leave here, without a trace. '

E. McLean
Written in Port Augusta Roadhouse after arriving from" Adelaide.
in Ripping Up the Tracks

The Good Old Days of Steam

When I was a lad many years ago
How the smithy's furnace used to glow!
And the sweat on our foreheads used to gleam -
Back in the good old days of steam!

A man was a man, and he knew his trade
And the destination of the parts he made.
We worked together as a well oiled team,
Back in the good old days of steam!

Well, 1 don't know much, but I know best
That we've gone backwards as we've progressed.
There's chaos all around, yet still 1 dream
Of those days before the railways ran out of steam .,.

from lyrics by P.P. Cranney
in Sidetrack Theatre Company's 1983 production LOCO
in Ripping Up the Tracks

A Drivers Dream

My pockets are empty, we left Broken Hill
Twin Alco Diesels, and take-outs are nil,
Two thousand tonnes, all wind jammers too
One forty in length, these trains must run through.

As I look out the window at the old narrow track
I remember the past, but I don't want it back.
The sleepers are broken, the ballast's a mess
How we stayed on at all, was anyone's guess.

They say the job's better with diesels that roar
But I get quite nostalgic about steamers of yore,
When friendship meant something better than pay
And a mate was your mate at the end of a day.

Dockets to answer, cautions and fines
From clerical staff, with shiny behinds
Who sit in an office, with nothing to do
But write silly letters to the poor loco crew.

There's shunting at Yunta, three on at least,
For the shearing is over in our famous North East.
Consignment for Elders of eighty nine bales
Of Double A fleeces for the next wool store sales.

When they finish the standard, I've just got the dope,
Of conditions improving and less strife I hope.
The idea is sound, for uniform track
All over the nation, is something we lack.

Now Donny don't want us, Fraser says 'No -
You do it my way or you know where to go'.
While I drive these trains I'm still at a loss
To know who will pay me while they argue the toss.

But when all's said and done, it's all for the best,
And I guess that I'll stay here along with the rest,
With the hope that the future will see better times
And continued improvement on these standard gauge lines.
Brian Watkins from his Peterborough 1976 Centenary recording in Ripping Up the Tracks

Railway Reflections

Oh brother, I've seen some changes made since I started my railway career
At the little old hamlet of Callington just 50 ks south-east of here.
You'd hardly believe that the job we knew was the one that we're left with now
And they're calling it 'progress' but I have my doubts, I just can't believe it somehow!

On the 8th of December in '52 my long realm of service began
When I boarded a train in my old hometown and headed up north to Sedan.
The train crews were friendly, the drivers alert; the guards were all helpful and kind -
Joe Coleman, Art Lawson, Ron Farrant, Dick Till are a few names that still come to mind.

The diesels were still in their infancy then as the 900s roared through the hills,
And kids lined the fences to watch them flash by and gain their gratuitous thrills.
But old 'Lady Norrie' is pensioned-off now and no longer streaks down the track,
Though often she passes in my youthful dreams whenever I pause to look back.
The Tin Hares' were roaming suburban tracks and 'Barwell Bulls' roared round the State
When I learnt the cabin at Albert Park in February '58.
The branch line was open to Hendon then, through paddocks all treeless and stark,
But now it's the roadway that takes you to the footy at Football Park.

And the station and cabin have long since gone, and the job there is only a dream,
And gone is the gang that was proud to work for years as a close-knit team.
Replaced by a humpy and mirrors and lights - all lifeless and heartless and cold,
And mindless graffiti, destruction and blight - unknown in those good days of old.

Yes, 'Make way for progress!' or that's what they say whenever the subject's discussed.
But why replace service and industrial pride with slackness and shame and mistrust?
And when I look back on those 38 years I'm certain in so many ways
That all I can say on the subject of progress is, 'Give me the good old days!'
Ray Jaensch in Ripping Up the Tracks

Ode To The Promised Land

I use to drive the Bluebirds, I.P.s and the Jets,
long haul freight from Broken Hill, heading to the west.
Now it's ease up, kick off, go ahead, I'm in my second week
of solid shift work shunting, at the place they call Dry Creek.

45 per cent they said, of driving on the mains
me think CLs GMs ALCOs, on broad and standard trains.
Woe is me, I must admit, they caught me off my guard,
how was I to know they meant, the shunt main in the yard.

We sold our home and travelled far, to make a new life here,
left life long friends behind us, wife shed a quiet tear.
Country kids now forced to go, to crowded city school,
teenage kids still back there, think 'what a pair of fools'.

When Keswick is completed, the passengers will roll,
extra main line working, this we have been told.
If all goes well, time will tell, they haven't finished yet
the A.N. plan for Dry Creek clan, could be a winning bet.

To those of you that didn't move, we ask you to be fair,
be satisfied with your lot, and don't ask us to share.
It cost us bulk to transfer, I say it loud and clear
Without that promised main line work, I don't think we'd be here.

Woko (Brian Watkins) in Ripping Up the Tracks

House We Left

Empty clothesline
Cobwebs in windows
Broken door
A hall layered in dust
The house
The house we left

Seems a forgotten street
Empty gardens
Empty speak
Sign for sale
Nobody buys
The house we left

Knot on the old rope swing
Frayed so much
Wouldn't hold anything
The house is left to die
The house we left

What happened in this place
Since the time we've been gone
Something eerie
Something's changed
The house we left

Send a child's
Thought to play
In the house of yesterday
Broken clouds, broken dreams
Broken toys
Sadness in the eyes of joy

The sparrow falls
And is spared no doubt
The house is in danger
Within and without
The house we left

Take a train or bus
Or an aeroplane ride
A child's thought
Must remain behind to feel the pain
In the house we left.

E. McLean

Written in 1990 after listening to other railway mates talking about places they've left
because of transfers in railways. In Ripping Up the Tracks

My New Career Path
(a song for Tom McEvoy, Islington Railway Workshops)

Hey, hey
We're lucky today,
We're being re-structured
Out of the old ways.
The Lion and Lamb
Lie together at last,
Broad banding is fixing
The sins of the past.
Tri-partite decisions
Mean I'm not ignored,
I'm multi- and flexi-
Career assured!


I'm learning
Crane, winch, forklift, boiler,
Lathe, crusher, furnace, welder,
Stores, filing, sweeping, mending,
Concrete, shorthand, spraypaint, sanding,
Graphics, gardening, digging pestholes,
Patchboard, switchboard, keyboard, consoles ...

Geez, it's a strain. Is there consol-ation?
Yes! 4 bucks a week, and a Cleverer nation.

They say that Australia's
Been left on the ledge:
Re-structuring gives us
'Competitive edge'
They'll make our skills broad
But the enterprise lean,
'Consultation' ensures...
We ALL share the dream.

I'm told that the chiefs
Of the A.C.T.U.
Have workers at heart
In their new global view.
And I'm glad the rank
And file still have punch:
Bill Kelty said so ...
At a businessmen's lunch.


I'm learning ...
Crane, winch, forklift, boiler,
Lathe, crusher, furnace, welder,
Stores, filing, sweeping, mending,
Concrete, shorthand, spraypaint, sanding,
Graphics, gardening, digging pestholes,
Patchboard, switchboard, keyboard, consoles ...

Geez, it's a strain. Is there consol-ation?
Yes! Portable Industry Certification.
In Ripping Up the Tracks

Ripping Up Our History. 1

INTRO: (8 bars)
Red gum sleepers now in stacks
But what was once a railway track
Now gone, all gone.

The broken line tells a tale
Of promises made but now for sale
All gone, all gone.

They’re ripping up our history
They’re ripping up our soul
Sweat and tears that opened up this land and tilled its soil
Never again will the Mallee hear the whistle as a train draws near
All gone, all gone.

The farmers came with dreams in hand
To open up this virgin land
The promise of a siding for every seven miles

But one by one they’ve closed them all
Town’s deserted, empty halls
People gone, people gone.

Instrumental (8 Bars)

Ripping Up Our History.2

What will happen 10 years on?
When they realise the move was wrong
And our roads cannot cope with the burden of their load
Will they once again bend their backs, rebuild Mallee railway tracks?
Lay it down, rebuild towns?
They’re ripping up our history
They’re ripping up our soul
Sweat and tears that opened up this land and tilled its soil
Never again will the Mallee hear the whistle as a train draws near
All gone, all gone, all gone

All gone
All gone

The Downfall of a Megamong”
The Staff review came and went
Now to the dole queue I've been sent
To wander aimlessly eyes full of tears
A forgotten street kid aged 40 years

In the first verse I did state
My job and livelihood they did take
Lost and broke I now meander
A corpse's life would be much grander.

The item appeared on a wallboard at Honeysuckle Freight
Office Newcastle. March 1995 It is an indication of how some
people feel about redundancy.
Megamong it indicated is a million times worse than a mongrel dog.

Can't believe a word they say!

Well it seems the Iron horse,
Has today become a Trojan horse,

Rod Slapp© 10.9.1999

Currently the Railway Story is in the process of seeking permission to display the full content of this song or poem or to have a copy linked via the web to this research document

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