Australian Railway Story: Chapter 5

Chapters: • 1 • 2 • 3 • 4 • 5 • 6 • 7 • 8 • 9 • 10 • 11 • 12 • 13 • 14 • 15 • 16 • 17 • 18 •

The Australian Railway Workforce and their Families

Work skills required to construct and operate Australian railways developed a range of skilled workers who shared similar experiences from one side of the continent to the other. At one point in Australia’s history no industrial task was beyond this workforce who was called on to perform some amazing tasks to keep a nation moving. The industry was seen as a family affair with one generation after another being employed and trained in their operations. Family involvement frequently began as a result of the isolation where working problems of the day were often shared with wives and children. Many of the workforce classifications mentioned below have long disappeared from the modern Australian railway workplace but their contribution to the Railway Story should be remembered.

Our Railway Men

Take from our officials, who manage all affairs
Right down to the platelayer, who spikes the iron chairs
As each and every one, are railway servants true
For as the dawn of day breaks forth, they must their duty do
Take first our sub-inspectors, who travel o'er the road
And then the operators, who must thoroughly learn their code
And now the loco pumper, who supplies the engines' water
The one who handles samples, for on his cap see ‘Porter’

Working on the platform are the junior and the Pro.
And the worthy S.M., who them their duties show
They examine carriages, and punch the ticket too
If you ask the reason, ‘It's just to pass you through’
The man who drives the engine, in his hands are lives
The guard, he watches careful over husbands and their wives
With parcels and their luggage his brake it is well stacked
When running cheap excursions his carriages are packed

Now let us think of fettlers out in the rain and snow
They have to watch the road, to let the traffic go
Next we take the shop hands, always on repairs
The booking clerk he issues the tickets for the fares
Temperance should exist in us, great and small
Punctuality is a thing we should not forget at all
Civility, the masterpiece, it makes a railway man
Gives joy to the travelling public - exercise it all you can

(W. Cornford, Junior, Per-way Department, Goulburn 1905
Source The Federated Amalgamated Government Railway Employees Association Journal).

Several streams of skill development existed in the railway industry, much of it practical support by the railways’ own training colleges where theoretical training was provided. Most started their railway careers in physical menial positions advancing through grade after grade to more skilled levels. This was an industry where it was argued you could begin a working career as a shop boy, a junior station hand or apprentice and one day reach the rank of Railway commissioner.

A Porter's Life

Cleaning cars, polishing brass,
Sweeping brake and cleaning glass,
Juggling samples, pushing brooms,
Cleaning point and sweeping rooms,
Chasing truck around the yard,
Waiting on a big fat guard,
Nipping tickets, collecting freight,
Shining scales and cleaning weights,
Unloading trucks, folding sheets,
Trimming lamps and dusting seats,
Climbing signals, trimming wicks,
Using shovels rakes and picks,
Turning cheese knobs, shunting train,
Pulling staffs, handling hoops,
Loading fowl and chicken coop

Loading wool and weighing truck,
Handling turkeys, geese and duck,
Dodging bosses, watching rail,
Loading parcels, goods and mail,
Selling tickets, weighing logs,
Way-billing prams, goats and dogs
Climbing ladders without fear,
Filling tanks and loading beer,
Pushing pens, and answering phone,
Filing numbers, labelling bones,
Filling tenders up with water,
Now who wouldn't be Porter?

(The above poetical anecdotes were extracted from Allen Mclnnes’ book ‘Folklore of the Australian Railway Man’, Railway Review, February 1975, page 21)

The Dying Sleeper Cutter

An old sleeper cutter lay dying,
His broadaxe supporting his head.
All around him the others were standing,
When he raised on his pillow and said....

Wrap me up with my cant hook and wedges,
And bury me deep down below,
Down where the tall clogs can’t haunt me,
Where the five cut wavy grains grow

There’s no teeth on the buckled old cross saw,
No stern in the splintered old bore,
And I bet my hob-nails there isn’t
No rum in the billy at all.

It’s goodbye to the cutting, young Dennis,
Goodbye to Sunday Flat too,
Groodamans I cut out and finished,
And I’m saying sad farewell to you.

The Dying Fettler

A strapping young fettler lay dying,
With a shovel supporting his head,
The ganger and crew round him crying,
And he let go his pick handle and said....

Wrap me up in a tent or a fly, boys,
And bury me deep down below,
Where the trolley and trains won’t molest me,
To show there’s a navvy below.

There’s tea in the battered billy-can,
Place the dog spike out in a row,
And we’ll spike to the next merry meeting,
To show there’s a navvy below.

Hark! There’s the wail of a trolley,
Far, far away it seems clear,
It sounds like the inspector is coming
And hopes to see all of us here.

So, back to your shovels, my boy-lads,
And bed your backs with a will,
This inspector has no time of judgment,
But there’ll be a navvy who will.

Comrade Fettler

Did you ever give a thought to the Navvy on the line
The man who has to run his length, in weather wet or fine
He gets starvation wages, and lives in a wayside shack
To keep the road in safety, along the Broken Hill track
The summer brings its nursery, with dust and sandy blight
But the Fettler must keep toiling, to keep the track all right

For that pride of Mr. Hartigan, the Flying Diesel train
That shoots along at seventy-five, through dust or blinding rain
Now the Navvy has demanded a shorter working week
And an increase in his wages, and made the bosses squeak
About the mighty deficit, and revenue being light

But these excuses do not help the Fettler in his plight
So it's up to every Railwayman, in city or outback
To help the Navvy win his fight, along the Broken Hill track
If the Fettler must keep toiling to keep the track all right,
It's up the wages, shorten the week, or else expect a strike

(Anon, (1939) "Magnet" Newspaper of the Council of Railway Shop Committees)


Twenty years- on fettling-ganger on repairing line
Living in the bush camps working overtime
Underneath. the' line each- day-six, hundred sleepers can we lay
Get into town, and blow our pay— fettlers of the line

As- your carriage thunders by -and we catch the ladie’s eye
You can almost hear them, sigh—for: fettlers of the line
Were the 'boys who like some fun—when our' job' of work is done'
Look: out: township here we come- —from fettling on the line

On the fast main track we lay— squares of iron bark to stay
Underneath, -the slower' line — iron rounds are fine
In the scorching sun or rain - twenty years: they will remain
Safety for the speeding train—iron bark on the line

MUSICS Traditional Swedish .
Written for an A.B.C. *BIG COUNTRY* film in 1971.

The Shunter's Ode To Spring

After the winter's frost and snow
And hail and rain and sleet
Comes spring, and decks the earth again
With verdure green and sweet
And if you've worked the service through
For twenty years or more.
You cannot fail to know the signs
That spring is at the door

All through the winter, those who toil
At inside cushy jobs
Have kept their fires--the outside man
Has scarcely seen their nobs
But when the sun comes o'er the hills
At six, or p'raps before,
They're seen again, and then you know
That spring is at the door

The District Super's motor car
Is heard throughout the land
Inspectors, Loco. and Per- Way
Find outside jobs to hand
And fettling gangs and pumpers lone
(From things they've learned before)
Know anything may happen quick
When spring is at the door

The Station Master shines his cap
And polishes the crown
And, in a brand new uniform,
The yard walks up and down
He says he'll know the reason why
Of fifty things or more—
The shunter smiles, he knows that spring
Is knocking at the door

The Night 0, when the mails have gone
Comes out into the yard
He says. ‘This hitting up of late
Is getting much too hard’
The matter's one that he has meant
To speak about before
The shunter knows that balmy nights
Tell spring is at the door
The Loco Chargeman gets around
You see him about five
(A month ago at seven
He was still inside his hive)
But now he’s early round the stage
A'laying down the law
It's certain sure as anything
That spring is at the door

I know the signs, I've plodded round
In winter's mud and rain
For twenty years, and every time
Spring comes in just the same
I've given up the calendar
I do not need it more
I've learned the ways that surer tell
When spring is at the door

(Nor'West, NSW Railway and Tramway Magazine, September 1921)

Night Shunt

Leaving town on Number Eighteen
Middle of the night, in a freezing stream
Of pouring rain and screaming wind
A man must be daft, right out of his mind

Shunting potatoes at Cuthbert, "Eliek"
Feeling more dead, a wreck or a relic
Feet soaking wet and frozen of hands
Not the sort of outing, everyone plans

Night, black as coal and seems as hard
I grope around in Tenterden yard
Somewhere underfoot is a Slip Point rod
Only one foot wrong, to land in mud

Feeble light of hand lamp, on such a dark night
Without it, I'd have no chance of getting a sight
Of the cards on the wagons 1 need to pick up
As it is, even now, I'll need some good luck

There's no place for the halt, weak, or infirm
In shunting activities, for a man's full life term
Can come in just minutes, with one little slip
Rolling wagon is on you, before you can grip

No butcher's sharp cleaver, ever cut meat
Like flange of a rail wheel, ever so neat
Cut flesh, gristle, bone and carry right on
Too late then, to wish you never had gone

Take my advice and stay away clear
Shunting is only for those without fear
Stay in a day job, out where it’s sunny
For shunting yard work, at its best, isn't funny

(B Raven, W A, The Last Conductor)

The Flying Gang

I served my time, in the days gone by,
In the railway’s clash and clang,
And I worked my way to the end, and I
Was the head of the ‘Flying Gang’.
‘Twas a chosen band that was kept at hand
In case of an urgent need,
Was it south or north we were started forth,
And away at utmost speed.
If word reached town that a bridge was down,
The imperious summons rang----
‘Come out with the pilot engine sharp,
And away with the flying gang.’

Then a piercing scream and a rush of steam
As the engine moved ahead,
With a measured beat by the slum and street
Of the busy town we fled,
By the uplands bright and the homesteads white,
With the rush of the western gale,
And the pilot swayed with the pace we made
As she rocked on the ringing rail.
And the country children clapped their hands
As the engine’s echoes rang,
But their elders said: ‘There is work ahead
When they send for the flying gang.’

Then across the miles of the saltbush plain
That gleamed with the morning dew,
Where the grasses waved like the ripening grain
The pilot engine flew,
A fiery rush in the open bush
Where the grade marks seemed to fly,
And the order sped on the wires ahead,
The pilot must go by.
The Governor’s special must stand aside,
And the fast express go hang,
Let your orders be that the line is free
For the boys of the flying gang.
(Banjo Patterson, 1895,’The Man from Snowy River and other Poems’)

The Staff Clerks Lament

I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
Ray of sunlight struggles feeble down beneath the buildings tall:
And the stuffy air and 'gritty of the 'dusty Pitt Street city
Through the open windows floating, spread foulness overall.
And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
Of electric trams and motors making hurry down the streets;

And the language uninviting of the office typist skiting
Comes fit fully and faintly, through the ceaseless check off sheets.
The hurrying clerks all daunt me, and their pallid, faces haunt, me,
As-they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste;
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy;

For clerk they have no time to grow they have no time to waste.
Now, just a while I’ll tarry, ere I go away to marry
And have a turn at farming, where they sow the shining seed;
Instead of the eternal sheets and cheques infernal,
I’ll be bagging up potatoes on the Tweed.

(Hoosit, The Railway and Tramway officers Gazette, April 1918

The Paymaster

Who is the kind and thoughtful gent
That brings twice each month a sweet content
When we are broke or badly bent?
The Paymaster!

Who is it breaks the constant grind,
And gives a moment's piece of mind,
And helps leave trouble far behind?
The Paymaster!

Who is it when we're sad and glum,
And feel completely on the hum,
And pray that he may quickly come?
The Paymaster!

Who is it when he comes in view,
Does with delight all of us imbue.
And carries such a lot of screw,
The Paymaster!

And when St. Peter rules our fates,
And we all reach the Pearly Gates,
We'll find him there with all his mates,
The Paymaster!

(Anon, "The Railway and Tramway Officers' Gazette", 1918)

The Flying Scud

We've heard of the Driver, we've heard of the Guard,
Of the Engine from cab to injector;
But a subject which hasn't occurred to our bard
Is the travelling Ticket Inspector.

When you rush for your train in the morning—perhaps
You've been out on the evening preceding—
It's most likely to happen that one of these chaps
A sight of your ‘Season’ is needing.

Then you feel in your pockets, you look in your hat—
Your co-passengers think it quite funny—
And it dawns on your wandering intellect that
It's at home—with your keys and your money.

But it isn't a rule for the gay flying scud
To drop on the man who's forgotten
His ticket. He really is after the "dud,"
And the man whose excuses are rotten.
He will smile as he says: "Show your tickets, I pray,"
For his manner is gentle and courtly.
But the "twister" who never intended to pay
He will lay by the heels very shortly.

The enemy sworn of the trav'ller by stealth,
Of "Bilking" and "Fraud" the detector;
Let's empty a glass to the jolly good health
Of the travelling Ticket Inspector.

(C.B. in Queensland Railway Express. 1921)


He was ‘something in the City’, quite a, toff from head to toe,
From his varnished boots and gaiters to the latest ‘tile’, you know!
Ev'ry morn he came up smiling by the ‘ten suburban’ train,
And when office hours were over then he journey'd down again.
In a ‘smoking first’ you'd find him, tho' he'd no business there,
But ‘they all know me, old chappie, it’s all right and they don't care!’
For a while he had a ‘contract’, so the habit on him grew,
Just to blandly murmur ‘Season!’ at the gate in passing in thro’
But tho' on its expiration to renew it he ‘forgot’
As of yore he travelled daily, as if by-laws, there were not:
Till there came a rude a wakening- he remember’d, when too late-
For the ‘ flying squad” one morning for the ‘ten o’clock’ lay wait,
All the tickets they examin'd, and to him in turn they came,
Took address and occupation, with our ‘brief-less’ hero's name!
Now he has a memory –painful--of a sad and eventful day
For be learnt a bitter lesson, when he'd fine and costs to pay.

(N E. Stilus
Western Australian Railway Gazette, May 1901)

The Freight Guard

It was back in 1985, they took the vans away
We all thought they'd come back on
But they're still gone today
Though no one talks about it, we all can recall
The smell of burning diesel, and the engine's mighty roar

Hear those big GMs a-roaring, we're rolling down the track
A-jumping and a-bumping it's rough riding down the back
We shunted every siding from Goulburn to Campbelltown
Now the driver's on a promise and he's got the hammer down

(© John Bargmann 2000 RTBU Competition)
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

The Trackside Tradesman

I walk through the grass up to the shed.
It feels pretty scary it's as high as my head.
I open the door and pick up some tools.

(©David A Hockings2000 RTBU Competition)
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

The Dying Railway Commissioner

The Railway Commissioner lay dying,
Portfolio supporting his head,
His secretaries round him were crying,
When he leaned on his elbow and said....

Wrap me up in my doubletalk and bullshit,
And bury me deep down below,
Where my scabs and the unions can’t reach me,
And the wage claims can no longer grow.

Oh, had I the sense of a dodo,
I’d cut all the wages by half,
Then fly to Bermuda or Rio,
And then as I die, I would laugh.

There’s port in the cut-glass decanter,
Now fill the wine glasses well,
And we’ll drink to my next council meeting
With the devil, and his mob, in hell.

Old Nick has now come to transport me
In his XPT down the black hole,
Cause I tried to sack 2,000 workers,
Whose families would starve on the dole.


Reminiscence of a Station Master

by TWD of WA Railways 1903
There is a town (not a great distance from the city) where everyone knows his neighbour's business and where the majority of the population turn out in their Sunday best to meet the arrival and see the departure of trains, and a sporting town second to none. It was the day after the races, and a few bookies and a fair crowd of
betting men assembled to see this train off. The bookies were quietly boasting how they scooped on the last race the day previously, while the other side were regretting
that they had not another opportunity to make up for their losses; when the ‘right away’ was given and the engine steamed off. Five minutes later the station master
could be seen coming, at a tremendous pace, carrying the staff (that he had unfortunately omitted to hand to the driver) and proceeding along the line after the departed train, and attempting what the majority assembled considered madness.

The old residents had ample opportunities of judging the officer's speed and staying- power and had seen similar trials with the locomotive. The bookies at first ridiculed the idea of the SM's chance and, more for a joke than anything else, offered odds at
100 to one, which were quietly taken. A curve in the line soon discerned the engine having a long lead, with the officer in hot pursuit. The bookies, however, commenced
to take things seriously, and odds were now only at 10 to1. Now a long hill had to be faced, and showed that the officer had reduced the lead considerably, and was
racing at even money against a locomotive. It was now only a question of stamina, and the knowing-ones put their final bet on the S.M. A few seconds later and the
form of a man could be seen springing on the step of the brake-van, while the guard, exhibiting his flag to the driver, declared to the crowd on the platform the judge's
decision. The fleeced bookies promptly paid all bets, but vowed it was a crooked race, while the more genuine ones declared it was a straight go and that the money was well

Unfortunately no time was taken, but while old inhabitants say it broke the world's record, the more knowing ones state it was the speed of the train that was
at fault. Although it is a number of years since the above happened, and the S.M. is now advanced in years, he can still be seen in an urgent case testing his spikes with the locomotive with anything under a quarter-mile start and the betting is always long odds in his favour. It was at an examination on safe-working, a short time ago, that
a new chum railway man was asked what lie would do in a case of a driver leaving the staff, when, he quickly replied, ‘ If it was the train that travels to Dough Boy
Hill, I would give her a chase on foot.’
The Western Australian Railway Gazette

Railway Widow's Blues

Come all you women, hear me complain
Don't mix with a man who drives a train,
Or you'll be sorry, you'll be blue
Every time a train goes through.

You pack his crib the night before
He's up and eating by half past four,
It's still pitch dark when he shuts the door
And you hear his train go through.

Many the night you lie and dream
Of how you and him could raise some steam,
Shunting and coupling to and fro,
Pull the regulator till the steam valves blow

So come all you women, hear me complain.
Don't mess with those fellas who drive the train.
You'll be so sorry, you'll be so blue
Every time a train goes through,

Every time a train goes through.

(John Warner, 1996)

A Tribute To The Railway Fettler’s Wife

I want to write you a story, Mate
So I will write you one that's true,
It's about the Railway Fettler's Wife
Some were black, and some were white.
It's about the harsh conditions,
They lived with, day and night,
They are the Backbone of the Railway Men,

(Written By Ray and Dot Wright, 2000 for the RBTU Competition)
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

Night Officer’s Grievances

A Night Officer's duty is not all honey,
Plenty of work and not half enough money;
Commencing at night and working till dawn,
Then toss into bed with a tremendous yawn.

Shunting in darkness is anything but nice,
When you catch hold of couplings as cold as ice;
Westinghouse taps as stiff as a ‘Saint’,
Brakes out of order no uncommon complaint.

Our Guards often growl when asked to shunt,
And Driver and Fireman give an occasional grunt;
With this sort of spirit no good can be done,
So the work of a Night Officer is minus all fun.

Most of us sometimes make mistakes,
By letting a train run through the gates;
Or making a far more serious error,
Staff-working, no doubt, is a fair terror.

A Night Officer once applied for a stove,
But this was refused. Oh, yes, ‘By Jove’;
Now don't you think that this was absurd,
I do, and so did others—my word.

Another necessity all Night Officers should get,
Is something to keep out the cold and the wet;
It's not very nice to go out to a train,
With a four-guinea suit, too good for the rain.

Sleep is a thing that we all require,
But Night Officers rarely have this desire;
This class of men you will often find
The most miserable looking of all mankind.

Some folk say, ‘why don't you get married,’
But this is a motion, not often carried;
For most of us only get a hundred and ten,
No wonder the ladies keep clear of such men.

Now I hope these lines will not cause any trouble,
Although it's time things came to a ‘Bubble’;
We trust the Department may see its way clear,
To grant us an ‘increase’ this coming year.

(Published in The Queensland Railway Express, August, 1912.)


Have you ever stood for hours
On a cold, wet concrete floor
Clipping tickets as they pass you
Till your hands are stiff & sore
And when you roar out ‘Show em’
All the flappers murmur ‘Gee’
That’s the way we put our time in
Underneath on 23.

The stools are just to look at
Never dare to take a seat
Even tho’ your legs are weary
And you feel ‘all in’ and ‘beat’
For orders are you must not sit
It seems all wrong to me
So we stand and clip the tickets
Underneath on 23.

The lights seem placed to trick you
And your weary downcast eyes
Glance at the rushing tickets
As they swiftly pass you by
And a sleek-haired sheik from Carlton
Roars out ‘Let’s go home for tea’
As he shoulders past a flapper
In the rush for 23.

Of cranks there’s always plenty
Abuse—we get a lot
The ladies call you ‘nuisance’
And the drunks are pretty hot
For they always seem to wander
When they’re full of beer and glee
Down to where you punch the tickets
Underneath on 23.

But the trains will still be roaring
And the crowds still pushing past
When I’m old & aged & pensioned
And a seat I have at last

When I sit in my old armchair
By the fire, I’ll always see
The portals that are always rushed
The gates of 23.

(Anon 1928, The Ticket Collectors Soliloquy, "Railroad" Journal of the Australian Railways Union).

The Dreams Of A Railway Camp Kid Become An Engineer

An engine driver’s life seems good
But when in the summer heat
It seems so mad to be near a fire
When you haven’t got cold feet.
But to be a construction engineer,
And to build a railway line
Is the thing I like best to do-
The life is so very fine.
To sleep in a lovely open tent
And to plan the bridges vast,
And if anything is set out wrong,
Why, we’d put it all down fast!
To ride on the footplate, holding on,
And before the train stops jump;
To be the boss of hundreds of men,
And to make the Navvies pump!
Oh when I’m a man and can choose my jobs
I know just what I’ll be
I won’t explore or drive a tram
Engineering’s the job for me.

(From ‘Camp Kids’)

A Guard’s Experiences

Do I remember the man we nearly ran over on the Temora line? I should think I did. I often wondered what became of the horse; seemed to me he was more worthy to be taken care of than the pig down at Moruya the other day that made for the rocks, with a line from the wreck of the ‘Kameruka’ and so enabled the passengers to be brought ashore.

‘What's the matter with the horse, anyhow?’ I managed to chip in. It was Bill Western that was talking, and he had been a guard on the line ever since I could remember, and that was nigh on 20 years. Bill had been relating some of his experiences, and I will let him tell some of them just as he told us.

A guard, you know, meets with all kinds of people as he meets with all kinds of weather. If he is an obliging chap he always gets along well, and in the country is as well known as the Premier, and as he is not a protectionist or a free trader is perhaps better liked. Why, bless me, there was old Ned Blunt and old Dick Darby, and lots of others, who won't readily be forgotten; however, that's a horse of another colour, as my old chum says; and what I want to tell about is this here horse of Bill's on the Temora line.
‘Well,’ said he, ‘it was this way. We were running towards Temora one morning and going along comfortably at about 5 miles an hour, when all of a sudden I heard the driver whistling sharply and looking ahead (luckily we had a long, clear view), I saw a horse standing apparently on the rails, but not moving. All the time we were getting closer. You know a mixed outfit, going at a good pace, takes some time to pull up. I could not see much more of it myself from the rear, but Joe Strong, who was driving, tells me how it all came about. He heard his fireman shout, ‘A horse on the line ahead,’ and then whistled, thinking he would be scared. He then eased the train, and as he got close found the horse was standing over a man who was lying right across the rails. Joe saw he could not pull up in time, and was horrified to think that he was going to be the death of a man — and none of us likes that you know — when he noticed the horse pulling at something, and Joe told me he and his mate were in an agony of suspense. They shrieked and whistled, or rather the engine whistled; and when they were within twenty yards of the man the horse gave an extra tug. The man stared stupidly about, and rolled just clear of the rails, the engine brushing him. I heard Joe give a loud hurrah, and in a minute he was able to pull up, my brake-van coming almost opposite the man with the horse still standing quietly alongside him.

Of course we all got down, and then found the man was very drunk. He had been leading the horse over the line — it was a level crossing — and had fallen on the rails but fortunately the reins remained over his elbow, and the horse, startled by the approach of the train, being wonderfully knowing, just pulled him clear of the rails as we came up.

I haven't seen the man since — it was about two year ago — nor heard of the horse. Probably the man was too drunk to appreciate that the horse had saved him from fearful death; but if it were me that horse would never have done another day's work.

So I thought, but we all get awfully ungrateful. I recollect a chap at the Institute one night giving a recitation about ‘man's inhumanity to man making countless thousands mourn’ and I suppose our ingratitude to animals is a good deal worse, as they can't help themselves, unless occasionally they kick, as the mule did –with killing effect to the French explorer the other day in Egypt.

Bill, however, was not a moralist, and in reply to another question if he had ever come across another case like it, told us of a railway man on the Southern line who had a peculiar experience. He was a watchman at a goods shed, and was at the time interested in waiting for the running of a special goods train late one night. He could see no signs of the train, and, as is not unusual with some railway men, put his head on to the rail to try and hear it in the distance. He was very drowsy, and while lying down to listen went to sleep on the rails. Fortunately, it was within the station yard and the guard, not Bill Western this time, who had come in advance of his train, stumbled right across the sleeper - a man, not an ironbark one — and was able to wake him up, and so save an inquest. As I said, this was not one of Bill's experiences but it was told to him by the guard who fortunately stumbled across the drowsy man, and the sequel to it was that at the local police court a few days later, the person at fault was fined £1, for, as the local paper reports, sleeping on the railway line.

1 am afraid, however, I am exhausting your space, and will reserve some further experiences for your next issue.

(November, 1897, ‘The NSW Railway Budget’

Cattle Train Drover (Expressive, With Verve.)

From Burdekin River Country, Strathmore and the Leichhardt Range
All in a Bang-tail Muster; one hundred of the best.
Big Beef Shorthorn Cattle; breeders every one
Four fine bulls, a new-born calf. And me!
Four wagons hold my tally;

(Copyright © Cattle Trajn Drover Amanda Hailes-Sibley.
Cattle Train Drover, An Original Poem by Amanda Hailes-Siblev
Author's Note:
This is an original poem, based on part of her journey with her cattle on
Queensland and New South Wales rail, and is a true account of that journey,
allowing just a little expression of Poet's Licence)

Written for the 2000 RTBU Competition
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.

Song of the Fettler

Old 17 is whistling
As she rushes through the night
With head and tail-lights gleaming
And every car alight
But as she takes the cutting
And holds the shining track
From lusty throats come calling
The song of the man - Outback

On cold and lonely stretches
On bridges, tall and long
You hear the cry of ‘Paper’
The fettler’s only song
Then as you roll and fling them
Just watch the eager pack
That rush like boys to grip them
For they are scarce - Outback

In scorching sun and blinding dust
In snow and sleet and hail
These men the tracks are keeping
For the passing or the Mail
Then after ‘grub’ it’s paper time
And every tent and shack
Is going through the latest
By the light of the lamp - Outback

With oil lamps dimly casting
A light on earthen floor
When canvas walls go swaying
As the wind through gum trees roar
Those papers every letter
Are read, from front to back
Then passed along to cobbers
That's the way of these men - Outback

But when the storm clouds gather
And rain comes for a week
The Ganger roars at midnight
‘Come on, boys! Down the Creek’
Out then, in gleaming oilskins
They go along the Track
With jacks and picks and crowbar
There's a washaway on - Outback.

So now you know just what it’s like
To work on the line out there
Where every man's a toiler
Where each man does his share
Next time you hear them calling
Don't pass the waiting pack
Give out the news from Sydney
It’s a lot to these men outback.
“Johnson” 10-11-29
The Railroad 1929

The Last Conductor

Twin ribbons of black 'neath a waning moon,
Awaiting a train, that's coming soon;
Away in the bushland far from a town,
This will yet be a railway, when the varnish has gone.

For ninety years down to today,
The sleeping car train has run this way;
A string of lights, a rush and a roar,
Sudden, as reflection of light, 'neath a door.

For ten years now, I've worked the trains,
With not many thanks, for all my pains,
The directors lack feeling for those on the rails;
For them sole care is speedy transit of mails.

I was the last conductor at the Albany end,
As a service, that ran each night, as a friend;
A vital link, over a long distance span;
It was a household word, in the life of man.

There are joys and regrets, in a task well done,
But to me, fond memories of the passengers come;
Checking the tickets, of all the old dears,
Helping them at stops, or calming their fears.

But as with all things, that man has invented,
Time has moved on and the years prevented;
The powers that be, have issued decree;

That this train shall run - - - It's work shall be done,
With goods traffic only; that's all we shall see.

Tonight's the night the schedules say,
It is the night we change our way,
Seven and eight; from this night hence,
People, no more, shall move nightly thence.

No more will we see the cream and the green,
No more, the rows of lights on fence or stream:
Memories of High Wheelers of the years, fade away,
And the sounds die loo; in the dawn's cold grey.

And leave an aura of emptiness,
Impossible to fill;
Not only in my daily work,
But in my memory still-

The years shall fly on speedy wing,
While seasons soon are gone.
Where passengers of future years,
Have choice of transport, none.

If they would travel publicly,
Buses may move them on,
But like the children of these years;
None, shall ride again,
On these velvet rails, o'er hills and dales,
The ghost of the overnight train.

From The Last Conductor B Raven WA 1980


We're just three lonely fettlers located right out West,
Midst heat and sand and desert we try to do our best;
Each morn at six you see us with shovels, bar and jack,
All day long through heat and dust, we toil along the track

Our camp is on a sandhill, there's nare a soul to meet,
'Cept for a weary swagman who wandered off his beat;
Just twice a week arrives a train with our supplies,
Just old corn beef and taters, some bread, and jam and flies.

You've got the lot the guard says, then gives the rightaway,
That train's our only visitor till our next ration day;
So listen all you fettlers who've never been outside the old suburban,
Any day – come pop along our outback way,

You'll get a family greeting, be sure you will not rust,
For water is so very scarce, you'll eat your pound of dust;
Just keep your courage growing and keep your chin well up,
Then life will be worth living, for full will be your cup.
By Railwayman Jim Gordon. The Retired Rail and Tramwayman magazine April 1940 Iron Road


By Leonard Sedden

Two engines standing at the board,
The branch was on the main,
Our foreman's voice in anger roared
Through the pelting rain.

Main-readers coming by the score,
Whistles pop together,
Another branch with fifty more,
I knew they'd like the weather.

I love my job, and so do you.
Who said I am a liar?
As for trying something new,
I'd sooner die by fire.

And yet some critics always say,
By the beard of Moses,
A shunter's life is all sweet hay,
And a bed of roses.

Perhaps they'd like to shunt one nest,
We'll gladly let 'em try,
And when they've done their very best,
Regard with a milder eye.

Let them come in summer time,
And don our service trousers;
They'd put their feelings into rhyme,
Ceasing to be wowsers.

Then again our oilskin coats,
Things of joy and gladness,
Enough to make one eat more groats
To minimise the sadness.

Our pretty hat give them to wear,
A sign of our prosperity,
Such beauty is so scarce and rare
It causes much hilarity

I sigh for their cupidity,
And beautiful oration,
Forgiving their stupidity
Although of long duration.

It's nice to see your friends come home,
Then go seeking pleasure,
While you and I to work must roam.
For us there is no leisure.
The Railway Issue 1929


(By 'exchange')
Often as I slave and stew,
Digging in these dirty ditches,
I have dared to think of you –
You and all your riches.
Lackeys help you on and off,
And the bed is silk you lie in;
You have doctors when you cough,
Priests when you are dying.

Wrapt in soft and costly furs,
All sewed up with careful stitches,
You consort with proper curs
And with perfumed bitches.
You don't sweat to struggle free,
Work in rags and rotten breeches –
Puppy, have a laugh at me
Digging in the ditches.

The Railroad Issue 1928/29

MUCKING OUT BRIGADE (Carriage Cleaners)

I have seen them often standing,
In ill-fitting dungarees,
With their kerosene tin buckets,
Looking cold and ill at ease,
On a dirty train they're dwelling
Just the daily 'clean up raid'
Armed with tins and brooms and chammies –
That's the mucking out brigade.

Some will sweep, while others polish,
Some will hose the windows clean,
Others changing towels and bottles,
Searchers grabbing magazines,
Then a loud-voiced leading porter,
With a chargeman, see the braid?
Pass along and view the working
Of the mucking out brigade

Pull that carpet out and sweep it!
See the leading porter frown?
Well, those windows aren't too clever,
Get your hose and wash 'em down.
Hear that red-faced porter shouting,
Hey! That mat ain't properly laid!
And he shows them how they do it,
In the mucking out brigade.

I have done my bit of mucking,
In those baggy dungarees,
I have scrubbed and rubbed and polished
On a floor with aching knees;
It is not all beer and skittles,
And as long as trains are made,
There'll be work with broom and bucket
For the mucking out brigade

The Railroad 1929
Iron Road

Lithgow Barracks Attendant

Of the many barracks attendants
On the north the south, and west,
The men all voiced with one accord
Mrs Noonan was the best

Her motto. It was cleanliness
And these facts we must recall
She was never to report a man
And loved by one and all

She had one pet aversion
Which she fought with all her might
The creatures I allude to
Are those “pilgrims of the night”

If she could find a trace
Where one of these had been
The barracks reeked with odour
Of phenol and kerosene

As we lay in be at night our
Thoughts we bound to roam
To these creatures on the doorstep.
Crying out “ We are driven from home.”

Through many dreary winters
She was never known to shirk
Forty years of service
And not once late for work

While the snow lay heavy on the ground,
And the day began to peep
The noise of brooms and buckets
Would arouse you from your sleep.

Forty years a unionist-
Now men bear this in mind
They handed her, her clearance
On the day that she resigned

Just a few words in conclusion
And what I say is right
Our hearts are in this token
That we present to-night.

Of good health and happiness
May she enjoy the best
And may the Lord what o’er her
Through her days of well earned rest.

Vale 1945

Frank Brown Locomotive Engine Driver poet

Farewell “Merv” the Machine Shop Boss






Annon Workshop Wallboard Rollingstock Chullora 1985
Dick Bye. Gateman

Traffic both sides of Dick—
He sees the danger quick,
And shuts the gates so slick;

Oh, how they fly!
Holding his red flag fast,
Till all the danger's past.
Engines all toot a blast,

Passing Dick Bye.

People we No9
Railway and Tramway Magazine Dec 1st 1921

A Guard’s Nightmare

The train starts out from Milsons Point,
And is full-right to the brim:
Some passengers are short and stout,
While others are long and thin.

Our first stop is a little place
Called Waverton (by the sea);
I'll not say anything about this place*
'Cause there’s nothing there to see.

The train rolls on to 'Wollstonecraft
Where the S.M.’s in possessions
And the suits and frocks of people here
Show no ,signs of depression.

0ur next stop is St. Leonards,
Just a couple of miles or so.
Where the porter rushes up and down
And says, "We'll let her go.”

When arriving at Artarmon
The train, stops with a jerk
'And the station staff gets busy,
For its then they have to work -
When the train gets into Chatswood.
Where the gardens are all a glow
And the passengers all scramble out-
'Tis like a picture show.

We then run on to Lindfield,
Where the girls have different cloths
And the S.M. there is busy
Pulling up his favourite rose,

Killara is our next stop,
With the Station spick and span,
And the junior at the barrier
Collecting tickets like a man,'

On arriving at Gordon
It is just on half-past three
And the passengers are dressed to kill
With skirts above their knees.

Then on we go to Pymble,
With the passengers from town.
Who seem a lot more tired
Than the last lot we set down,

Our next stop is Turramurra,
With the station staff so slow.; :
When the guards looks for the right away
They will murmur "Right-o Joe."

Then on to Warrawee we go,
‘Tis here they try to save
For the junior has his buttons shined
Altho' he needs a shave.

Wahroonga is our next big stop
Where order reigns supreme:
Each man is running to his post
As the train comes on scene.

There’s only one more station left
Waitara is the name;
The passengers they bolt away
In a hurry to home.

Our destination, “Hornsby”
Is a splendid sight, to see
When the train is safely stabled,
And the guard goes home to tea.

“ENGLERT” Railroad 10-1- 1932 p8
A Sum Up
It’s just to bad said my little lad
When he read Googles good-bye letter
I wonder why he got the sack
For I am sure no one else could do better
The Railroad we all think is Jolly fine
We read it right through not missing a line.

There’s Farr’s big ad. on the very front page
They help us to live on the basic wage.
Then there’s the pub where dad has a spot
And for your holidays some nice furnished cot.

And Harry Crammer sells lines and rods
So you can catch fish if it’s the will of the god
There’s an Underwood Typewriter if you wish to save ink
You can buy it on terms, so what more? Strike me pink
If you haven’t the “ready” there’s the cash order, stores
And solicitors waiting if you want a divorce
There’s the top-dog shirts, all guaranteed
Then there’s the cafes where you get a good feed
There’s the dentist who pulls your teeth without pain
And make you some more if you call again
Waters shops of twelve or more
Where you get bargains by score
There are many more who advertise
To many for me to itemise
And good firms all that deserve a trial
They treat you well there's no denial
There’s news of interest for everyone
What is said and being done
Amusements, shows and fun galore
And little jokes when you’re feeling sore
And the man who’ll make a new man of you
And the ladies who letters get some in a stew
And now I think you will agree
That the “Railroad’s” the paper for you and me
So make up your mind do all you can
And strengthen this paper every man
And, wives, support “The Railroads” Stores
Where you get good values and help the good cause
Instil this motto into your mind
Me for the ‘Railroad,” help mankind

Mrs R Evans Railroad 10 –8-1931

Changing Times

For thirty six years this old Railway
has shown me some wonderful sights
with lots of fun and excitement
and plenty of cold lonely nights.

I've worked all over the system
From Sydney to Bourke on the roads
I still hear the hiss of the pistons
of steam trains that strained with the load.
I've seen the demise of the brakeman
replaced with a red "Blinky Bill"
and I wonder if old Ben Chifley
still looks down from his Light on the Hill

I think of the fights of the Unions
as each sought its place in the sun
with each Union struggling for dominance
while history demanded just one

The times they sure are a changing
and we must along with the rest
for time and tide waits for no one
I know we can cope with the test

© Alex Mitchell The Rattle
2000 RBTU Competition

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