By rail - Journey from Queanbeyan to Canberra July 2013
Cold of station hands in pockets, geometry of rail lines and point rodding. The locked toilets and well maintained brickwork of the station with waiting room opened mysteriously for no staff in sight. Train snakes into the platform and into the warm of the railcar. Plenty of room in my seat to spread out and unwind scarf and slowly pull off my woollen gloves as they resist my touch.
I’m entranced by swirling mist along Molonglo valley, through cuttings of solid rock along ledge above the rapidly flowing river. There are piles of termite eaten old telephone poles in strange geometric patterns lying alongside this uneven track. Our train slows as kangaroos leap fence and the horn sounds, breaking into sunlight by the huge military communications base. Meal ticket for a hot lunch as train gathers speed. The distinctive movement of train wheels on track and the shadows of trees across windows. A series of tunnels with brick porticos and stygian black with sudden reflections back into the carriage suddenly transformed to winter sunlight. Tight curves and freshly painted white marker posts. From cuttings to high embankments as the train descends I to the valley of Bungendore. The intersecting v of the Captains’ flat line and an old signal with exposed washed away ballasted wooden sleepers and the rail removed for a few metres to prevent any possibility of a connection even by accident with this branch line.
Slowing into the Bungendore loop and into the platform, blue station signs against dark red brickwork and the traditional serrated platform canopy edge with cast supporting pillars.. Here telephone posts now unlined stand alongside , some leaning at an angle with a supporting wire guy rope. Some are grey fragile looking wood and others on old rails with small white telephone isolating caps. Currawongs and Ravens find these useful purchases from which to survey the landscape. Some like old soldiers have fallen twisted to the ground and others have arms twisted in different directions, pointing wildly like spirit crazed prophets We gather speed as the traction motors increase their tempo. In the siding I noticed that the rails were not welded, held by fishplates with expansion gaps. Alongside the line occasionally a line of old wooden sleepers much eroded lies alongside the track like a second ghost line.
Grey sheep against sparse winter upland grass, creeks full of water with willows alongside, the water dark and still. Rocky outcrops of broken stone, they seem to rise above the ground like the backs of whales surfacing for air. Grey sheep sprint away from the now speeding train against the clear resigned voice of the female announcer. The train speeds and slows according to the need to traverse quite marked curved. Occasional mobile calls and slightly raised voices and the excited voices of the mother and eager interested young children in the seat alongside me. As we move across a valley over the embankment a burst of wind blows diesel fumes alongside as we come to a signal stop perched above a dry creek bed. A discarded rusty rail is like a snake alongside the track.
As we move ahead at speed I
At Tarago the sun shines again, there are piles of new looking steel sleepers lying alongside the track as beanie suited travellers board. This is a reminder no doubt that we are now on a heavily used freight line.
A set of steps for the low platform is chained with shining chain to brightly painted brickwork. There is a siding here, the remnant of once was a goods yard and rail workers in white utes watch us pass as the train climbs above the valley. The variegated harmony of train noises. brings back so memories for me. I recollect journeys across the Salisbury plain as a boy but these vitas of the high Monaro plains are different. Cars now travel beside us and slowly as if with some pride we pass them. The undulating road beside the flat line gives an odd look as if the cars were in some kind of game with the competing train. Space opens up as if for a lost station as we travel past the Little Bathurst tea rooms. Horses looking up, heads high as we pass and horned deeply brown cattle hardly seem to notice our passing.
We approach the main line with a steel bridge at right angles as with a gentle curve we circle past a green light to the main line and to double track. We pass a roundhouse and yard, brightly painted sky blue locomotives and others in different liveries. As the train pulls away a railway staff member takes down a wooden destination board. It is many years since I have seen these and remember well these boards from Britain where kept upright on the platform they were inserted to announce the route of the next train and the stations where these stops. Of course these are all electronic boards now.
Beyond Goulburn alongside the track over rivers are massive pillars of former bridges now replaced by modern structures.
Beyond Goulburn I eat my hot meal served in a cardboard tray to be reused and watch as countryside changes, we travel through small stations without stopping and climb again through woodland and green pasture.
The feel of the train has changed and its song too as we travel along the welded heavy freight rail towards Sydney.
There are four movements in this symphony, the first is the endangered branch line to Canberra surely under the doom of closure, the second the freight line that runs along half the length with clear intention for upgrade and the third is the well ballasted main line into the Southern Highlands. The last is the dance with electric trains through the suburbs to Central Station in the heart of the city where I change to a suburban train across the Harbor bridge.