Audrey’s Epic Railway Adventure



Here is one you have been waiting for another tale from our Ausie Pom Audrey Sanderson
Audrey’s Epic Railway Adventure
I spent Christmas day with friends on their property where they have an antique restoration business. Perfect in every way from the masses of beautiful prepared food, the great company and the weather behaved it’s self by not being too hot or bucketing it down with monsoon rain as so often happens in Brisbane at this time of the year.
The owner of the property showed me round some of the workshops before we left and I was transported back to when I was a small girl at the sight of his blacksmiths shop. Remembered queuing with a bunch of other kids to have the blacksmith attached metal runners to our sledges father’s had made.
He also restores old steam engines. Again more memories of steam train engines on the tracks at the end of Charlton Place all those years ago.
Almost four years ago I had a trip back to Leeds. Unfortunately Ellerby Lane school has gone, lots of the pubs, cinemas also gone and villages on the outskirts of the city now have a Leeds post code.
The lower part of Charlton Place where I used to live has gone too. A little bit sad as I walked from the Shepherd Pub to where I had lived and found it wasn’t there anymore and then I saw the railway wall. Smiled to myself remembering as small kids we’d dared each other to climb up it and walk along the top. Trains seem to figure a lot in my life. It’s not as if I plan to live near them or travel on them it was coincidence I happened to buy a house close to a train track or had temporary accommodation near one.
I lived near York Road at Halton, just off Selby Road after I was married, the train line to Crossgates was at the back of my house.
The house I live in now is on a main road with 15,000 cars using it every day. People ask ‘ How can you stand the noise? How on earth do you manage to get any sleep?’ What noise? It’s life, people are going places, everyone is busy earning a living or socialising, rearing kids or enjoying retirement.
Not many cars in East End Park when I was a child but lots of familiar noises of doors opening and closing, footsteps, someone whistling a tune or kicking a tin can and setting the dogs off barking and of course the trains at the bottom of the street rattling along the train track.
The 10 pound tourists went to an immigration centre on the outskirts of Brisbane when they first arrived. Guess what, back in 1969 the nearest building out in the wilderness was a train station. It was over a mile away but hearing the engines whistle felt friendly to me.
I didn’t intentionally buy this house because it was near a train line. It was a new suburb when we moved in and was classed as ‘ Out in the sticks ‘ No proper roads, no street lights, 4 small shops,12 houses and we could afford the deposit the builder was asking.
Diesel trains took over from the old steam trains and old fashioned bone shaker wooden carriages and only on very quiet mornings around 5 a.m. can I hear the train whistle as the first train of the day leaves the Ferny Grove station.
A few years back I had a holiday in Malanda with a friend who lives in the hinterland of North Queensland. Malanda is about a 2 hour drive from Cairns through twisting mountain ranges. The scenery is spectacular, the company of my friend Dee priceless.
Queensland rail in it’s cost cutting ventures has now made the ” Sunlander ” train obsolete. A great pity a lot of people think as it took around 36 hours travelling from Brisbane to Cairns and was very relaxing as we chugged along mile upon mile through a large part of Queensland. Three modes of seating, Tourist where you sat up all night in your seat, First class where you had a cabin to yourself or shared with 3 others and bunk style beds, Sunlander class was like travelling on ” The Orient Express ” very, very nice.
I decided to travel first class to Cairns and Sunlander class on the return journey.
The trip to Cairns on that particular train left twice a week, Sundays and Wednesdays. It takes so long to load the train with mountains of food, clean linen etc. it arrives at the city station an hour and half before departure. Passengers luggage has to be checked and loaded and then the passengers are allowed on the train. It uses a platform normally used for goods trains as it’s far too long for a normal passenger train platforms because not only does it carry passengers their is limited space for those wishing to take their own car to use at their destination. After about 60 years of practice they had it down to a fine art.
At 8 a.m. the guard blew the whistle, waved a green flag and we were off. Slowly we chugged through the city, then the suburbs and picked up passengers at designated stations. A few hours later well clear of the city and suburbia we stopped for half an hour to take on water for the next stage of the journey. This was the time passengers could take the opportunity to get off the train and stretch their legs by walking up and down the platform or bods like me find where I could smoke a cigarette and not got rapped over the knuckles. As I can’t walk too far I made for the nearest exit of the station and smoked a cigarette on the footpath…so did all the other smokers. Back on the train for a few more hours and stopped once more to pick up more passengers while the existing ones hopped off for a smoke. It was getting like a little club every time we alighted. We came from different sections of the train and chatted about nothing in particular as half an hour soon goes by. Because I can only walk slow I only just made it back to the train before the guard blew the whistle and hopped through the nearest open door. Nowhere near my own cabin I thought I’d be able to walk through the train without any problem. Carriage after carriage I walked through until I could go no further. I was sure I had been walking in the right direction. I hadn’t taken much notice how long the train was at Roma Street station when I first got on it. I was too busy looking at the carriage numbers to find the same one as on my ticket. Two of the staff were checking someones tickets and I asked where my cabin was. The man laughed and said I had a long walk I was at the opposite end of the train. Of course he asked what I was doing at that end and laughed even more saying now was the time to give up smoking. I eventually got to the restaurant car where I had a cup of coffee, A young man asked if he could sit opposite me as there wasn’t many spare seats. I recognised him from the smoking stops and laughed as I told him I’d walked the length of the train trying to find where my cabin was. He laughed too and said he’d see me back to my cabin. The door between the carriages are very heavy and not easy to hold one open, step onto the shaky floor that joins the next carriage and push on the other heavy door to open it. My companion was holding open the door for me so eventually I made it into the next carriage. There was a guard sitting just inside reading a book. He asked where we thought we were going. I told him the number of my cabin and he asked the man the number of his.. He had a seat in the tourist section so was told he couldn’t be in the section where we were. I thought he was a bit harsh the way the guard spoke to him and explained he had helped through the heavy doors. ” That’s fine lady but this is a far as he goes.” The man turned to leave and said we’d meet up at the next stop for a smoke. I felt as if I’d done something really terrible and told the guard there had been no need to speak in the manner he had done as anyone can make a mistake. He asked if I knew the man. I said I only knew him as a passenger on the train. ” You have to be careful who you speak to travelling on long distance trains my dear ” I laughed ” I’m old enough to be his mother. My son is older than him ” He shrugged his shoulders and I went into my cabin. I laughed as I looked in the mirror ‘ Do I look like Femme Fatal Material? ‘ More laughing at myself, don’t quite look as though I’m ready for a pine box but certainly not a pin up star on the front cover of a girlie magazine Stupid guard, should have his eye tested for glasses.
The farther north we travelled the landscape didn’t change very much. Mile up on mile of sugar cane plantations, then mile up on miles of pineapples as far as you could see. All rail tracks are built on flat country, no mountains like Switzerland, no massive rivers to cross. It a hell of a big country and almost 2 days of none stop travel and we never leave the state of Queensland. Night fall came and after my evening meal in the restaurant car nothing else to do but climb into the narrow bed in my cabin. Didn’t sleep very well because of the carriage swaying. The clicking of the wheels on the track were comforting but not keen on the swaying from side to side and total blackness outside. At 5:30 a.m. I gathered up my things and went to the shower room. A good move I later found out. First in get a hot shower, if you are a late riser too bad the water is luke warm.
Did get to see dawn breaking and it is breath taking most days. I never get tired of watching the sun come up or the setting sun either when I’m in big open spaces. Don’t get much more of a wilderness than outback Australia. I’ve travelled by car into the outback and you feel as though you are the only one on the planet. All you see is horizons in every direction and not another living person.
Different on a train of course, there are hundreds of passengers. After breakfast we pulled into Townsville railway station where a lot of the passengers alighted. The platform was crowded with people meeting passengers. passengers who had come for a holiday, staff restocking food and drink items. We were there for over half an hour so the smokers could take their time.
The numbers in our smoking group had diminished. Obviously all the passengers were not going to the same destination. My escort from the restaurant car was still there. He told me he’d been working in Europe and hadn’t been back to Tully, his home town for 20 years. I asked what kind of work he did in Europe. Big mistake. To hear him talk he’d built the channel tunnel between France and England on his own. He was an engineer of the highest degree and was only going to Tully to see his family before going to another job in New York. I would have guessed his age to be around early 30s and I’m not that naive to know no one of that age could have had the experience to take on the responsibility of building the channel tunnel on his own. He exaggerated more on the job he was going to in New York. It was some project that was going to be the tallest in the world, the most luxurious, dadat, dadat, dadat. How very impressive…but not to me. I said that kind of work must pay very well.
Yes, I know I was terrible for egging him on. I’d been on that train for 30 hours and it was getting rather boring. He didn’t say how much he earned but did say he owned a flat in Paris and mentioned the address. No good bragging to people if they don’t know the area your bragging about. Could have been the local tip for all I knew.
He didn’t look wealthy but still neither do a lot of millionaire Australians. Not much of a class problem her at all. No matter how many cars you have you can only drive one at a time and anyone can hire a flash car if you want to impress someone. Who can be bothered?
No more time for chatting the train was about to leave.
The landscape got greener the farther north we travelled. I was getting exited as we neared Cairns. Dee had planned on showing me the many towns and scenery surrounding Malanda. We were spending the night at her daughters place and going to Dee’s house the following day. She said the mountain range we had to go over was too dangerous for her to drive at night time.
I’d had enough of relaxing and would be more than happy to get off the train but how to pass the next 5 hours? Coffee in the restaurant car seemed a good idea.
Had to manoeuvre the heavy doors between carriages myself this time but managed it. Not a lot of people in there so that plan of chatting to someone fell flat. I gazed out of the window and took my time drinking the coffee. I was just about to leave when a man sat down opposite me, the young build a tunnel under the english channel on your own smoker smiled and said he hoped he’d see me before he got off the train. Tully was an hour away and that’s when he would depart the train. I said I had another four hours after that before I reached Cairns.
Suddenly he took hold of both my hands, looked deep into my eyes. My God! The guard was right. This guy is going to try stealing the rings off my finger. Not often I wear the fancy rings but going on holiday thought I’d dress up a bit. Instant panic!!! He wouldn’t let go of my hands so I curled my fingers to my palms. Thinking ‘ He’s not going to get them without a fight. He’ll have to break my finger before I’d let go of them.’ Everybody is smart in hindsight. The mythical ” They ” tell you to give the robber your money, jewellery or any valuables he asks for. It’s better to loose your possessions than your life. My first reaction was to hang onto my possessions at all costs, I’d worked bloody hard to afford to buy them. It all happened in a split second. He started speaking ” You are so pretty. Those lovely big blue eyes have captivated me.”
Still keeping my fingers curled tight I thought What the hells wrong with the lunatic? Is he drunk? Is his eye sight defective? Started looking round the restaurant car…we were the only ones there. Real panic then. I told him my sense of humour didn’t stretch that far and to let go of my hands.
” But madame I adore you. Please listen to what I have to say. I can offer you so much I own my flat in Paris, I have a house on a Greek island, I’ve bought an apartment on 5th Avenue in New York. I will be very good to you, take care of you. Please madame you must listen to me.”
I told him he’d said enough and to knock it off or I’d call the guard. He smiled ” No guard in here and the staff are on their break ” O Bloody hell what have I got myself into!
No good screaming. No one would hear above the nose of the train click clacking along the track. He had hold of my hands so couldn’t pick up the contraption that held the menu, sugar packets and belt him with it.
I relaxed my fingers slightly and told him not to be silly I was old enough to be his mother.
He preferred older women. Hmmm that didn’t work. I pulled my hands towards me. He grinned ” I like them with a bit of fight in them ” Dear God! He’s going to attack me!
Enough is enough smart Arse I smiled sweetly and from under the table kicked him hard on the shins “How much do you like to fight you slimy bastard? I have a black belt and if you want to play now’s your chance ” Snatched my hands away just as a passenger opened the door from my end of the train. I yelled at him to hold the door open and fled as fast as my little legs could move.
I was shaking like a leaf when I locked my cabin door behind me and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Cry because I’d been so frightened or laugh at my stupidity by not seeing it coming or laugh at him for thinking I’d believe all his blarney. I stayed locked inside my cabin until we’d left Tully train station miles behind us.
Dee was waiting for me on the Cairns platform and roared laughing when I told her about my would be Romeo. She said why didn’t things like that happen to her when she went on long journeys. I said I’d rather live without the experience. She said I must have felt flattered with his declarations of being adored. I said he was nothing but a Gigolo preying on who he thought was a rich old bird. She thought it was hilarious and said it would be nice to swan around a 5th Avenue Apartment and a holiday home on a Greek Island. I said I bet he thought it would be too, only one snag, he’d chosen me to foot the bill and didn’t know I’d used my pensioner pass to buy a cheap train ticket to visit her.
I did offer to teach her how to smoke in case she caught the train to Brisbane at some time.
Romeo probably travels up and down on the train several times a year trying to sweet talk his way into a rich life style. Might have to try a different pick up line in future and not travel in tourist class if he’s going to brag about houses, flats and apartments he owns.
The return trip two weeks later wasn’t as eventful. The accommodation, food and service was first class all the way. Like a five star hotel on wheels. Had all the fancy toiletries in the cabin, encouraged to take the dressing gown and slippers when you left. A large cabin will all the bells and whistles, no expense spared with old world charm of decorating, art work on the walls etc. An entertainer who played music for hours in the club car and met some interesting people to talk to. Travelling on my own I shared a dining room table with 3 others. There’s always a draw back somewhere along the line. A married couple and a single lady all about my age. All the single lady talked about was her ailments and medication. The husband was a know all and expert at nothing. His wife was the meek and mild long suffering type who agreed with everything he said out of habit. One lunch time he didn’t appear and she thoroughly enjoyed herself telling me about her many interests when at home. She said she didn’t particularly like going on holiday and would much prefer her husband to go on his own but he insisted she goes with him. She said it was a small price to pay for having a fine big house and landscaped gardens.
I met people from all walks of life on that trip but glad when I got home where I don’t have to please anyone but myself. I don’t envy any of their live styles and certainly haven’t missed not having a holiday on a Greek Island, in a Paris flat or looking through a penthouse window down onto 5th Avenue. I still have the fancy rings but don’t wear them on holidays anymore.


16 Responses to “Audrey’s Epic Railway Adventure”

  1. Doug Farnill Says:

    What a trip Audrey. Thank you for sharing your adventures. Now I have a nice island in the Pacific with 4 Alfa Romeo and 7 Jags – one for each day of the week, and a beach in Florida, and a “modest” apartment in central London. And I think your story is beautiful. How is that for starters?

  2. Dave Carncross Says:

    I didn’t see that coming Audrey. Enjoyed it as usual. Even while it was happening , I bet you were thinking ” this’ll make a good yarn to tell later”. I would also bet you have missed out a few bits of choice language when you encouraged him to leave you alone. Does go to show though, you can’t be too careful these days. Keep on writing Aud.

  3. peterwwood Says:

    I always think of long rail journeys as a magical experience . How wonderful to take The Orient Express. But this weren’t the Orient Express was it Audrey?

  4. Eric Says:

    Great stuff Audrey, as usual. I was both fascinated by your journey details but horrified at the encounter with the philanderer.
    Yet, I had to laugh at Doug’s comment as well.
    Can’t wait for your next tale Audrey

  5. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    Brilliant train trip Audrey, and so much excitment, I’m sorry now that we moved from Devon Street all those years ago, we could have had some great fun I’m sure, had things been different. I went down to the Shepherd Pub in Pontefract Lane a couple of years ago now, and I was also sad that the houses we lived in had all disappeared, but the memories were still there, jumping out of the back bedroom window onto the roof of the outside toilet when my big sister was after me, it all came flooding back….It’s a great story Audrey and I very much enjoyed reading it…can’t wait to read the next one..

  6. aussiepom Says:

    I’ll keep your offer in mind Doug. Are the Alfa Romano’s red? And how modest is the London apartment?
    I wasn’t thinking of writing when it was happening Dave. Good thing the sleaze didn’t try any karate moves. The only black belt I have is the one that holds up my long pants.
    Perhaps the railway romeo had seen movies of the Orient Express Pete and mistook me for Lauren Bacall. He definitely should have worn glasses.
    Glad my yarn made you laugh Eric. Would you like to hear about the time we towed a caravan?

  7. aussiepom Says:

    I was a shy timid little girl when you still lived in Devon Street Eddie. I’ve still got the curly hair but not shy and timid anymore. I had lots of laughs with my Dad and his old mates in the smokey Shepherd Pub. 4 years since I had a trip back to Leeds but the Shepherd wasn’t open for business and sad to see The Princess turned into a chip shop.
    Come visit Brisbane and we’ll have a beer . It won’t be Tetleys but an icy cold Fourex ( I think you call it Castlemain ) goes down without touching the sides on a hot day. There’s an old style Aussie Pub a short drive from my place. It has all the old style fittings and a big wide verandah at the front where you can sit, drink and watch the world go by. A small world as the tourists don’t know about it.

  8. Eric Says:

    What a great sense of humour you have Audrey, of course I’m sure we’d all love to hear your caravan yarn.
    The Oz pub sounds very tempting, if I’m ever out that way, I’ll be sure to call in for a cold one (or two).

  9. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    Sounds an Interesting story Audrey, we had a caravan, and I also had a sailing dingy that I used to tow…the Forex sounds great, reminds me of that old film “Ice Cold in Alex.”..John Mills…but that was in 1958 so you were probably too young to see it, think I saw it at the Pricess, or it could have been the Star Cinema in York Road…

  10. aussiepom Says:

    Thank you for thinking I was too young to have seen Ice cold in Alex Eddie. I actually do remember seeing it but the only thing I remember was the scene in the bar as John Mills, Anthony Quayle and Sylvia Simms watched the condensation run down the outside of the glasses of beer.
    I’m sure you were more competent at towing a caravan than we were. Think of Frank Spencer and it gives you some idea of what our trip was like. I could give Michael Crawford plenty of ideas for another series.

  11. peterwwood Says:

    I remember that scene too. It must be one of the most iconic film scenes of all time. Lets think of more

  12. Brandee Zuniga Says:


    […]Elderly Americans on cruise: Why Tarquinia

  13. aussiepom Says:

    Reply to BrandEE. I’m sure everyone would like to be enlightened on what a Tarquinia is or was.

  14. Wendy Says:

    Great story Audrey, you are such a story teller. I could hear your pommie accent as I read your words. How do you do that?
    I travelled the inland train from Roma street to my sons property in Emerald Queensland. Great way to travel. Didn’t meet any Romeos just great Aussie characters heading to the races in Longreach.
    Great story.
    Wendy in Perth

  15. aussiepom Says:

    G’day Wendy, did you find any Gems in Emerald? Only unpolished ones on the trains love. In-house joke folks. Emerald Qld. is where the gem fields are if you fancy rolling your sleeves up and digging for your own rubies and sapphires. DIY jewellery.
    You’d stand a better chance of finding a gem in the fields than a treasure on a train.

    • Wendy Says:

      The gems I have in Queensland are two little granddaughters who ride pony’s have pet pythons and help round up the cattle. Who would have thought. when I trudged through cobbled streets to Victoria Park school I would have cattle station kids in the middle of Queensland.
      It’s been a great life.

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