Monday, 10 October 2016

South Brisbane: end of the line

South Brisbane Station was once the terminus for interstate trains travelling north from Sydney via the standard gauge North Coast Line. Board the Brisbane Limited at Sydney's Central Station at 6.30 in the evening, and the following morning at 10.14 am it would pull into South Brisbane Interstate Station, leaving you to find your way across the Brisbane River and into the city by taxi. For interstate travelers, South Brisbane was the end of the line. Today, the Brisbane XPT glides past South Brisbane's platforms and instead terminates across the Brisbane River at Roma Street Station. Yet South Brisbane Railway Station still retains its' heritage listed building in the face of the massive change that has swept Brisbane's South Bank area since the city's hosting of World Expo '88.

The impressive entrance to South Brisbane Station as photographed in February 2016.

South Brisbane Station first opened in 1884 as part of the Queensland Railways narrow guage network. Back then it was known as Melbourne Street Station, standing on the corner of Melbourne and Grey Streets. With the Brisbane River's potential for flooding already being realised early-on, the present station was rebuilt on higher ground in December 1891 and renamed South Brisbane. By 1918, the station had expanded to 6 platforms, and remained the terminus for all train services on the southern side of the city until the opening of the Merivale Bridge in 1978. The standard gauge line from Sydney didn't arrive until 1930, when the line was extended north of Kyogle through the Border Ranges.

South Brisbane's No. 1 platform with the Convention Centre and Brisbane Eye in the background, May 2016.

Interstate freight and passenger trains continued to use South Brisbane Station up until 1986, when the South Brisbane Interstate Station and goods yards were demolished to make way for Brisbane hosting World Expo '88. The tracks across the Merivale Bridge were relaid as dual gauge and from June 1986, the Brisbane Limited (and the 1988 Expo Expresses) crossed the Brisbane River to terminate at Roma Street Station.

The Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre dominates South Brisbane, photographed May 2016.

Following Brisbane's hosting of Expo '88, the entire South Brisbane precinct underwent a rapid and massive transformation into what is now South Bank Parklands. The 17 hectares of riverfront public space have transformed Brisbane into one of Australia's most pleasant cities. While the adjacent space to the west of the railway line where the Interstate Station and goods yards once stood is now dominated by the curved roof outline of the massive Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, which at one point even straddles the railway line itself.

The Queensland Museum as viewed from South Brisbane Station, May 2016.

Today, South Brisbane Station consists of 3 platforms served by trains on the Cleveland, Beenleigh and Gold Coast Lines. The 1891 heritage listed brick station building remains Brisbane's second oldest railway station and is a key station for stepping from the train to visit the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, Queensland Museum, Queensland Performing Arts Complex and South Bank Parklands, all of which stand parallel to the station.

Having visited the Queensland Museum in February 2016 to see the Medieval Power exhibition along with my wife and daughter, it was ironic to look back at the station from the steps of the museum and find it was like looking at a museum piece set against a backdrop of modern progress. The red brick facade of South Brisbane Railway Station, along with its white stone trim and picket fences, stands out in contrast to the white steel roofs and concrete architecture that surrounds it on all sides.

As a young boy growing up not far from the railway line in Gosford, I'd always fall asleep at night to the sound of trains heading north out of Sydney, wondering if perhaps one day I would get a chance to discover for myself what lay waiting at the end of the line. Standing on the steps of the Queensland Museum with my wife of 23 years and our daughter who was about to turn 21, I finally realised I had already found the answer. Sometimes it is only by looking back that we realise how far we've come. In my case, it is my wife Denise and two children Rochelle and Brandon who have provided a ride far greater than any train journey could offer, and it is fitting to think that all three were born at the nearby Mater Hospital, right here in South Brisbane.

The Red Bay Brewing Co's Silver Bullet at the Boundary Street Markets, photographed February 2016.

South Brisbane today is a far different place compared to when the Brisbane Limited arrived at the end of the line. Across the road on Melbourne Street you'll still find the Fox Hotel which traces its origins back to 1927 when it was known as the Hotel Terminus, while the Brisbane City Council offer a free heritage walking map of South Brisbane for those wishing to explore more than just South Bank Parklands. But perhaps the strangest find came at the end of the day, when we headed to the nearby Boundary Street Markets at West End and discovered an old train that had been converted into a bar. Billed as the Silver Bullet, the former QR railmotor now serves up craft beer in the vibrant atmosphere of a street market teaming with the aromas of nearby food stalls. For a lifelong train enthusiast, it is just as much an excuse to stop in for a drink as it is to photograph a train.

Having enjoyed sharing my Railway Reminiscing Adventures for the past 5 years, I do hope you'll join me soon for one last time as I share my final adventure from a place that up until this year I'd never heard of.

See also; Roma Street: Perestroika on Platform One

Friday, 7 October 2016

The Long Way Home - 10th Anniversary Giveaway

As a writer, it's a scary thought when your debut novel racks up its tenth anniversary. A thousand questions surface in your mind at once, and you even use the old counting your fingers trick just to be sure you haven't missed a year. Yet indeed it has been 10 years since I signed my first publishing contract back in October 2006. The Long Way Home it seems is now a long way from home, and a lot has changed from those early days of dreaming I was going to be the next Bryce Courtenay, Stephen King or Matthew Reilly. Ten years later as it turns out, I'm not.

The original cover of The Long Way Home. First published in 2006 with Trafford Publishing, then an independent self-publishing label based in Canada.

A decade after the book was first released in February 2007, I can at least look back and admire the bravado I showed for even contemplating writing a novel, let alone the gusto at which I attacked trying to sell myself as an author for the six years that followed. If believing 1000% in your own work and ability can be attributed to success, then I should have been a millionaire years ago! For a thirty-something author with a young family and a mortgage, I didn't let a sea-change from the city lights of Brisbane to the laid-back charm of the Sunshine Coast slow me down. Not even when a bigger mortgage coincided with a reduction in salary after my wife and I walked away from two good paying jobs. I firmly believed that my next novel was going to land that big contract which would enable both of us to quit our jobs, pay off our mortgage and live the life of a full-time novelist. The reality couldn't be further from the truth.

My debut appearance as an author at Riverbend Books & Teahouse in Brisbane back in April 17, 2007

Combined with our annual family vacations, I book-toured the east coast of Australia at my own expense, speaking or setting up with a table to sell copies wherever I could secure some time and space; bookstores, shopping centres, libraries, schools, even arts & crafts markets from the Sunshine Coast to Tasmania. In between working full-time and writing part-time, I even made time to meet regularly with a paid mentor who helped sharpen and hone what would become my second novel. Yet the immediate years that followed The Long Way Home were full of ups and downs. After landing a contract for my third novel in 2011 with Last Wish of Summer, the book ultimately failed by industry standards and by 2013 had been pulled from sale despite a sequel being in the final stages of editing. A mad scramble on my part saw me recover the rights to all four of my novels, and successfully release them as eBooks that same year, with The Long Way Home getting a new cover in the process. The book went on to notch over 600 downloads in the following year. As an author, that's all you can really ask for. That a reader is kind enough to give of their time to read and appreciate your work.

A meet the author morning at Capalaba Library, February 6, 2010

So a decade after the fanfare of organizing that time-honoured first book launch, I find myself far removed from the idea of forging a career as a writer. That trail has been blazed. These days I'm busy running a successful small business with my wife, while my two children are both studying full-time at University and my eldest has long since moved out of home, none of which are at all attributable to any of my books. Yet somehow my first book, The Long Way Home, has survived as a reminder of all that I set out to accomplish, both a reminder of a writer who dared to dream, and the realisation that sometimes hard work and even the best of intentions can count for nothing. So with 2016 drawing to a close, and book sales for The Long Way Home all but drying-up once more, I thought I'd mark the occasion of the book's 10th Anniversary by making the title free.

Everyone loves something that is free, and thanks to the ease of downloading an eBook from Kobo or Apple's iTunes Store, readers are spoiled for choice when it comes to free books. The Long Way Home is a book I always wanted the world to read, and I feel that by making the title free I have extended it's shelf life indefinitely. Free books are also a powerful tool for gaining readership, just ask my wife. Usually she will download a free book by an author she's never heard of, and if she likes their work will then loyally buy and read the rest of their books.

So there you have it, ten years.... over just like that. For a 122,000 word novel that took two years to write and edit, the following ten years have disappeared in the blink of an eye, (and so it seems has my hair). If spending a decade of my life trying to 'make it' as a writer was a rush, then looking back on it is pretty damn cool. Not everyone gets to the top, not everyone gets a gold medal. Then again, not everyone can say they actually wrote a novel either. So to those who have supported me as a writer in the past, I once more say a heartfelt thank you. For those who are only discovering my work for the first time, I do hope you enjoy the read, and please by all means leave some feedback on the website you downloaded it from.

My debut supernatural suspense thriller set in Australia.

ISBN 9781476274232

Available worldwide through the following online retailers


See also; The Long Way Home - same book, new look

Friday, 23 September 2016

Roma Street: Perestroika on Platform One

Roma Street Station in Brisbane has always been a bit of an enigma to me. For a key railway station that is supposed to be a culturally significant landmark location for catching a train in Queensland, it just comes across as a bit 'blah'. Not only is the modern day version overshadowed by the foreboding Brisbane Transit Centre, but in the wake of Brisbane hosting the political G20 Summit in 2014, security around the station has evolved into something of a regimented Communist exercise that borders on perestroika.

Roma Street Station as I photographed it in 2004 when construction of the parklands had just begun.

But it wasn't always that way. So first, let me paint you a picture of what Roma Street Station was once like. Long after the rail freight yards were relocated to Acacia Ridge inter-modal terminal in the south west of the city, plans were drawn up for what is today the Roma Street Parklands. As you can see in the above photograph taken back in 2004, work was progressing on the new Platform 10 structure which is today flanked by a wall of residential buildings to the right of picture. Today, platform 10 is the arrival and departure point for Queensland Rail's long distance passenger trains, the Spirit of the Outback to Longreach, the Spirit of Queensland Tilt Train to Cairns, and both the Rockhampton and Bundaberg Tilt Trains. However, if the Roma Street Parkland project was supposed to give the railway station a much needed face lift, it didn't. Dividing the railway station from the parkland with a wall of apartment buildings has only confined the station to a string of covered platforms located somewhere 'out the back' of everything. There is no integration between the two and the parkland is almost impossible to find when stepping from the train.

The Indian Pacific on a promotional trip to Brisbane in 2004.
Worse still is what has become of Roma Street's platform one. When the standard gauge line from Sydney was first extended across the Merivale Bridge in 1986, the Brisbane Transit Centre opened soon after on the southern side of the station.

The Sydney XPT ready for its morning departure from Roma Street's platform 1 in 2007.

What was supposed to be a fully integrated bus and train terminal soon resembled an archaic concrete parking lot with the iconic platform 1 buried beneath an unimaginative tomb of concrete support posts for the bus station above. The photo at the top of this post shows me standing beside the 'tail end' of the Sydney XPT beneath the bus terminal, while above you can see the front of the train standing alongside platform 1.

I arrived at Roma Street Station from the Sunshine Coast in 2016 on the former ICE train that once ran between Brisbane and Rockhampton. It has now been relegated to running the Gympie North service.

Visit Roma Street Station today, and you will discover there is no platform 1. In its place is the Northern Busway, built to link the Brisbane City bus station beneath the Queens Street Mall with the Northern Suburbs via a dedicated bus-only roadway. The XPT now uses the dual gauge line that serves platform 2. Upstairs in the Brisbane Transit Centre, very little has changed since its opening in 1986. World Expo 88 may have come and gone, but the transit centre still has the same disjointed connection between trains on the ground level, buses on the upper level and a few fast food outlets caught somewhere in-between. I've caught both trains and buses from the Brisbane Transit Centre in the past, and compared to most domestic airports in the country, the transit centre is sadly outdated and a little dingy on the inside. Most commuters to Roma Street however, simply use the underground concourse to access the platforms, but fortunately on platform 4 you can still see a slice of what Roma Street Station was once like.

Roma Street Station's original 1874 brick building on platform 3 as photographed in 2016.

The original station building is Brisbane's oldest, and dates back to 1874. The building faces platform 3 and when I last visited in 2016 was closed to the public for renovation. But for a station that is now overshadowed by progress on either side, it is nice to know that there is still a bit of history to be found that has not been swept aside. Without the historic station building on platform 3, Roma Street might well be no different to the archaic transit centre that stands above it, a replica of a Cold War utilitarian building that is designed more to withstand the elements, than to welcome its travelers.

A Queensland Rail SMU220 set photographed at Roma Street in 2016.

And perhaps that's where my stoic 1980's description of Roma Street Station meets the meaning of the word perestroika. Taking out my camera to photograph some trains at Roma Street Station in 2016 is a completely different to my past experiences, and I'm suddenly interrupted by a female Transit Officer who asks me to put my camera away. Apparently I was being monitored from upstairs and she was there to inform me as to why security cannot allow someone to photograph the surrounding infrastructure.

In the next 60 seconds I'm also given an explanation as to why there are no rubbish bins on any of the platforms or within the station concourse. They are all new rules introduced at the time of the G20 Summit two years earlier, supposedly to keep the traveling public safe. Her open policy explanation all sounds very Mikhail Gorbachev to me, and for a second I'm wondering if perhaps Vladimir Putin had caught a train to Roma Street while the G20 was being held in Brisbane. Of course he didn't. The visiting world leaders were too busy being privately chauffeured around the city, or catching helicopters to and from the airport to be bothered boarding a train. It's all just a reminder of the world we live in.

That's me at Roma Street beside the Carnival of Flowers express to Toowoomba in September 2014.

It seems the only time taking photographs of trains at Roma Street Station is viewed as acceptable, is when there is a steam train tour, such as the one above. In a flashback to happier days, (ironically in September 2014, 2 months prior to all the perestroika associated with the G20 Summit was introduced), I was able to freely shoot some early morning photos at Roma Street Station before boarding the Carnival of Flowers Express to Toowoomba. So when compiling the images I used in my book 30 Years Chasing Trains, I wisely steered clear of using any photo that dared show a piece of the station's infrastructure.

For an author, train enthusiast and railway photographer for the past 30 years, it has all got a little too complicated for my liking. These days when passing through Roma Street Station on the way to a Broncos game at nearby Suncorp Stadium, I don't so much as take my iPhone out of my pocket. Perhaps in years from now there will be no photos of what Roma Street Station looked like in the year 2020. Maybe that's just a bit of my own paranoia, but it certainly is a part of the enigma that is Roma Street Station. It's like a little bit of Russia Down Under, only don't send a postcard.

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