Friday, 28 October 2016

Neath: one final railway reminisce

Everything has a use-by date, and when it comes to trains, it doesn't matter if its a locomotive, a railway line or even a railway blogger. When I took a break from writing novels in 2014 to indulge in some blogging about one of my favourite pastimes, I didn't know that my love of trains would take me from Kuranda to Warrnambool. Factor in my previous trips to see the sugar cane railways of far north Queensland, the inland railways along the Newell Highway and a tiny bush tramway at Ida Bay in the far south of Tasmania, I can honestly say that I've seen a lot of railway lines in this country. Including one former railway station that up until this year I didn't know existed, at a little place called Neath in the New South Wales Hunter Valley.

What remains of Neath Station on the former South Maitland Line, as photographed in May 2016.

Neath Station first opened in 1908 on the privately owned South Maitland Railway system, built to link the region's coal mines to the port at Newcastle. Nearby Neath Colliery had opened 2 years earlier in 1906 by the Wickham & Bullock Island Coal Company, after the line had first been constructed through Neath to Cessnock in 1904. The line to Neath Colliery veered to the left in the above photo, at a point just beyond the signal box. A flurry of independently owned and operated coal mines soon sprung up close to the railway line,with each of them hauling their own 4 wheeled wooden hoppers to the nearest junction to be collected and taken to port. Eventually, this complicated labyrinth of privately owned railway lines became the South Maitland Railway, a railway which continued using steam engines to haul their trains to port, right up until 1983.

The station sign on Neath platform with The Neath Hotel in the background, May 2016.

At one time the line through Neath was double tracked as far as Aberdare Junction, hence the two platforms that can still be seen at Neath Station today. The South Maitland Railway operated a passenger railcar on the line between Cessnock and Maitland, where the line junctioned with both the NSW Main North Line and NSW North Coast Lines. Later in 1940, the NSW Government Railways introduced direct passenger services between Cessnock to Sydney and Cessnock to Newcastle, and my own copy of the 1956 Country Train Services timetable shows Neath marked only as a "stops if required" station. By 1967 the South Maitland Railway service had been withdrawn, and the NSW Government followed soon after in May 1972, the same year as it turns out that I was born.

The line through Neath has since reverted to single track to serve the one remaining coal loader at the end of the line at Pelton. Coal from the nearby Austar Colliery is fed by a conveyor belt through a long cutting and beneath Wollombi Road to the still intact surface loading facilities where the Pelton Colliery once operated, and from here, as always, the coal finds its way to the Port of Newcastle by train.

Neath Station still retains a little of that bygone charm today in 2016.

Turning the filter on my camera to sepia tone gives a glimpse of what this station must have looked like back in its day. Today, the tiny signal box dwarfs the the toilet block come waiting shelter that still stands on the platform alongside Cessnock Road. Ignoring the unimaginative graffiti that seems to always find its way into the corners of God-knows-where, there is a certain something about Neath that seems both foreign and all-too-familiar. Perhaps it is the quaint size and shape of the signal box. Or maybe it is the fact that a signal box with no apparent purpose is still standing in this day and age. One thing is for certain, having purchased a HO scale kit building of this signal box from Model Train Buildings, I will soon have a scale-sized reminder of this little place near nowhere.

The impressive 1914 Neath Hotel. What a place to end a railway adventure. May 2016.

Actually, I shouldn't say nowhere. That impressive 3 story brick building that you can see just down the road in the background of my photos turned out to be The Neath Hotel. Passing through Neath one more time during our visit to the Hunter Valley with my wife Denise, we noticed 2 tour buses pulled up outside. Taking this as a sign that it might actually be a really good hotel, we stopped the car just on twilight to check it out, and ended up staying for dinner. After the excitement of 2 bus loads full of Sydneysiders on their way home from a day day of visiting the local vineyards had pulled out of town, a blanket of silence fell over the place. Just as it does whenever the last train pulls away from the station. If you've ever stood on the platform to wave goodbye to someone, you'll now exactly what I'm talking about. You listen for the feint sound of a distant whistle, and hear only crickets.

Sauntering into the quiet ambiance of the dining room, we stopped dead in our tracks at the sight of this slice of Australiana. Built in 1914, the dining room looked as though little had changed since World War 2. Sitting in the quiet charm of such an unexpected find, we indulged in a traditional Aussie roast dinner while wondering about the history of this 100 year old pub. It turns out that the pub was a favourite with coal miners who would stop by for a drink after a day working the mines. One of those miners, a bloke by the name of Harry Littlefair, went off to war, but not before asking the publican of the time to mind his miner's lamp. Harry never made it home, and his lamp still remains behind the bar at The Neath Hotel.

It's stories like these that have inspired me as a writer, and its amazing to think of how many of them I have discovered from just stopping to see what remains of a former railway station. I wonder if Harry actually boarded a troop train at Neath station? Maybe, maybe not. But it doesn't hurt to stop and imagine what stories an old railway station such as Neath might be hiding. Maybe that's just the romantic in me, but whatever your thoughts are, I do thank you for reading the past 100 Railway Reminiscing articles that I have featured on this blog. Strangely I find myself ending a blog post without the phrase "but as usual, that's a story for another day." While still hopeful that there may be another book to follow somewhere in the future, I feel that this post is as good a place as any to call it a day. In the words of a somewhat half-decent writer; "everything has a use-by date.... even a railway blogger."

Till we meet somewhere down the line, take care and safe travels.


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