Monday, 22 October 2012

Gosford: Growing up with trains

Ask anyone with more than a passing interest in trains where their strange fascination began, and they'll readily admit it developed in their childhood. Often fueled by a train journey when they were young, a model train set under the tree at Christmas time, or if they were really lucky, from being invited by the engineer to step up onto the footplate of a steam locomotive and blow the whistle. As for myself, well, that interest came from watching trains, such as the photo above of a now retired 86 class electric locomotive, crossing The Broadwater into Gosford back in 1986.

As a teenager, I would sneak out of the house late at night, armed only with a flash light and a train timetable, and sit beside the railway line that cut across The Broad Water between Gosford and Point Clare to watch trains. Not just any trains, but trains such as the Pacific Coast Motorail, The Northern Tablelands Express, The North Mail and the Brisbane Limited to name but a few. It was 1986, and, as a starry-eyed young boy diagnosed early in life with train fever, I would sit and wonder where each train was going and what the towns along the railway line looked like. Exactly what was at the end of the line? Fast forward more than 25 years, and all of the above mentioned trains are now gone. Their names barely rate a mention in history, and at best are only recalled by fanatical railway enthusiasts who can still recall the good-old-days of the New South Wales Railways in Australia. Many of the towns along the line no longer have passenger rail service, some lines are long-gone, and for those that remain, the end of the line is now much closer than it was in 1986.

The Broadwater, Gosford photographed in 1986. Bluetongue Stadium now stands to the right.

Still, I can recall 1986 as though it were yesterday. Well, as clear as the photo above anyway. Perhaps a little fuzzy on account of the years that have passed, and the fact that the photo was the first time I had snapped a picture of moving train, on 110mm film with a pocket camera. It was hardly the ideal equipment by today's standards, but I was a 14 year old with a keen interest in trains. I remember proudly showing the developed picture to my Mum, who duly declared that it was a waste of time taking a picture of something you see everyday.

I photographed this V-set double-decker electric train on Gosford's No. 2 platform in 1986.

So what, I hear you say, is my point? My point is this; the things that may appear ordinary today, ultimately come to be treasured in years that follow. If you need further proof of this, just consider what some people are prepared to pay for rare antiques, sports collector cards and even old railway tickets! Just as the 'name trains' I fondly remembered from my childhood disappeared, eventually so too did all the locomotive hauled passenger trains from across the state. Things change. Some for the better, some for the worse.

The modern incarnation of Gosford Railway Station, as photographed in 2010.

The railway station as it appears today in my home town of Gosford is unrecognisable to the one I remember as a child. Its replacement many would argue is a stark improvement. Gone is the dirty, narrow overhead pedestrian footbridge that accessed platforms 2 and 3. In its place is a glass-lined overpass complete with a lift. As strange as it sounds, I liked the old version better. I think somewhere deep down we all do.

I photographed this 46 class electric still hauling sheep wagons through Gosford Yard in 1986.

A railway station is a link to our past, a gateway to our future and a working museum that transports our memories away to some place special. The fond memories I hold of family excursions as a youngster often began and ended with a ride on the train. Trips to Sydney for a ferry ride on the harbour, a day at the Zoo or a visit to the Royal Easter Show (when it was still held on the old Sydney Show Grounds site), made the platform a hive of anticipation in the morning, and stained with sadness in the evening as I'd watch the train pull away. I can't stop all those good memories rushing back every time I'm standing on a platform while waiting for a train to arrive. I can't say if it is the distant sound of the horn, that funny pinging sound the rails seem to make just before the train passes by, the hiss of the air brakes as it pulls to a stop or simply that smell that seems to emanate from underneath. But it brings that feeling of being connected to what waits down the line. It makes you want to climb aboard and let yourself be taken away to far-off places.

Trains still hold that same sense of excitement for me that it did all those years ago, on the nights where I would sneak out of the house for a few hours of midnight train watching. My Mum never fully appreciated what my first train photo had represented at the time. I'm sure that if she knew I'd regularly sneak out of the house late at night, she wouldn't appreciate that either. But it is true what they say. Every journey has a beginning. Mine just happened to begin in Gosford.

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