Stories from the Mandurah train line
WHEN she got a two-days-a-week job in Perth, it meant a four-hour round trip for Barbara Fretz from her rural home in the South-West, driving to Mandurah and then catching the train.
Fretz would rather stand on the train than sit, refuses to be glued to her phone or laptop and became a people watcher.
During her first week on the Mandurah line, she hatched the idea for a book.
Fretz says she has become a bit of a Margaret Mead (the American anthropologist) but the difference between her research and Mead’s is the natives do not know they are being watched.
Every Friday, she wrote up her observations and the result is Sharing the Pole: My Year of Commuting to ‘The City’.
“Boring train journeys are full of hysterical characters if we but raised our eyes from phones and laptops,’’ she said.
Fretz describes the genre of her book as creative non-fiction with “a soupcon of bulls**t” and a “real blast” to write.
One of her favourite characters was a handsome middle-aged man who caught the train just north of Mandurah and dressed on the train.
“When I looked up he was tucking in his shirt, zipping up his trousers and strapping on his belt,’’ she said.
Months later, she found him racing madly alongside the train on a child’s scooter.
Her favourite is the Bee Boys, a gaggle of young private school boys she met when they were jumping about and squealing because of a bee on the window.
Fretz collected the bee in a small box and the Bee Boys later repaid the favour when they tried to hold open the doors as she ran for, and missed, the train.
Then there’s ‘Shirley Temple’ who belted out Broadway songs, ‘Pyro Boy’ who melted soft drink bottles with a lighter, the senior high school Nadia Comaneci wanna-be who defied gravity on the overhead hand rings, ‘Stiletto Woman’, the dos and don’ts of fashion, beer drinkers, litter, obnoxious students and parents who do not look after their kids.
On a less humorous note among the colour, Fretz recently woke a young boy in a deep sleep when the train reached Mandurah.
“Nobody was going to wake him; train travellers seem to have no sense of responsibility, they get on the train and it’s like a door closes down and they are into Facebook and headphones,’’ Fretz said.
For a free PDF of Barbara’s book or a hard copy at $8 for printing and postage: firstname.lastname@example.org.