A cheery saviour at jour­ney’s end

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - PA­TRI­CIA CAMP­BELL

TOOWONG, QUEENS­LAND IT was Jan­uary 1943, Aus­tralia was at war, Bris­bane had be­come a gar­ri­son city and I was an 18-year-old girl, just ap­pointed as a pri­mary teacher to the state school at Quilpie, 620 miles (990km) from home. At 3pm on a hot Fri­day, I boarded a steam train from Roma Street Sta­tion to travel to the far, far west.

It was my first solo trip and my mother farewelled me with a timetable show­ing ev­ery sta­tion, es­pe­cially the Rail­way Re­fresh­ment Rooms, vi­tal in­for­ma­tion for 32 hours on a train with­out a din­ing car.

I had a first-class ticket as I was newly ap­pointed to my job, but sleep­ers were non-ex­is­tent in war­time. My seat was in a crowded com­part­ment as the steam en­gine chuffed up the range and in and out of tun­nels to our first stop at Toowoomba. I had a large ham sand­wich and a very big cup of tea. If the tea wasn’t fin­ished, I could hand the heavy cup in at the next Re­fresh­ment Rooms for a re­fund of my de­posit. Ev­ery penny counted in those war­time years.

I slept sit­ting up and when I woke next morn­ing we were at a sta­tion with the weird name of Muckadilla. The coun­try­side was flat and dry, cov­ered with red soil and the oc­ca­sional stunted bush. About 3pm we rat­tled into Charleville, the largest town in the west. Most pas­sen­gers left the train and I was shown into a very small car­riage where I was quite alone, the only first-class pas­sen­ger for the last eight hours of my jour­ney.

I stretched out on the bench seat, grate­ful to have a fat book with me. I tried to ig­nore the sear­ing heat and the en­gine’s black soot. Near mid­night we ar­rived at Quilpie. It seemed the whole town was on the plat­form meet­ing the train. Ten min­utes later I was alone with my two large suit­cases, one of clothes and one of books. Surely some­one should be meet­ing me?

Sud­denly help ar­rived. The lo­cal carter greeted me: ‘‘You must be the new schoolie. Fol­low me.’’ Hethrew my cases on to his truck and or­dered me to hop in, which was easy as there was no door. No knight in shin­ing ar­mour was ever a more wel­come sight than that old bush­man, flan­nel shirt, hang­ing mous­tache, big boots and all. My epic jour­ney had ended and I had met my first out­back gent, just 70 years ago. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@ theaus­tralian.com.au. Colum­nists re­ceive a Log­itech UE Mo­bile Boom­box, a por­ta­ble, wire­less speaker that lets you stream mu­sic from your phone, tablet or lap­top, and dou­bles as a speak­er­phone for hands-free phone calls. $99.95. More: log­itech.com/en-au/.

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