4 Dec 2016
We stopped one morning for coffee in Mildura, an agricultural city on the Murray River in Victoria. I love these old places, a mix of history and modern, council brutalism and goldfields colonial.
By the leisurely river, we found a park full of children running around, bouncing and swirling on the play equipment, their dogs sharing the fun. Their parents under the awning of a nearby kiosk selling hot food and – oh joy! – espresso coffee.
We found a vacant picnic table under a shade tree, enjoying our Sunday brunch, watching the activity.
Nearby, a steam engine – K 175, built in 1941 at the workshops in Newtown, a whistle-hoot from my childhood home – stood fenced off, freshly painted, a proud reminder of the old days when long trains hauled freights of apricots, grapes, vegetables and grain to the markets in Melbourne, returning with fat bags of banknotes for the farmers.
My thoughts were with those glory days of the old Victorian Railways and the historic bungle that saw each Australian colony adopt a different rail gauge. Passengers had to change when crossing borders, a nuisance with all the bags and boxes and children. Such as here on the Murray, I guess, with New South Wales and its standard gauge tracks just over the river. (Victoria, flush with gold rush wealth, chose a broad gauge, more expensive to build, but offering a better ride.)
But to those frolicking children of the digital age, the old engine would have looked straight out of Harry Potter, ready to come to life for a trip to the Australian wizarding academy of Grouseo. How many, I wondered, leant against the railings, climbed aboard in their imagination to set off on a noisy smokey rush to adventure?
About as many as elderly children like me, I guessed, travelling in thought to older days.
I drained my latte, climbed into my own rather less romantic chariot, and pulled away, bound for South Australia.
(Text image courtesy Wikipedia “By Simon, Mandy, Joshua, Bradley and baby Karla Yeo from Pakenham, Australia” – 20100425_SX1IS_069, CC BY 2.0)