Mudgee Railway Station, to most, is one of Mudgee’s, indeed the whole country’s, most beautiful buildings. That is if your preference is for grand, historic type structures, but in my very young days, like aged 14 years, it was just the place that my Dad worked.
My memories of being a railway kid, as we were known in those days, didn’t sit too well with us. With six brothers and me, the only girl, used to moving around the state as Dad’s career progressed, we really just wanted to explore the new town and have fun. It wasn’t until I matured and looked back at our childhood that I really appreciated the struggle that my parents went through. The new town had to suit the children’s schooling as much as Dad’s career, I’ve realised now, but back then life was so much easier for us, the kids, even though war was not long over.
I did take all the railway area as part of my backyard. We lived in a very small house, all nine of us, but it had a huge paddock that Dad leased, so we had our own horses, cow, cricket pitch, footy ground, in fact we had a great time and the railway workers were often our audience.
There were lots of men and few women employed at the station. The station housed a restaurant, bar, restrooms, ticket office, parcel room and more closed doors that contained I wasn’t sure what. Transport was mostly by rail so this was big business and many people were employed. You had the fettlers to keep the rails and sleepers in order and the goods men who looked after the upkeep of all the engines and trucks. It was a dirty job because remember the trains were all steam driven and that required coal. Coal is wonderful, but it is dusty, dirty and black.
Now I’ll tell you about the most import area in the whole of the Mudgee Railway Station, my father’s superior office, The Station Master’s Office, it said that above the door. The very important bookwork was done there and Morse code kept all the lines open to make sure railway lines and all they entailed was up to date, that the lines were clear, trains were running on time etc.
Our holidays were always spent coming and going on trains. It was wonderful most of the time, but boring some of. My special images are of the drinking glasses that were kept on the wall and my fascination with the sink still amazes me today. I wish I still had one for myself. It was made of stainless steel, you pulled a lever on the wall under the window and out of the wall came this lovely thing, taps and all. When you were finished with it you just flipped it back into its own place and the water disappeared just like in the toilets. It had us kids mesmerized, we were always being told “leave that alone now….”
I must tell you about Dad’s uniform, it was a black/navy serge suit with a lot of gold braid on the collar and sleeves of the jacket plus huge gold buttons as well. Down the sides of his trousers was a finer gold stripe but his heavy cap said it all, it too had gold around the peak and of course the insignia to say he was either Assistant Station Master or Station Master. In his pocket would be a whistle on a braided cord and when it was time to send a train off a flag was in his hand. Dad was a tall handsome man and he did look very impressive.
I watched him with pride looking stern but always helpful, ever watching, checking. If it was night time the station took on its own magic. The hum of the people, lots of them too, the laughter, the children running along the platform anytime they had a chance, often much too close to the edge until some adult saw them and gathered them back to safety.
Then when everything was right, everything checked and the steam bursting into the night sky, Dad would call out the much awaited words “all aboard, all aboard, now boarding”, and then the count down the last minutes. If not already seated people would hurriedly say goodbye, some happy some sad, but the time had come so in they went and all the doors were locked from the outside and checked. Dad would raise his arm, blow his wonderful whistle very, very loudly and just as loudly the engineman would pull the heavy cord and blow steam out with a grand “toot, toot, toot”. The procedure wasn’t finished until the guardsman in the last van reached out to my Dad’s outstretched hand and took the important flag. This had to be handed in at their destination. When the train had goggled past and the last of it gone from view all became much, much quieter. The people left, the workers returned to their tasks and Dad went into the office to write up details, sent the Morse code messages, check the levers and so on.
As a child, the railway station was a normal part of my life and at the time Dad’s important position of little interest to me. Looking back now I realise just how significant that railway station would become in the times ahead for me and my own career.
Yes, Mudgee Railway Station, I may not have valued you when first I knew you but as the years have gone on, I say we can be proud. We both have lots of stories to reveal – one day.