The Comforting Clicketty-clack

When I worked as a reporter on a country town newspaper, I sometimes used to catch the overnight passenger train up to Perth on Friday nights and, although it was a long time ago, I still have that train journey’s olde worlde magic in my memory and my soul.

The Albany Progress used to rattle in to the station at Katanning at about 10pm, and a small crowd of us would saunter over from the inevitable Railway Hotel to get on board.

It was pulled by a diesel-electric locomotive, but all the rolling stock –the sleeper cars, the lounge-bar car and the goods van as caboose- dated from the Age of Steam. They were crafted in thick-lacquered woods and brass and leather, with comfortable bench-seats that slid effortlessly into comfortable bunks, and drop-down basins with hot water. There were art deco light-fittings and switches, and the windows could slide open.

I usually sat up with some others in the lounge car, swapping stories, playing cards, swaying with the rattling rhythm of the train as it wended slowly through a chain of little wheatbelt towns.

I would retire at midnight when the bar closed and sit on my rocking bunk in the old-style nightshirt I favoured then, writing, reading, and finally being rocked to sleep by the clicketty-clacking of the wheels on the track.

Passengers were woken around dawn by a knock on the door and the guard’s cheerful voice. Neville would grin and hand me a hot cup of tea and a packet of Government Railway biscuits for breakfast.

By this time, the train would be coursing across one side of the beautiful Avon River Valley in the Darling Ranges, which form Perth’s eastern border.

Once, as we raced the sun’s rays through the valley, there was a pure white scrim of mist above the river’s course that was progressively tinged pink by the sunrise. I looked out across the valley to where the twisted river gums were lifting their shaggy heads towards the light, and imagined myself sitting on a fallen trunk, tending a little fire to cook my breakfast, while I watched the train go by.

As the clock ticked past 7am, the train would be pulling in to the city centre, with its array of record stores and bookshops and clothing shops, all getting ready to open, all awaiting their share of my weekly pay packet.

Alas, the Albany Progress passenger service is long-closed, a victim of Government cost-cuts. But the Railway Historical Society has some of its sleeper cars at their Museum. I wonder if they would let me sleep in one, just for the night, just for old times’ sake?

amberdextrous amberdextrous
51-55, M
4 Responses Mar 15, 2010

I travelled in such a train from Melbourne to Sydney a long time ago, and again, from Sydney to Cairns. It was all as you describe, though without reference to the bar, as I was only a child at the time. As an overnighter it was comfortable, private and yes, with the pleasant clicketty clack memory of sounds that soothe one to sleep. I love your desc<x>ription of the mist rising from the water which is such a feature of the Australian landscape, and the twisted and shaggy Gum Trees. Just looking out at such peaceful vistas does make one kind of yearn for the days that others had, of taking one's swag and just camping out along the way.

wah! i dont like the ending, i was getting all ready to pack my bags and head to perth for a train ride!!

A very nice story, not only well written,but quite interesting. I makes me want to enjoy the same train ride for myself.

nice imagery. sounded like a good memory, definitely. I had the opportunity to take a train back and forth to south carolina from NJ a bunch of times. THe train left NJ in the morning and got into SC early morning. Up most of the night for me in the smoking car--meeting strangers and sharing the night. No sleeping car for me--just a wide seat that leaned back a bit. I remember taking the train right after 9-11. Train of full of college kids escaping NY City. THey had cell pics of the towers and we all stayed up all night and talked about it. Once the train stopped and an engineer went and got us some beer off the train because the bar had was a strange night--with a feeling that life was now different...people were shell-shocked....anyway--tangent over. Your train ride sounded like a pleasant thing--with the hot water and pull down bunks and card games and early morning tea. TOo bad the line was closed.