Capertee Train Trip

Old trains capture my imagination. A short steam train ride in Tasmania remains a favourite memory from years ago – as the train tootled along, there were sheep scattering off the tracks in all directions. When the opportunity came up to travel from Lithgow to Capertee on an old CPH railmotor, I took it.

The train line to Capertee is no longer a passenger line, like many old lines across the state. The Gwabegar line remains open for coal trains and the railway travels through Wallerawang, Portland and Ben Bullen before arriving at the small village of Capertee.

But the destination is only part of the journey. There were three carriages of fellow travellers on this trip, and there was a frisson of excitement as the train arrived at Lithgow station, precisely on time. Our guide for the day was Graeme, the president of the Capertee Progress Association. He was decked out in tails and a top hat, which seemed entirely appropriate. Armed with a megaphone he had the passengers organised in no time at all.

 

CPH Railmotor arriving at Lithgow station

 

On the journey out I shared the trip with one of the volunteer train guards, who told some interesting stories of some of the heritage train trips he’d been on around the state. We marvelled at the rolling green hills, still soaked after days of heavy rain, the mob of kangaroos on the golf course at Marrangaroo, and the smaller groupings of roos startled by the train, springing into action and bounding at speed alongside the carriage.

But the real star of the show was the scenery. The landscape became increasingly rocky and steep, and there were swathes of darkness as the train rumbled through tunnels. The rocking of the carriages, the smell of diesel, the excited chatter of a large group of people, all of this faded into the background as the wide canyons and valleys came into view. The area has the largest enclosed canyon in the world.

In recent travels, I’ve been through quite a few small country towns. I find them interesting, as no two are really alike. Some places feel heavy with a sense of their own demise as people move away for work and lifestyle reasons. Capertee, although small, has a sense of vibrancy. The town knew that the train was coming and there were markets and activities lined up for the visitors. A sign near the market proclaimed it to be ‘train day’ and there were various stalls set up inside and around the local hall. Part of the proceeds from the train trip was to be used to help maintain and upkeep the hall, which remains a living hub for the community.

Inside the hall, there were many photos of gatherings from previous years, along with local landmarks including the Glen Davis Shale Mine. Outside there was a BBQ for the hungry hordes and a special performance from the Lithgow Pipe Band. It was great – a professional and entertaining performance, and it will take me a long time to forget their rendition of Hokey Pokey. Santa had paid a visit earlier in the day, but I had been having a wander around the Glen Davis Shale Mine.

 

Lithgow Pipe Band performing at Capertee

 

When the train pulled back in at the station – it had followed the line out through to Kandos before returning – it was a happy crowd that piled on board with local purchases and memories of a day out in a friendly country town.

Have you had a day out of the ordinary lately?

[Photo: CPH ‘Tin Hare’ railmotors leaving Capertee for Kandos, part of the heritage fleet at Lachlan Valley Railway]

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One Change to Your Writing World

Deadlines are a motivator for me, reliably generating action. About a year ago I enrolled in an online course about making time to write with content access for 12 months. I’m not quite sure how but I managed to forget about it entirely until about three weeks before it was to expire. In my mind I’d been moaning about not having time to write. If only I’d made the time to do the course earlier …

With writing courses there are usually actions that can be incorporated into existing routines. As I worked through the course, I thought about how I could mix up my process to reclaim the sense of joy that writing provides in my life. One of the last sections was about tools to help you write, including a tip to check out available writing applications. I have tried many apps but find that writing in Word or Pages, with using Scrivener for larger pieces, works well enough. I can synchronise through the cloud and over time it has become easier to track down documents, regardless of the application used to create them.

One of the icons that popped up for writing applications was Ulysses. I had seen it before but it didn’t appeal at the time. Upon revisiting it, I saw there was a 14 day trial available. The online reviews were largely positive and upfront about the differences compared to traditional word-processing applications. There was talk of markdown and coding along with an assurance that it wasn’t critical to get too involved in this side.

What appealed was writing across my phone, tablet and laptop with automatic synchronisation. The ability to export in various formats was attractive, as was the option to export straight into WordPress. Whilst I can use the draft blog post section in WordPress, the idea of having draft posts in the one spot but sortable by keywords or groups suits the way my mind works.

So I’m giving it a go. Whilst I don’t want an endless proliferation of programs and platforms to write on, this meets my current needs as I’m working on a number of short stories, blog posts, and a couple of longer pieces. I can easily see work in progress, and move around projects without jumping between applications. There is a very simple writing environment which also helps to focus on the task at hand.

By taking on this suggestion I have had a burst of writing activity. Whether it is sustainable will tell over time. For now, I’m glad that shaking up my routine has lead to a feeling of reconnection with the world of writing.

When was the last time you made a single change to your writing?

[Photo: butterfly in the garden]

Songs in the Key of Jane

We hear our names spoken thousands if not millions of times during our lives. It is no surprise then that we become conditioned to respond when we hear our name, even when it isn’t us being called.

I have a simple, old-fashioned name. Growing up I used to marvel at the extravagant spelling of Lady Jayne hairbrushes and combs. Imagine the luxury of a ‘y’ in your name. An upside of an unadorned name is that you don’t usually have to spell it, although I have been called all sorts of variations from Jan to Jenny, Jean to Joanne.

Another bonus is the number of songs out there celebrating Janes in a multitude of ways. Here are some standouts.

  • Janey Don’t You Lose Heart by Bruce Springsteen. I discovered this song by chance in a book review following the release of a biography of The Boss a few years ago. There was a passing reference to the song in the article and I tracked it down. Perfect for those moments when ‘you feel like a stranger … who knows too much’.
  • Sister Jane by New World was one of those songs from the early 1970s which seemed to appear on compilation record albums. Poor Jane was in a bit of strife for falling in love again and was being urged to leave town on a plane before she goes insane (oh the joys of rhyming). This clip is worth a look if only for the hairstyles.
  • Jane Says by Jane’s Addiction offers a much darker version. The Jane in this song is a prostitute with a drug habit and capacity for violence. She’s never been in love, doesn’t know what it’s like and only knows if someone wants her.
  • Maroon Five offered an entire album with Songs About Jane released in 2002.

Do you have a favourite ‘name’ song?

With a nod to the ‘So You Want To Be A Writer’ podcast which provided the inspiration around name songs (ep 213).

[Photo: keys suspended near a lookout at Glenbrook with Penrith in the background] 

Jottings on Jacarandas

Although the magnificent lilac-blue blooms are beginning to fade, I thought I’d take some time this week to celebrate the magnificent jacaranda trees that bring such delight each spring.

They thrive in the warmer climate of Sydney and surrounding areas, and I have noticed on recent train trips that they don’t appear much beyond Faulconbridge and Springwood. Perhaps that is why they seem to be more spectacular to me in recent years as they are not a constant backdrop in the upper mountains.

Avenue of jacarandas in Victoria Park, Dubbo

Avenue of jacarandas in Victoria Park, Dubbo

Many people admire their blooms, and it has been a newsworthy issue of late with tourists getting into a bit of bother by blocking streets or propping at odd angles in order to get the best selfie with jacaranda blossoms as a backdrop.

I heard a story which might be an urban myth about Sydney hospitals sending mothers and their new-born babes home with a jacaranda seedling, with the trees growing alongside the children. Whether it is true or not, it is sweet image and casts a different light on the lilac trees scattered throughout Sydney suburbs and further afield.

Little wattlebird in jacaranda tree at Kiama

Little wattlebird in jacaranda tree at Kiama

I came across a wonderful article by Helen Curran of Sydney Living Museums titled The Dream Tree: Jacaranda, Sydney Icon. It provides an overview of Sydney’s love affair with the jacaranda tree and its transformative effect upon the landscape from October to November. It is hard to imagine now, but as an imported tree from Brazil, initial plantings were limited mainly to botanical gardens. The rarity only enhanced its appeal with an assertion in the Sydney Morning Herald that it was ‘well worth a journey of 50 miles’ to see the tree in the Botanic Garden.

There were issues with propagation and it wasn’t until 1868 that this was overcome. The trees became more widespread and were a popular choice for public planting programs from the early to mid-twentieth century. One of the loveliest references in Curran’s article was a tree at Potts Point known by children as ‘the dream tree’, which seems to capture the magic of the jacaranda.

A lovely painting of jacaranda trees spotted at op shop recently

A lovely painting of jacaranda trees spotted at op shop recently

But it isn’t just Sydney, of course, that holds jacaranda trees in high esteem. Jacarandas can be found up and down the coast, and Grafton has so heartily embraced the jacaranda tree that there is an annual festival for all things purple, including a street parade and key locations which offer particularly photographic specimens. Listening to a podcast recently, I heard how the jacarandas in Queensland have deeper hues of lilac than those further along the eastern coastline, the colours shifting slightly as the trees blossom in succession through Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

Curran provides a perfect summary of Sydney’s enchantment with jacarandas:

The jacaranda may not always have been Sydney’s, but for a few magical weeks it is a dream tree for the city – ardently, abundantly ours.

Do you have the delight of jacaranda trees in springtime?

[Photo: jacaranda and flame tree blossoms entwined – a popular pairing and visual treat]

Jacaranda, A Poem by Vivian Smith

The images that spring to mind are not

the images I need to catch the feeling:

soft-focus photograph or ballet girl in veils

or even sea light moving on the ceiling –

 

plangent, wispy, soft in the wrong way.

I need the point where strong and frail combine:

the drift and fall of mauve in powder blue,

the cool leaf’s fishbone shadow line.

 

Washed out, fastidious, the blue

jacaranda flowers in the street

with all the creative happiness of art,

showing age and lightness still meet.

 

It brings the same joy again this year.

When he was four my son running to greet

his mother called, “Hey look at the blue tree:

the jack on the veranda’s in the street.”

 

by Vivian Smith

[Photo: jacaranda blossoms]

Some Thoughts on Storytelling by Marion Halligan

Recently I came across a collection of stories, poems and essays gathered in a book called Storykeepers, edited by Marion Halligan and released in 2001. The collection includes contributions from a broad range of Australian writers and poets, and was triggered by the centenary of Australian Federation. Each contributor was asked to select an Australian writer from the past who was of interest or an influence upon them, and to write a response to their work.

In the introduction by Halligan, some thoughts on storytelling are offered. Stories offer an immense scope for ambiguity and complexity. From childhood, the phrase once upon a time is like “a code that brings a multitude of small exhortations and large promises with it”.

Storytelling is described as one of the most natural of human activities, something we instinctively do as children returning home from school, or upon arriving home from work. An example is given of a child telling a story of an event at school with enthusiasm, sound effects and a natural instinct for timing and plot. When asked to repeat the impressive story, the child looks vacant, mumbles something and heads off: “The story has been told, its narrative impulse has been obeyed, the teller is no longer interested.”

The ability to polish, edit and embellish stories improves as we grow older. It becomes less about what actually happened in some instances: “We are all unreliable narrators when it comes to crafting good stories.”

We are all storykeepers, writes Halligan, from the personal and intimate to family lore and even the stories of countries.

This book was found by chance in a second-hand bookshop in Kiama (south coast of New South Wales), and I was pleased to find that another blogger had also stumbled across it – there is a review of it here.

Storykeepers edited by Marion Halligan (2001)  ISBN: 1876631104

[Photo: shared circle]

 

Head In The Clouds

I know that I am in a pocket of relaxation when I find myself watching clouds. The calming sensation of simply watching tufts of vapour gather and take on massed formations before splintering into separate threads – it symbolises a shift into deeper thoughts or just pondering.

There are other times when the natural world offers moments of welcome distraction – spend some time watching the swell and surge of the ocean, or lose your thoughts in lush green foliage under a canopy of trees. There is something elemental about being absorbed, even temporarily, in nature that seems to recalibrate my mind and soul.

This isn’t to say that the usual pattern of thoughts and mental to-dos vanish, but at these times there seems to be more scope to think a bit differently and to puzzle things out.

A quick google search shows that I am not the only cloud appreciator. There is an exquisite time-lapse clip here with calming music to mesmerise the mind on a day when access to the sky is limited, or if there is a cloudless sky.

There is even a Cloud Appreciation Society with thousands of members in over 100 countries. Membership benefits include receiving a cloud a day. Their manifesto rallies against ‘blue-sky thinking’ and advocates that “clouds are for dreams and their contemplation benefits the soul”. I heartily agree with their declaration to all who will listen:

Look up, marvel at the ephemeral beauty, and always remember to live life with your head in the clouds!

During a TED talk by the Society’s founder, Gavin Pretor-Pinney (called Cloudy with a Chance of Joy), we are reminded that clouds provide an opportunity to tune in and slow down whilst watching clouds. They offer a chance to find the exotic in the everyday, in an activity that is aimless yet important in providing a legitimate form of doing nothing in an otherwise overly busy life. Cloud watching is good for ideas, creativity and for your soul.

I’m off to do some cloud-gazing. How about you?

[Photo: clouds above Hartley Valley, towards Mt York]

Writing Prompt: She Rode Off On A Harley

She rode off on a Harley. For a woman who had never caused a fuss or drawn attention to herself, it was an act of defiance. And it wasn’t even her Harley. It belonged to one of my mates, Deano. Lucky he was asleep although how he slept through the roar of the engine and the broad spray of dirt and gravel flung against the wall of the house as if tossed with a careless hand was beyond me. I guess we had drunk a bit the night before.

I was barely awake at the time and had knuckles digging into both of my eyeballs, trying to get a visual confirmation on what I was hearing. There were no raised voices – that would have been expected. I didn’t even twig that something was wrong until Eden woke me up. He said it was urgent, that I had to do something. I’d shrugged him off, rolled over in the bed, but he kept at me. He yanked the blanket off me, throwing it across the room. I swore at him, foul curses that would have earned me a clip across the ears if Mum had heard me. Then I had to get up. It was freezing. The fire must have gone out overnight. But that never happened. Mum was always up with the first light, getting a start on the washing or cleaning or getting breakfast ready.

‘Where’s Mum?’ I’d hissed the words at Eden as I dragged on yesterday’s clothes. They were tumbled and dirty, right where I’d left them. Mum was obsessive about clean clothes. We’d joke that the only way to keep anything out of her endless washing cycle was to not take it off. She must be crook. ‘Well?’ I took a step towards Eden but he slipped around the doorway and scooted off down the hallway.

It was then that I heard the roar of the bike. Loud, rumbling, deep and low enough to give the windows at the front of the house the jitters. I’d made it to the front door just in time to see Mum’s right hand give a rough salute as she disappeared with some mate of Deano’s off into the distance, my old school backpack loaded up and the sleeve of her favourite cardigan catching and waving in the wind.

[Photo: bikes spotted at Marulan]

Monument to the Brig “Amy” at Thirroul

As you approach the beach at Thirroul, on the south coast between Sydney and Wollongong, there is a grassed area with picnic tables leading up to the bathing pavilion. The car park has a monument and I thought it might be worth a closer look. It reads: This monument was erected by residents of the district to the memory of Captain McKee, officers and crew of the Brig Amy which was totally wrecked on Thirroul Beach Sunday 13th February 1898.

The brig had left Wollongong at 9 am on that day, loaded most likely with coal. A cyclone of monsoon origin moved from Brisbane down along the southern coast and the boat was driven ashore near Thirroul.

When it was clear that the ship was in distress, a large crowd gathered on the beach, forming a human chain and managing to reach within a few yards of the captain and crew, but all were lost to the waves. A newspaper report described the scene as follows:

The sea was so severe that no boat could live in it. One of the rescue party, named Tom Birch, an old soldier, upon arriving at the scene, dropped dead from heart disease. (The Week [Brisbane], 18 Feb 1898)

Initial reports mentioned seeing a woman and child on board – thought to be the captain’s wife and child – but there were no subsequent mentions in reports or at the inquest. Most, but not all, of the bodies were eventually washed up along the shore in the days following the wreckage.

During the inquest into the loss of the ship and crew, initial reports indicated that the ship was in poor condition with masts and timber rotten,”too much paint and putty” holding the ship together. Some witnesses said that even if life-saving equipment had been available, it wouldn’t have helped as the wreckage was too profuse, and that it was the wreckage that had killed the men, not drowning.

By the end of the inquest, though, the verdict that the fate of the ship was due to pure misadventure, and the owner of the ship was blameless despite previous claims that it hadn’t been adequately repaired following being run aground at Port Hacking two years beforehand.

The jury also noted: “We desire to add as a rider that life-saving apparatus should be placed at frequent intervals along the coast.” This may be seen as a precursor to the Australian Surf Lifesaving movement.

The residents of the district were so moved by the loss that they gathered the funds to erect a memorial. Originally the monument was located on a site donated by a local family near the beach on the banks of Flanagan’s Creek. There was a tall white marble column, but over time this has been seriously truncated.  It had been pulled down by vandals in Christmas 1908, with portions of it thrown into the lagoon. In the 1950s the memorial was moved to its current location, and the local progress association has been lobbying for its third relocation as the memorial is knocked about by passing traffic.

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Monument to the loss of the Brig “Amy” on 13 Feb 1898 at Thirroul Beach

Shipwrecks along the south coast weren’t unusual, and there were other ships lost or damaged on that particular day, but this monument is the only one along the south coast in the 1800s to be commemorated in a formal manner. Nearly a hundred years later, a further plaque was added, listing the names of the captain and crew, including their office and country of origin.

There is a comprehensive article in the Illawarra Historical Society Bulletin outlining the story behind the ship and its crew by Joseph Davis who notes: ‘What remains is the fact that there are probably few sadder ends than dying unknown and alone, far from home in a shipwreck where your body is never recovered.’ Davis played an integral part in confirming the names of the crew and ensuring they were added to the memorial.

A painting of the shipwreck by a local artist, Christine Hill, can be viewed here, along with her research into the history behind the Amy.

Have you stumbled across any interesting local history lately?

[Photo: Thirroul Beach]

 

 

Musical Moments: Three Trip-Inspired Tunes

Often the best times are those unscripted moments when there is a convergence of factors such as being in the right place at the right time. Recently I travelled from the mountains to the south coast along the beautiful coastline. Apart from the amazing scenery and surroundings, there were several musical moments which are now etched in my memory.

En route to Sydney, I stopped for a break at Lennox Bridge, Lapstone. After days of rain and mist, the sun was out and the surrounding bushland was alive with bird calls. I followed the sound of scratching and spotted a blackbird, which firmly lodged Blackbird in my mind.

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Blackbird at Lennox Bridge, Lapstone

Turning off the Princes Highway and onto the Grand Pacific Drive, the Bald Hill lookout at Stanwell Park offered a different flight of fancy. This is a popular launching spot for hang gliders, and whilst taking in the magnificent curve of the coastline, a glider came into view. The moment was pure magic as the glider seemed to levitate in the air till the brisk breeze moved them on. The line of a song that came to mind? “Suspended animation, a state of bliss”.

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Hang glider at Bald Hill Lookout, Stanwell Park

But the day still had more musical delights in store. It was hard to resist watching the sunshine fade at day’s end, the sky turning “rosy and grey”.

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South coast sunset views

Do you come across musical moments in your travels?

{Photo: view from Stanwell Park looking down the coast; the tiny speck above the ocean is the glider coming into view}