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Byron Shire
June 15, 2024

Here & Now #148 On track

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Here & Now 148 picS Sorrensen

Fassifern. Friday 12.45pm

I like trains. Most people do. (Okay, state politicans don’t like trains, except if they carry coal, but, then again, many politicians don’t like anything that makes lives, other than their own, better.)

I’ve never been to Fassifern before. (It’s a short life…) The train station is set among a remnant of native forest and a suburban sprawl of huge houses. There are shiny 4WDs in the driveways and aggressive-looking motor boats parked on the footpaths, clumps of long grass growing around the trailer wheels.

I didn’t arrive here by rail, I drove. Yes, I like trains, but don’t use them much anymore. Yesterday, I drove from the North Coast to the Hunter Valley along the Pacific Highway. In some sections, I was able to cruise in fifth gear, but, in many, I idled along in second through massive highway expansion projects.

It’s a mission, but I survived, thanks to Mozart, ABS brakes, and a bottomless thermos of coffee.

Many times, I have driven that highway – always peppered with roadworks. Some sections now under reconstruction I remember being under reconstruction years ago. That’s the way it goes: two lanes to four; four to six; six to… That’s fossil-fuelled progress for you.

After the busy, noisy, deadly game that is highway driving, Fassifern Station is eerily quiet. There are no people here, only me. Not even a railway employee. There is no sound except the tolling of the bellbirds.

I used to use trains a lot. There was a train that went from Lismore to Sydney. That was convenient. There was a proper dining car, where you could take a break from reading 1984 in your seat, and sit at a table and read it, sipping wine while waiting for your sausages and mash. Often you would meet people. And talk to them. No need for that now; you can text people from your seat.

There used to be a daily train that left Lismore in the morning, depositing you at the station in Byron. It would return in the late afternoon. I really liked that train: a beer at The Rails, then onto the train with its surfboards, guitars, and sunburnt kids.

But these are memories.

I sit on a metal mesh bench (anti-graffiti) on an empty platform, looking for signs of life. None. There are no passengers, no railway employees. An Indian Myna scavenges near the vending machines. This is a fully automated station. Employment and capitalism’s drive for profit are not compatible.

People obviously use the station; the car park is full. Workers commute daily to Sydney, I reckon, leaving their huge homes, 4WDs, and motor boats, to pay off the debt.

I’m waiting for the 13.08 from Sydney. To meet a friend.

The silence is broken by a metallic three-note musical phrase. It startles me. It is reminiscent of an opening phrase from the Mozart sonata that helped me through the roadworks south of Coffs.

Then a voice informs me to mind the gap, keep my children off the tracks, that I’m under constant video surveillance, and to have a nice day.

It’s strange. There’s no-one here. Only me. The message is pre-recorded so even the speaker is not here. It all feels weird and disconnected. (A feeling I’m getting used to.)

Still, I get up from my bench to move further away from the gap. I check that none of my children are on the tracks.

Surveillance cameras hang from the grey metal rafters like WALL-E heads. It’s reassuring to know that if I were to be mugged in this lonely place, there would be a record of it.

Eighteen minutes till the train. Good. I will have a nice day.




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  1. Ah yes, Mr S, trains. Childhood trips from Sydney to Toowoomba back in the fifties. Big glass bottles of water high above the windows. Occasional cinders in eyes from leaning out through the window and looking forward instead of back (as against now). Early evening stops at Muswellbrook for freshly-made sandwiches and railway pies (uniquely delicious) and heavy china mugs of tea for the adults, while a man in a railway uniform and cap pushed a huge barrow of more bottles of water along the platform for whoever wanted a new one, and an extra engine was attached (with loud hissing and jolting) to get us up onto the New England Tableland. Then us kids bedded down on the bench seats (or sometimes the littlies up on the overhead brass luggage racks). The sleepy awareness of late-night murmured conversation between parents and others in the compartment. Waking up around 2am at Tenterfield, where local people were out of bed and earning a buck (or at least a few bob) serving more tea and food from the brightly-lit Railway Refreshment Room. Changing trains at Wallangarra, lugging stuff from one side of the platform to the rattly Queensland train waiting on the other track. Watching the ubiquitous dark blue advertising signs for Dr Morse’s Indian Root Pills go by. Slowing down as we passed railway line workers who slept under canvas over frames of chopped-down saplings beside the tracks miles from the nearest town, and being allowed to hang out the window and hand one of them the current newspaper he and his co-workers would be asking for.

    Sadly, it’s a place the trains don’t go anymore, or ever again.

    Love your contributions, by the way. All class.


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