WHEN I was a child l loved listening to my aunt's stories of her travels on the railway when she was a young teacher in far western NSW in 1919.
Her stories seemed to me to be filled with excitement and adventure and were about box carriages and waiting rooms warmed by huge log fires tended by helpful railway staff.
The first steam train was invented in 1830 by an Englishman, George Stephenson.
Twenty four years later Melbourne could proudly boast the first train in Australia when a line was opened from Melbourne to Sandridge. Not to be outdone, Sydney quickly followed with a railway from Sydney to Parramatta.
By 1866 the railway had reached Wentworth Falls on the Blue Mountains and between 1860 and 1885 much of the construction of the Main Western Line was completed.
On April 19th,1877, the railway station at Orange was officially opened by the premier, Sir Henry Parkes, and for a period which saw flourishing growth, Orange was the terminus until the steel rails reached Dubbo and opened up the western plains.
This month the oral hstory group revealed its own love affair with steam trains as well as admitting a sneaking admiration for "toast rack" trams, as we continued our examination of travel in days gone by.
Leslye listed her memories of going from Moree to Junee in the steam train.
"Heads out the window; cinders in the eyes, getting lost on the way to the toilet; struggling to save a carriage so that no one else would get into it; and my mother going to the refreshment room when we stopped and all of us being worried that the train would go off without her."
Box carriages were a feature of train travel in our youth, beloved by some and hated by others. The problem was that once locked in you couldn't get out, but on the other hand, you were completely self-contained with your own toilet behind one of the seats.
And this was the trouble, according to Dee: "The person on that seat had to get up each time someone wanted to use the facilities and wait until they had finished before you could settle down again," she said.
A box carriage could be very cosy for a large family when you had it all to yourself but if you found yourself sharing with a suspicious-looking character or someone with unacceptable habits it could be quite worrying when travelling long distances.
Mick always looked for a box carriage "because if it was empty you could stretch out and go to sleep".
Others, like Harold, enjoyed the slightly more comfortable "sleeper" accommodation where a bed, albeit hard, was available and the luxury of being gently wakened by the porter with a hot cup of tea at your journey's end.
Tom Hogan was at one-time one of those porters.
"As a porter I was the lowest man on the totem pole", he said. "We were the backbone of the railway, cleaning up, loading and shunting."
After his discharge from the RAAF after tWWII, Tom joined the railway. He began as a porter, working on trains from Dubbo and Cobar to Bourke, finishing his career as a train controller.
Tom has a dry wit and a store of railway stories, some of which he shares with the oral history group.
In the days of steam, passengers were allowed to get on and off at every siding. Bread and milk and other goods were also delivered. One day Tom forgot to unload a crate of day old chicks, so was forced to take them on with him to Bourke.
"I fed them my lunch", he said ruefully, “and the next day dropped them off at the siding to the irate owner. Six months later I saw him again and asked after the chicks.”
"On the trip from Moree to Warialda," said Russell, “we would go about 50 miles on the way to Graves End when the driver would stop, get out and have a shave with a mirror propped up against the engine because he wanted to look spruce for his wife when he arrived.”
“Then a little later we would stop again because, we were told, someone was late bringing his sheep. So we would all get out and help with the sheep and finally get going again.”
“We pondered on this for a while and then turned our attention to trams, especially of the ‘toast rack’ variety. These had no sides or central corridor so that fares had to be collected from the side running board.”
"They were amazing men", said Joan. "They swung on the outside in all weathers, collecting tickets and giving change and keeping passengers in order."
Hazel could remember the cable trams in Melbourne when she was young.
"The driver was in the open area in front where he changed the gears and blew the whistle. It was very exciting."
Whether we travelled by tram in the city or train in the country, it was always an exciting adventure in those days.