Monday, April 16, 2012

The aura of the Aurora!

OK, someone had to do it tonight.  Salute the Southern Aurora, that is, and all those who thought that Australians would embrace inter-capital luxury train travel in the post war years, including the mighty Billy Wentworth.  

And it is also time tonight to salute those staff and volunteers from the NSW Rail Transport Museum who have laboured over recent to restore the Museum's now heritage fleet of stainless steel carriages.  The 50th anniversary re-enactment Southern Aurora looked magnificent tonight in platform 1, as I pulled into Central on my spark at 6:15pm.  I was even prepared to ignore the brick on the front of the train (44211) - masking the art deco elegance of 4490 and 4306 back to back.  Someone had even taken the time to thoughtfully pipe the Joye Boys' classic - Southern 'Rora - though the station intercom.  If you want to feel really good for the next 2 minutes and 48 seconds, click on the following Youtube link.

Anyway, as I am one of the Southern Aurora Kids - those kids who were hoisted by their fathers into the cabs of express locomotives at Central in the hope that the dads would also be invited aboard - I figured I could not let tonight pass without blog comment.  

I should point out my earliest recollection of being on a diesel was such an incident.  It may not have been a 44 class, and it could have been the lesser Spirit of Progress instead of the Aurora, but I definitely recall being dressed in pyjamas, dressing gown and sleepers on platform 1 one evening.  Just the sort of stylish attire that a young boy who was farewelling his grandparents should be seen out on the town in.  Yep, I reckon I have years of therapy to go to overcome that childhood trauma...

So to the memories of the mighty Southern Aurora.

The following photograph dates from early 1963, when the Aurora was a novelty.  This sign conjures up notions of unattainable luxury, fostered (I guess) from those trips to Sydney in Hillmans of various vintage to farewell relatives travelling to Victoria.

The next photograph was taken around the same time, showing the 'up' Aurora at its destination.

The Aurora was never going to be one of those trains I would have lots of photos of, as I was/am generally lousy at time lapse photography and not much of an early riser.  But here is one of the train arriving into Central in 1983, with 8104 doing the honours.

During an early part of my 'career' I was obliged to do a fair bit of travel to Melbourne.  Most of my compatriots chose the TAA option, but I risked life and limb to travel on the Aurora (and later the combined expresses).  Risk life and limb? Well, on more than one occasion we'd stop in Goulburn to see what I thought was someone being released from detention (perhaps Goulburn Goal) onto the train.  Moments later I would hear the cabin door open and a shadowy figure would take up residence in the top bunk.  I dunno what life is like 'inside' but these blokes all seemed pretty adept at manoeuvring themselves in the dark, in very confined spaces.

However, more often or not, I was risking only loneliness.  While I was committed to enjoying the delights of the Aurora, not too many others were.  If you want to know why the Southern Aurora no longer runs, the following two photographs give you the answer.  Some weeknights I not only had the cabin to myself, I had the whole carriage to myself.  And often I would be the only passenger at breakfast.  Grim times for the accountants no doubt.

The other perilous aspect to the Aurora was those times when you were lucky enough to get booked into a single-occupancy room - from memory it was called a 'roomette'.  There was always the possibility of getting the toilet bowl and the wash basin confused...

And the stagger from the lounge car along the zig zag centre hallway needed careful negotiation, especially after a time spent imbibing an amber liquid or two in the lounge car.  The next photo is blurry, but in my defence I may have been too at the time it was taken.

So, its late here as I type.  If I was in a roomette on the 'Snora' now, I would be deep in thought watching the darkness of the NSW southern highlands flash by.  Occasionally and momentarily a north-bound freighter would startle me as it passed by my window.  And I would know that at 6am tomorrow I would be woken by an attendant carrying a weak milky coffee and two biscuits wrapped in plastic.  But tonight I am not there, and so I am going to leave this blog where it started, with a snap of that sign, taken only just tonight. 

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