Although I had been interested in the railways from a young age, it was only in 2007 that I started looking to do something about it. As a young child, my grandmother would often take me on “outings”, on which we would catch the bus from my grandparents place (in Narrabeen) to Manly Wharf, where we would catch the ferry to Circular Quay. Upon arriving at Circular Quay, we would head straight for the train station to go for rides on the various trains that were operating at the time (the late 1980’s). Although the trips somehow managed to be both short (because every second counted, and they were always over too quickly) and long (because I was visiting all of these strange new places I’d never even heard of), they were always savoured, and they always resulted in good memories. While learning to read, I was quite accustomed to reading station names (St Peters was an early favourite, as my father’s name is Peter, so that become “his” station), and I was often used to discern the stopping pattern of various trains (always displayed on the old “dot” indicators as I called them, nothing like these scrolling LCD screens) with my new-found reading skills. I especially treasure the memories from the rare trips to places like Lithgow, Gosford and Albion Park – on each one of those trips, I not only got to ride on and see the CityRail trains, but I was put into the cab of a “goods train” locomotive for the briefest of moment. Be it a run through the wash at Lithgow in an 82 Class, or the cab of a 442 Class on an up freight paused on the platform at Gosford, these were massive growling beasts to be regarded with awe.
Fast forward to 2007 – having not had any exposure to trains since my childhood, I find myself travelling once a week between Chatswood and the city, by train no less. I bought my first camera in March of that year (a rather cheap and nasty point and shoot number), and started to learn about the different trains CityRail were using. At the time, I assumed that freight trains were now a rarity at best, in a country dominated by the grip of the trucking industry. Imagine my surprise to learn that many products were indeed transported by rail, including containers, steel, sugar, cement, grain, coal, minerals, cars, fuel… I could go on. In the opening months of 2007, I spent most of my time between Chatswood and Central (including the City Circle), photographing whatever I saw, as I wanted to stay in territory that I knew.
In April 2007, I accepted an invitation to be part of a group outing to Port Kembla organised by members of Railpage Australia. The group was going to meet at Central at 0700 and travel on the brand new OSCar train to Wollongong (at this time, the OSCar trains were operating one daily return service to Wollongong while under evaluation). Naturally, I slept right through the alarm, and was woken up at 0730 by Maikha (the group organiser, and personal friend ever since) calling to see if I was going to make the train. Dejected, I said I had slept in, and had no chance of making it down to Port Kembla with the group. He pushed for me to come along anyway and meet them down there, which is how I ended up racing out the door and on a following train to Wollongong (some two hours behind the group at this stage). By the time I got off the train at Port Kembla, the group had already relocated to Port Kembla North, so the catch-up continued. We finally caught up with each other in time to go for lunch in Wollongong. A number of the people I met on that day become firm friends, and even though we may drift apart from lack of communication or time, we’ll always remain tied by that initial bond of friendship. After lunch, we travelled by train to Coalcliff Station (located on the line back to Sydney) and photographed a number of empty coal trains there.
In all honesty, I’ve kept none of the photos from that day, because they were all really, really hopeless. I had literally no idea how to use my camera, how to compose a photo, when to press the shutter, etc. I was just in my element to be with likeminded people who were interested in the railways, and who had at least a vague idea what everything was! The photos may have fallen by the wayside, but the experience will last a lifetime.
It was on that group outing that I received a taste for the railways outside of my local area – a seemingly endless supply of variety beckoned in all of these interesting locations. It was mentioned on the day that the 620 Class railmotors in Newcastle were earmarked for withdrawl within weeks, so my next tasks were to travel north to Newcastle to go for a ride.
Over the course of the next few months, I would visit Newcastle and Moss Vale for the first time (since being a child on family holidays, at least). I was introduced to the “Metropolitan Goods Line” – a railway line specifically for freight traffic that ran past a number of platforms on the Bankstown Line. I would photograph trains from a chance meeting with 3801 to Tangaras and NR Class.
In the first week of October I attended an introductory photography course at the University of NSW, to better learn how to compose photos and use lighting and camera settings to good effect. It was there that I was shown what a “Digital SLR” was, and just how much more freedom it would give me. From then on, every spare cent was scrimped and saved and put into buying my first “real” camera, a dream I realised on the 8th of November, when I purchased a 400D “twin lens kit” from a local JB Hi-Fi store.
I woke on the morning of November 9 to find the world outside was soaked. Not discouraged, I packed up all my gear, along with my umbrella, and left the house at dawn to visit the Main South Line to try my equipment out. Most of the shots from that day turned out beyond salvage, as I was still learning how to use my new toy. Thanks to a tip from a friendly CSA at Bargo, I found myself at Picton Station to wait out the last few hours of daylight, before I knew I would have to head for home. Content to photograph the various fixtures on the platform, I didn’t notice the plume of smoke heading my way (although I did take notice when the shrill whistle of a steam locomotive blasted through the silence). When I saw the reason for this disturbance, I placed my finger on the shutter and didn’t let go – 3526 and 3801 were hauling a long rake of empty cars to Sydney for the weekends “farewell 3801” festivities (3801 was to embark on a major overhaul project over the following year).
The following day was spent recording the shuttles operated by 3526 and 3801 between Central and Hurstville. At the time, we all thought that 3801 would be back within a matter of months – as most people would know, the overhaul is still ongoing at the time of writing.
Over the remaining months of the year, I continued to practice with my new camera with mixed results (given the benefit of hindsight and the knowledge gained over the four and a half years that have elapsed since, I’d say most of the good results are thanks to sheer luck).
Despite the lack of decent photos from 2007, I have a lot of fond memories from that year, and the skills I slowly picked up over the year formed a good basis for the skills I am continually refining today. The day I stop learning how to take photos is the day that I die. I am continually inspired by the people I met during that year, and in the years that followed.
More photos from 2007: