Steamfest 2009 photos are now avaliable on Flickr! Click here to view the whole set.
Maitland Steamfest is always an event greater than the sum of its parts. Often regarded by enthusiasts as passé and overdone, it is not until one appreciates all aspects of the event that it’s true worth becomes apparent. At a first glance, if one was just looking to take high-quality scenic photos of steam locomotives hauling heritage passenger trains, ones attention might be better focused on a daytrip out of Sydney – the locomotive is always going to be leading the train engine first, there will be a greater variety of locations to use, and while there might be people following the train, you won’t have to deal with the crowds that descend on Maitland every year. Of course, if you are looking for purely a standard three-quarter photo of a steam locomotive thundering up a grade, over a bridge, or through a hackspot (and let’s be honest, that is really what most people want when chasing a steam hauled tour, and there is nothing wrong with that), then that may be the way to go. On the other hand, if you’re looking to catch up with friends over a quiet beer (or seven) at a pub alongside the busiest railway lines in the state, or perhaps to get some less ordinary photos of an often over photographed subject, or perhaps just take in the sights and smells of the operating steam locomotives (and traction engines) while browsing a market, without the pressure to jump in the car and make chase, or get “that shot”, then perhaps Steamfest is for you.
I know the driving force behind the reason a close friend of mine travelled up to Steamfest 2009 was for mateship, and a good reason at that. On its own, this hobby is just that, a hobby, and one will get out as much enjoyment as one puts in. I have found that considerably more enjoyment can be had when sharing this hobby with friends – a bad photo can be easily put into perspective by a good natured jibe from a mate, or day without any luck or results can be laughed about over a beer at the pub the evening after. Especially when dealing with unproductive weather, it helps to laugh about getting drenched for “that shot”, even if it doesn’t turn out as well as you hoped (this comment having nothing to do with my brave run to the footbridge at Maitland Station in pouring rain for a less-than exciting shot of CLF1 leading 7MB7 north while everyone else sought shelter on the platforms…).
No matter what the reasoning for sharing the hobby with your mates, Steamfest proved to be an excellent time to catch up with a few friends from around NSW (and indeed Victoria), because the lure of so many steam locomotives in one place at one time is often enough to bring everyone together, if only for a weekend.
Another appeal of Steamfest is that it goes beyond just the mainline steam locomotives, although this is often forgotten by many who simply go to Maitland to chase around the mainline steamers with reckless abandon. There is a bewildering assortment of traction engines, from the small to the gigantic, as well as model railways, miniature railways, market stalls and railmotors. Even Richmond Vale Railway at Kurri Kurri gets into the spirit, with SMR30 in full steam for the first time in nearly six months, and a free shuttle bus from Maitland Station to RVR at Kurri Kurri to assist those who are without cars.
Finally, the main driving force behind my visit to Maitland Steamfest was a chance to practice some more creative photography. Without the need to chase the train to get photographs at various locations, and with little variety in scenery and limited places to get photographs, it forces one to be far more creative with composition and style, especially when you consider how much fierce competition you will have for, not only the photospot, but to get a unique angle and shot of your own! Often there will be ten or more cameras at any one spot all focused on the same train, everyone vying for the best angle or shot – and everyone gets the same result more often than not!
Maitland Steamfest has something to offer even the most veteran of railway photographer, even if it is just to come up to photograph the new 92 class, or the recently transferred G Class to Northern Coal. Perhaps you’re just here for a shot of an elusive El Zorro grain train, and the steam trains are just an added bonus? Some people come up for a quiet (or perhaps not) beer with a couple of mates while content to watch the trains go by. Others come up for a chance to test their photographic skills, or to browse the markets and savour the strong smell of coal smoke in the air.
Whatever your reason, don’t put it off. There are plenty of reasons to go, and few reasons not to.
Rolling over to find the alarm beeping at 0545, and the sun not yet awake is not the way one normally plans on spending ones day off, although today was special. After packing everything into my bag and getting ready, it was into a cab and off to the bus stop to get the bus into the city. Upon arrival at Central, I rounded up the group that would form the Railpage Australia group travelling to the Richmond Vale Railway Museum. Having met up with Maikha Ly and herded everyone onto the bus, we were soon underway, over The Sydney Harbour Bridge and onwards to Richmond Vale.
As is so often the case with trips involving large groups of friends (or in this case, small groups of friends who soon formed into one large group with a common interest), the trip there and back is often almost as fun as, if not equal to the actual destination visited. This trip would prove no different, as a bus load of young (and not quite as young but still classed as “young enough to have a good time”) people would prove, yelling and laughing our way up the F3. Highlights would include moving my moving around the bus, trying to talk to everyone, the test of just how many rail buffs would fit on the back seat (six) comfortably, the test of how many times the “Thomas the tank engine” theme song would skip going over the bumps in the driveway…
Upon arrival at the RVRM, the group literally poured out of the bus, like a flood of eager young people (although with the typical cynical “I don’t really like trains that much, really, I’m just here for the… oh, look, a station sign! I must photograph it” folks bringing up the rear), and it was time to draw the raffle. Prizes were handed out (at this stage, those winning tickets won their owners a ride in the cab of SMR30 on one of the shuttles to/from Pelaw Main), and much laughter was had. It was at this point we were introduced to our guides for the day, Richard Kiejda and Graham Harper, both top blokes who have given plenty of good service to the RVRM, and were kind enough to show us around and tell us all the history of the Richmond Valley Railway, as well as the history behind both Richmond Main and Pelaw Main coal mines.
During the day, we managed to fit in two trips to Pelaw Main and back (with our own private car, to boot!) behind SMR30, as well as a guided tour of the site at Pelaw Main, another tour at Richmond Main (itself a massive source of local history and of great interest to me personally), a guided tour of the locomotive shed/workshop out the back of the main museum (taken there, not on foot, but on a special loco hauled tour in an old wooden BOB car), a tour into the carriage shed (as well as the opportunity to be let loose wandering around the various items stored there), and a trip down “rotten row” (a collection of old NSWGR/SRA rolling stock items saved from scrap and stored for possible future use), which was again as massive source of interest.
When we arrived at the main hall, for lunch, we found a spread fit for an army, with plenty of cool drinks on offer, and a full on BBQ meal – sausages, a good selection of salads, bread rolls, the works! As we were expecting a sausage wrapped in some bread, we were all very surprised by the museums hospitality, all of it provided and cooked by the museum and it’s hard working volunteers.
After lunch, the final raffle was drawn, and some serious (and not so serious) prizes awarded accordingly. The final total that the group raised for the museum came to a modest total of $1136.20. This is enough money to completely restore one non-air braked hopper, or a significant way towards restoring another passenger carriage for the museums use. At any rate, whatever the museum deems they need to spend the funds on! Certainly an excellent little sum for such a great little museum, often overlooked as it’s somewhat off the beaten track.
However, none of the day would have been possible without a few key people. Before I go on to name those people, all the folks involved at the RVRM gave us a fantastic and memorable day out, and all those out there involved with this organisation deserve my thanks, what an amazing place to visit, and somewhere I hope to get along to again soon.
Firstly, none of the day would have been possible without one Maikha Ly. Maikha is a close friend of mine, and he has a bit of reputation in the railfan community as being a bit different – in a good way. He is always looking to push the conventional boundaries of the railfan outing (just look at this trip, chartering a private bus to visit a museum just to see what it’s all about!), as well as trying to introduce likeminded folks together. If it wasn’t for Maikha, I never would have become so heavily involved in the community, and a lot of close friends I have these days I would never have met if not for him. People don’t thank him enough, especially for the latter. He gives up his own time (as I am finding out in my adult life, a precious and limited quantity) to help other railfans meet, and greet, and have a great day out. Full congratulations to him for the sheer logistics of the outing, a number of people doubted it would succeed, and it did – I’d say he passed with flying colours!
A lot of thanks is also given to our guides for the day Graham Harper and Richard Kiejda. Both of these gentlemen gave up their entire day to show us around the various parts of the museum, and they are both a wealth of knowledge and local history. It was fascinating to listen to them speak about the history of the mines and the railway, as well as the background of the museum itself. Anyone with questions walked away with plenty of answers, and no question was left unanswered. A memorable moment for myself would be Graham telling the group about the “pit ponies” in the mine at the Richmond Main, how they would only work with one miner for their lives, and would refuse to work for anyone else. Amazingly, the horses could tell one miner from another and became as close to them as any human might have.
We never would have arrived at the museum without someone to drive the bus, and it was here that Railpage’s TheLoneGunMan stepped up (or rather, sat down) to take on the role. As if dealing with the everyday stresses of navigating Sydney and then the F3 in the rain wasn’t enough, he also had to put up with a selection of terrible music from both Maikha and myself, a bus full of over-enthused (most having had too much sugar) rail buffs, and, on the ride home, one flat tyre! It is a testament both to his skill (and patience) that we were able to get there and back, as without a driver, we would have been a bit stuck on getting there and back!
Finally, a thankyou to both the new and old faces I shared the day with. Again, without people to fill the bus and populate the outing, I never would have had such a great day out! I met some great new people (some of them Victorians who came up especially, which was a feat in itself), caught up with some old mates, and we all collected a new batch of photos and stories to share for years to come. Memorable moments would be watching everyone pile onto the back seat, rocking the bus at traffic lights, hooning up and down the F3 (and being overtaken by semi-trailers, elderly drivers and rail-replacement buses…) and so on!
For those out there reading this recount and wondering exactly what it would be like, come along on the next outing! Keep an eye on Railpage Australia Forums for news of planned outings, as they are usually discussed with a month prior to the actual day, to help give people plenty of notice. If it’s possible, I will always be joining any outings that work/real-life permits me to, and I always like to meet new faces and have a great day out with!
Trackside – Richmond Vale Railway Museum. A brief history on the museum, with a little background on the mine and the railway. By no means a definitive guide, there are plenty of books around to fill in the gaps. Of course, you could always visit the museum itself, and experience it all first hand!
Richmond Vale Railway Museum Website. The internet home of the website. Read more about the history of the RVRM, learn about running days and other events on at the museum, as well as how to get there and more!
Railpage Outing to RVRM Photos. The full set of photos taken by myself at the museum. This represents less than a third of the photos I took on the day, there was just so much to see! If I had more time, I would have taken twice as many, and then twice as many again!
Railpage Australia Invades Richmond Vale – Photos and Stories. A thread on Railpage Australia giving members a forum to share their own stories and photos from the day. Some amazing photos from everyone, each one showing a different and unique perspective on the outing. Some very funny photos of the group on there too, showing just how much fun everyone had!