Cootamundra West Railway Station: how did that happen?


Another addition to the list of regional towns in NSW that once had more than one station: Cootamundra. With two hours to kill between trains in Cootamundra yesterday, I decided to check out Cootamundra West.

Cootamundra West was the first station on the branch line from Cootamundra to Lake Cargelligo, which opened in stages from 1893 to 1917. While the line had been built as far as Temora in 1893, Cootamundra West itself didn’t open until 22 March 1911, according to NSWrail.net. Given that Cootamundra’s main station is just 20 minutes walk away, it’s not entirely surprising that building a second station in town wasn’t the top priority.

The initial station must have been little more than a halt. The current building was announced in 1916 and opened in 1918. Here’s the announcement of the plans:

The double-story building (apparently now used by local community groups) is very substantial, and there’s still a signalling cabin on the platform as well.

At the time the station was constructed, trains from the branch line were not going to intersect with the main line at all. If you wanted to travel to Temora or Lake Cargelligo, Cootamundra West would be your only choice. The daily mail train usually only went as far as Temora, while services for West Wyalong and Griffith would use the line from Cootamundra West to Stockinbingal. Lake Cargelligo services always seem to have been less frequent.

The original services carried both freight and passengers in what must have been very basic trains. In 1938, diesel began replacing steam on the line and passenger-only services began. However, even before that station usage appears to have been dropping.

On 25 May 1930, the refreshment rooms were closed, with contemporary newspaper reports noting that the Temora mail train would now stop at Cootamundra West if required, but would otherwise continue on to Cootamundra’s main station.

1938 also saw a widely reported accident for the station’s gatekeeper, Mrs Williams:

One imagines Mrs Williams lived in the house that’s still adjacent to the level crossing (on the left in this picture):

In 1949, there was a proposal to convert the station building into accommodation for railway workers (reportedly, eight railway families were forced to live in tents because of a lack of housing in Cootamundra). While that didn’t happen, this suggests that even at that point the station itself was not being heavily used.

The Secretary for Railways apparently was concerned about the viability of these services by 1950, threatening to withdraw modern trains from country services if patrongage didn’t increase. Those threats don’t seem to have inspired more custom. In 1951, in a further mark of how usage of the line had deteroriated, some diesel passenger services were indeed removed, with those services reverting to steam.

In 1952, the assistant stationmaster at Cootamundra West retired after 42 years working for the railways. It’s tempting to assume that the role wasn’t replaced.

While this was once a busy double-tracked junction, it’s now just a single line. The rails for the second line have long since been removed, but some sleepers remain.

Passenger services on the line were withdrawn in 1983, and these days the main use for the line is for freight which is routed through Stockinbingal to the cross-country line to Parkes and beyond, thus keeping the main southern and western lines less congested. At Cootamundra West, congestion isn’t going to be a problem.

Orange East Fork: The most basic railway station in NSW


Declining railway usage means that very few towns in NSW outside Sydney now have more than one operating railway station. This wasn’t always the case: Tamworth, Grafton, Coffs Harbour and Casino all once had multiple stations (Tamworth/West Tamworth, Grafton/South Grafton, Coffs Harbour/North Coffs Harbour and Casino/South Casino respectively).

Until recently, the only current example that readily sprung into my mind was Maitland, which has four: Maitland, High Street, Victoria Street and East Maitland. You might sensibly argue, though, that the Hunter Line which serves these stations is really part of the Sydney metropolitan network.

However, there is still one prominent regional town which has two stations: Orange. The main station is a heritage-listed Victorian building constructed in 1877 when the newly-extended Main Western Railway reached the city. Eventually that line was extended all the way to Bourke, though passenger services are now restricted to a single daily service between Sydney and Dubbo.

In 1885 construction began on the Broken Hill line, which branched from Orange. To enable that, a triangular junction was created south of the existing station. That meant that while trains heading west to Parkes and Broken Hill pass through Orange, they don’t actually go through Orange station.

In 2017 there are only two passenger trains which use the Broken Hill line. The first is the once-a-week Outback Xplorer (introduced in 1996), which runs from Sydney to Broken Hill on Mondays and then returns on Tuesdays. These days, the Outback Xplorer does stop at Orange station proper, reversing out of the platform and then passing through the junction on the westbound journey, and reversing into the platform on the return.

The second is the rather more glamorous (and expensive) Indian Pacific, which currently runs once a week between Sydney and Perth. While you wouldn’t know it from looking at the official web site, you can book to join or leave the Indian Pacific in Orange. However, the Indian Pacific doesn’t reverse in and out of Orange Station. Instead, any intending passengers use Orange East Fork, an utterly bare-bones single platform located on the south-eastern side of the junction.

I think this can fairly lay claim to being the most basic operating station in NSW. It’s not unusual for stations to be reduced in size to reduce maintenance costs (Sawtell on the North Coast Line being one obvious example). Some of the Hunter Line stations are literally only wide enough for a single pair of doors. I visited and videoed one of them, Mindaribba, back in 2014:

While Mindaribba is smaller than Orange East Fork, it does have a loudspeaker for announcements, a help point and (these days) an Opal card reader. Orange East Fork boasts no such luxuries. There’s a basic shelter, and a lamp, and that is it.

It may not have always been like this, however. According to NSWrail.net, the station in its current form opened on 1 May 1970, which makes sense, since the Indian Pacific begun running in February of that year.

However, Orange East Fork was a stopping point long before the Indian Pacific launched. Below, for instance, is part of the timetable for the Sydney-Broken Hill train back in 1927, when the service was first introduced, complete with a stop at Orange East Fork:

Even in 1927, locals were already campaigning for the Broken Hill service to stop at Orange station, a complaint which appears have recurred over the years.

I haven’t yet been able to discover whether Orange East Fork once had a more prominent platform. Prior to 1970, it may well have been nothing more than a platform-free halt where passengers could board or disembark if required, something that modern safety practices frown upon but which was much more common in earlier eras.

However, the area was quite busy. A rail depot was constructed near the junction in the 1930s, at a cost of £42,970. In the 1940s, Orange East Fork was big enough to have a station master and an assistant, but as the main focus was freight, this wouldn’t necessarily mean the provision of a platform. In 1952, it was the site of a particularly grim incident:

Further digging reveals that as late as 2002, the Outback Xplorer train was still using Orange East Fork, rather than Orange, as its local stop. A local campaign to have the train stop at Orange was rejected, with the argument that it would add 30 minutes to the journey time. That same argument had been used back in 1927, but clearly at some point between 2002 and now, the approach changed, and Orange East Fork became even less prominent.

With only the Indian Pacific now using it (Google Maps even lists the location as Indian Pacific-Orange), I can’t imagine Orange East Fork sees much action. The Indian Pacific no longer offers economy seating, so it wouldn’t be a practical budget alternative for anyone looking to travel by train to (for instance) Broken Hill on a day other than a Monday. So only the very occasional wealthy tourist is likely to take advantage.

It would seem the most active day for the station is when the once-a-year Elvis Express special service to Parkes for its renowned Elvis Festival passes through. In 2014, the mayor of Parkes Shire even boarded the service at the station.

Local paper the Central Western Daily tweeted me to say that this is a regular occurrence, though a cursory search suggests that the stop isn’t always part of the official Elvis Express timetable.

Online searches also suggest that the nearby depot, abandoned for railway use once all steam services were stopped, has been proposed as a hub for running heritage stream services, though nothing seems to have come of these ideas and a major fire at the depot earlier this year would seem to put a damper on any future plans. Under the circumstances, it seems unlikely Orange East Fork is ever going to get fancier.

Tziporah Malkah: Some useful #ImACelebrityAU #CelebTziporah background

With Tziporah Malkah bat Isarel instantly the most impressive contestant on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here (runner-up points to Kris Smith and Nazeem Hussain), I want to note this passage from Peter Fitzsimons’ biography of Nene King, Nene, which highlights how Tziporah has always had her feet on the ground:

Kate Fischer was one of the most beautiful women Nene had ever seen. A card-carrying, certified stunner. In person, she was elegantly dressed, as sexy as they come, but warm and wonderful as well. Just a fortnight after James Packer had become engaged to Kate, Nene had gone to morning tea with her, at James’s behest at the swish hotel around the corner from 54 Park Street, the Sheraton on the Park. Kate was an understanding sort of girl, James said, who was really good with advice, and maybe she could offer Nene some wise counsel.
And so it proved, because as the waiters brought coffee and Tim Tams for Nene, and some carrot-sticks and herbal tea for Kate, the two talked until midway through the afternoon. They talked a very little about Kate and her forthcoming married life with James, and a a great deal about Nene’s misery and just where she should go from there. At 24, and less than half of Nene’s age, Kate indeed gave out wise counsel. She was very firmly of the view that the only way for Nene was to go to Narcotics Anonymous, to wean herself off the drugs so she could begin to think straight and see things clearly. At NA, Kate said, Nene could meet a lot of people who had battled against exactly what she was battling, and listen to their experience of how they had beaten it.
And nor did Kate leave it there. Just a couple of hours after Nene returned to her desk, James Packer called and offered to go to Narcotics Anonymous with her.

A telling story. But a note for PF’s editors: no, carrot sticks should not have a hyphen here.

Every Wham! song, ranked

Pedant note: I know ‘Careless Whisper’ and ‘A Different Corner’ were released as George Michael solo tracks, but they both ended up on Wham! albums during the band’s original career, so in my head they 100% count. This ranking is purely personal, other perspectives welcome! And yes, George Michael’s career was much more than Wham!, but right now that’s the bit I’m thinking about.

whamstrip

Wham! only had 24 songs in their career, and the standard was impressively high. But it’s fun to try and sort through them. Go Yog!

24. Piano Outro

This brief instrumental fragment (heard at the end of Fantastic and If You Were There: The Best Of Wham!) doesn’t really count as a song, so it has to take last place.

23. Where Did Your Heart Go?

22. Love Machine

21. If You Were There

All excellent songs, and cover versions remained a crucial part of George’s career throughout, but back in the day, it was the songs George Michael wrote himself (with a very occasional assist from Andrew Ridgeley) that made Wham! stand out. It still annoys me all these years later that ‘Where Did Your Heart Go?’ was actually released as a single.

20. Nothing Looks The Same In The Light

19. Like A Baby

18. Blue (Armed With Love)

Wham! were never seen as a ballads band, and many of the slower songs that they released did tend to be a bit ponderous, as these three examples show. The “solo” ballads from the same era are noticeably better.

17. Come On!

Boppy and catchy but just lacks a distinctive edge compared to the singles of the time.

16. Last Christmas

An acknowledged seasonal classic, and I’ve always loved the cover art. If anything this has been dulled by overexposure and constant inferior covers.

15. A Ray Of Sunshine

14. Credit Card Baby

13. The Edge Of Heaven

Fast and funky is a default setting where Wham! can always deliver the goods.

12. Club Tropicana

My favourite bit of this track is the vocals at the end. Coo-ool . . .

11. Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do?)

There are many, many mixes of this song. The 86 remix is fun and sweary.

10. Everything She Wants

9. Battlestations

Both examples of what George at the time considered “mature” writing, and similarly themed around a grasping, acquisitive partner. ‘Battlestations’ is a relatively obscure track (a new recording for The Final but never released as a single), with fun answering-machine sound effects and tasty spoken sections.

8. Bad Boys

George Michael hated this track and occasionally had it excluded from compilations, but it’s a fun romp and I’ve been quoting the line “I’m big enough to break down the door” for years.

7. Heartbeat

This mid-tempo ballad strikes me as fertile territory for a cover, replete with echoing pianos. Conveys an end-of-term feel really effectively.

6. Young Guns (Go For It!)

“Hey shut up chick, that’s a friend of mine.”

5. I’m Your Man

Any song that was designed to persuade Brooke Shields to give up her virginity obviously gets extra points.

4. A Different Corner

The first UK number one written, produced, sung and with every single instrument played by a single person (Prince did it first in the US with ‘When Doves Cry’, trivia fans). Looking back, this set the template for much of George’s subsequent solo career.

3. Wake Me Up Before You Go Go

For most people the definitive Wham! track. 1980s pop never got any more fun than this.

2. Careless Whisper

Following up ‘Wake Me Up’ with this was a master stroke. “Guilty feet ain’t got no rhythm” is perhaps the most amazing six words in a number one hit ever.

1. Freedom

The definitive Wham! song: a Motown feel, amazing vocals, and a lyric about infidelity. If they’d ever finished the video this would have been an even more massive hit.

Some random thoughts on George Michael

Wham!’s Make It Big was the first album I was properly obsessed with, from the minute I purchased it in my local Kmart (price: $11.84). I knew every word, every note, every beat, every song writing credit, every nuance. I timed exactly how long each song ran and designed an insert to go inside the tape cover.

anguswham

I’m obsessed enough that not only do I own every Wham! album and every George Michael album on CD (and I wrote an extremely detailed guide to which Wham! tracks hadn’t yet made it to CD, I even have Andrew Ridgeley’s solo album on CD, and all the accompanying singles.

George’s career had so many stages: boyband pop prodigy, brooding solo star, fighting with his record company, unexpectedly outed, latter-day poster child for pop stardom on your own terms. You know what’s sad about that? You so rarely got the impression he was happy. Ever-introspective, every interview seemed to show him regretting what had happened previously. He bought so much pleasure to others, I hope he found some peace for himself.

Here’s a trailer for the high school cannibal bushranger video I was in


In 1986, history class 9H1 at Armidale High School had to make a video with a bushranger theme, so we chose Alexander Pearce, the Tasmanian cannibal. But why focus on cannibals when you can also stage a Dynasty-style fight between two whores called Linda Lovelips and Camel Tits? For the first time in 30 years, here’s the trailer for this epic video project, which we gave the ludicrous title of The Hunger Of The Desperate and graced with some terrible acting, editing and special effects. I might put the full version up at some stage . . .

Eye of the Tigress comes to Kindle

tigresscover18 years ago, I collaborated with four colleagues to write a ridiculous online serial novel, Eye Of The Tigress. This year, I decided it would be interesting to collate the chapters and make it available as a Kindle ebook on Amazon.

This turns out to be a fairly straightforward process, except for one detail. My original plan had been to make the ebook free; after all, I wasn’t the only author. I’d seen plenty of free Kindle titles around, so that seemed straightforward. But it wasn’t until I had actually uploaded the formatted text that I discovered Amazon won’t let you initially set the price of your book as free. The minimum is US$0.99. If your title ends up free on rival stores, then it may end up being free on Amazon as a result of price matching, but you can’t make that decision easily yourself.

I wasn’t keen to set up a bunch more accounts with other publishing platforms just to achieve that, so in the end I went with the minimum price. In the (highly unlikely) event that anyone does actually buy a copy, I will donate all the proceeds to Medecins Sans Frontieres. If you’re tempted, here’s the link on Amazon. And special thanks to my brother Alex Kidman for proofing and editing.

What happened to my 2016 NaNoWriMo novel?

Anyone observing my Twitter feed recently will have noticed that I haven’t tweeted about the NaNoWriMo challenge, where you try and write an entire novel of 50,000 words or more, since the middle of the month, when I hit the halfway mark. So what’s happened?
The short version: I’m no longer trying to finish writing the novel this month, but unlike some of my previous abandoned attempts, I do intend to finish the novel.
The longer version: by the time I reached the halfway mark, it had became evident that there were two factors that meant that this wasn’t necessarily going to work as a #NaNoWriMo novel.
(1) I’m really happy with the voice and tone I’ve developed for the narrator, but it’s slow work to write. Reaching the 1700 words I need each day and maintaining that tone has been a challenge. Even though this year I knew most of my plot in advance, any advantage from that has been more than offset by the speed with which I can actually write it. It’s not a matter of writer’s block; it just takes much longer than my usual writing speed.
(2) It has become evident from what I’ve written that this is not a story that’s going to be contained within 50,000 words. Based on where it’s at right now, I suspect it will need to be 80,000 words at least. That’s actually a more typical length for a novel, but there’s no way I would be able to hit that target in November, especially at the speed I’ve actually been writing.
I’m a purist: I don’t think you’ve done NaNoWriMo properly unless you actually complete the whole draft. In my mind, you can’t just have 50,000 words of an incomplete work and say you’ve finished the challenge. So it simply doesn’t make sense for me to treat this book as a NaNoWriMo project. It’s now just a project I’m continuing to work on.
When I’ve succeeded at NaNoWriMo, I’ve usually posted the first chapter or the blurb online (see my efforts from 2015, 2011 and 2010). I can’t do that here now, but I will when, eventually, I finish it. Not going to set myself a deadline for that just yet.