May 14, 2006

Cedar Crescent, Please...

The railway was central to the Woy Woy area when I was living there: the road to Sydney, the Pacific Highway, was still only a winding two lane road that took well over an hour to drive the 35 miles to the outskirts of Sydney (and another 30 minutes or more to get to the centre). By 1970, Australia still had only 12 miles of "international standard" (i.e. Freeway / Motorway) road in a country the size of the U.S — and 10 of those miles were replacement for the worst parts of the Pacific Highway north out of Sydney (we were so proud of the new Tollway when it opened, we’d try to get mum or dad to let us drive with them to Sydney whenever they went down; now the freeway stretches pretty much all the way to Newcastle, and the drive to Gosford is a quick easy jaunt). The tollway cut huge pink and yellow bare sandstone scars through the hills; we thought it was beautiful… (and Hawkesbury sandstone — pink, yellow, gold, and white when unweathered, darker and curved, porous, when exposed for years — is so much a part of this landscape and my childhood images).

By contrast, the railway was quick and convenient, at least for commuters. At 6 in the morning Woy Woy station would be a hive of activity — bicycles, cars, buses, men – all rushing to catch the trains to Sydney. There was a strong and obvious division between the blue-collar workers and the white collar workers here: the former usually got to the station, in overalls or King Gee work clothes, by about 6; the latter typically caught the trains around 7 or even later, in (bad) suits or Public Service shorts. In the early days I remember the Red Trains — the old red single-decker ten-carriage trains pulled by the omnipresent class 46 electric loco. Fairly fast, endlessly noisy (clackety-clack! clackety-clack!), unairconditioned (but with large openable windows). Some of the carriages dated from the early 1900’s; most from the 50’s. The new silver electric self-propelled carriages came in in the mid 60’s, still noisy, still fast, relatively comfortable in a spartan sort of way. Much better late at night in the summer with all the windows open and dog shift workers playing cards and talking their way to work than the later closed window air-conditioned double-deckers with the reflecting windows. Even us ten-year-old kids knew how to take the train to Sydney or Gosford on our own, and often did.

The track was electrified as far north as Gosford, and then the steam trains and diesels took over for the run to Newcastle or the North Coast. I can remember the odd steam train pushing through Woy Woy even in the late 60’s; the station overpass had smoke walls to stop people running to the trains from getting soot all over them. Gosford train yards — at that time quite a sizable operation — still had small steam shunters in the early mid-60’s; they were endlessly fascinating to me when I was allowed to watch them when dad had to go to Gosford Hospital to visit a patient.

Late at night you could hear the trains coming out of the long tunnel near Bull’s Hill and accelerating towards Woy Woy, then running across the causeway towards Gosford. A long diesel goods train might take 20 minutes or more, and you could always hear it miles away across the water. For the first decade or so of my life in Australia trains were an utterly natural part of the landscape, characteristic parts of the soundscape, something taken so much for granted that when I moved to Canberra for the first year or so I kept hearing trains in all sorts of other sounds.

Buses were also crucial in a place where the majority of people had no cars. The local bus company, Richter Bros. Buses, ran a fairly decent monopoly that served most areas of the Peninsula. The buses always synchronised with the trains, since this was the main way for commuters to get to and from the station. The Richter buses also made it as far as Gosford, Pearl Beach, and Patonga every hour or so. Except for the main streets, the buses had no defined bus stops at that time — you could flag them down anywhere just by waving at the driver, and when you got on (even a small kid like me) you just said something like "Cedar Crescent, please" and the driver (Dennis, often enough, on the Ettalong via Booker Bay route — many of us kids knew the drivers by first name at least) would mentally note the destination, then remind you (often by name — "Master Little… Jimmy… Cedar Crescent!") if you hadn’t got up in time to stop when your destination approached. It was considered quite rude to use the stop cord buzzer thing; you just stood up as the bus approached and the driver would slow down for you. They’d stop anywhere along the route, right up until the early 70’s when the council forced them to stop only at properly-marked bus stops.

Late at night there’d be only one bus meeting the train; you’d get on, tell the driver where you were going, pay, and after everyone got on, he’d sit there for a while thinking about how he’d best get everyone home, then pull out onto Woy Woy Road. In this case they’d go pretty much wherever needed to get the passengers home, as long as it was not unreasonably off the beaten track. Usually, within 20 or 30 minutes, everyone got there, but every now and then (mostly because the preferred route in these situations would go first towards Umina, then Ettalong, then Booker Bay, then (home!) Orange Grove Rd) I’d end up in the back completely forgotten, with the bus obviously heading back towards the station or the depot (at the foot of Barrenjoey Road). I’d pluck up the courage and walk forward; Dennis would look startled or sheepish, and we’d head back towards Orange Grove, Dennis always cheering me up with a good shark story or something….


At 5/15/2006 2:26 pm, Blogger Phil said...

very nicely evocative there mr jimmy. it really does remind me of my current whereabouts a little bit too.

At 5/16/2006 9:07 am, Blogger Jimmy Little said...

Phil — thanks! I hope the coast between Wollongong and Sydney isn't quite as badly over-developed as the whole Central Coast / Woy Woy / Gosford area has become….

At 5/17/2006 3:00 am, Blogger Phil said...

no, not so bad - but there's so much mine slippage that it keeps it at bay. the bus drivers this-a-way are still pretty much the same - as they all are in smallish communities.

At 2/09/2010 11:33 pm, Blogger Steve said...

Hi just surfed on by via Spikes blog
had to comment on this story and this
"It was considered quite rude to use the stop cord buzzer thing"
I remember the foul look old Kingston used to give you when you pressed the button , he would reply in an abrupt voice "Proceeding to stop " great memory thanks !

At 2/10/2010 9:05 am, Blogger Jimmy Little said...

Steve — thanks! Decades later I still find it difficult to use a bus stop cord :-).


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