GALLERY: Rail museum proposed 

BROADMEADOW’S historic locomotive yards could be transformed into the southern hemisphere’s largest railway museum as part of a transport heritage project.
Nanjing Night Net

The 18-hectare site has been identified as a potential location for miniature train and ghost train rides as well as a stream train museum in the state government’s All Aboard! A Fresh Start for Transport Heritage in NSW paper.

The document outlines the need to develop a co-ordinated plan to capitalise on the potential of the state’s rich transport heritage.

A similar project in Victoria earns $50million a year in tourism revenue.

It notes the Broadmeadow site, which contains a heritage-listed locomotive depot, could be become a key location to showcase the state’s rail heritage.

Built in the 1920s, the Broadmeadow yards operated as one of Australia’s largest steam depots for 50 years.

Despite several plans to resurrect the site over the past 30 years, it remains largely a weed infested wasteland containing vandalised rail carriages and derelict buildings.

But the report says the site’s heritage combined with its strategic position within Newcastle made it an ideal location for the rail heritage showcase.

‘‘The site is so huge that it could be put to many different uses simultaneously,’’ the report says.

‘‘It could be the site of the Ipswich, or the Utrecht, or the York, of the Hunter, with miniature train rides, ghost and circus trains, Creative Corners, Nippers’ Nooks; it could display some of the regal old steam trains and their carriages; it could include a working workshop, where welders, painters and cabinet-makers could be watched by children and families.’’

It also had the potential to become a train repair hub for regional heritage operators as well as housing some commercial activity such restaurants and shops.

A Transport NSW spokeswoman said the locomotive department was currently used as a store for government-owned heritage assets and was not open for use by rail heritage groups.

‘‘The Rail Heritage review heard from a number of groups seeking to gain access to the site for heritage and conservation purposes,’’ she said.

‘‘The NSW Government supports a review of how the depot is used and whether there are options that would maximise the benefits to the rail heritage sector and the community.’’

The site is contaminated by decades of industrial pollution, however in 2002, masters student estimated is could be decontaminated for under $1million.

Newcastle state Liberal MP Tim Owen described the proposal as a ‘‘great call’’.

‘‘A lot of money has been spent on the roundhouse,’’ he said.

‘‘We’d be silly as a government not to be using that as a key centrepiece of that platform.’’

The report also notes the potential for trades training provides, such as the Maitland-based Hunter Valley Training Company, to be involved in the rail heritage project.

Hunter Valley Training Company executive director Kay Sharp said the organisation would welcome the opportunity for its trainees to be involved.

‘‘It would be a logical fit for us,’’ she said.

‘‘If it’s going to happen we would certainly want to be talking to them about it.’’

It has been involved in the restoration of several high profile rolling stock restoration projects over the past 30 years including the 3081 locomotive.

ALL ABOARD: Right, Mark Stapleton and Michael Muter at the yards at Broadmeadow, which has a heritage-listed locomotive depot. Main picture: Darren Pateman

Broadmeadow may be home to the largest rail museum in the southern hemisphere.

Broadmeadow may be home to the largest rail museum in the southern hemisphere.

Broadmeadow may be home to the largest rail museum in the southern hemisphere.

Broadmeadow may be home to the largest rail museum in the southern hemisphere.

Broadmeadow may be home to the largest rail museum in the southern hemisphere.

Broadmeadow may be home to the largest rail museum in the southern hemisphere.

Broadmeadow may be home to the largest rail museum in the southern hemisphere.

Broadmeadow may be home to the largest rail museum in the southern hemisphere.

Broadmeadow may be home to the largest rail museum in the southern hemisphere.

Broadmeadow may be home to the largest rail museum in the southern hemisphere.

Broadmeadow may be home to the largest rail museum in the southern hemisphere.

Broadmeadow may be home to the largest rail museum in the southern hemisphere.

Broadmeadow may be home to the largest rail museum in the southern hemisphere.

Broadmeadow may be home to the largest rail museum in the southern hemisphere.

Broadmeadow may be home to the largest rail museum in the southern hemisphere.

Support from other heritage groups

THE region’s heritage railway groups have welcomed plans to establish a rail heritage museum at Broadmeadow.

Hunter Valley Railway Workshops and Museum Pty Ltd managing director Michael Muter said the idea of bringing idividual operators together at the one location was long overdue.

‘‘It’s the sort of thing we have been pushing for five years now,’’ he said.

‘‘It wouldn’t just be a museum but a training facility for heritage rail,’’ Mr Muter, who co-founded the Lachlan Valley Railway Society Co-op in 1973, said.

Among the projects set to benefit from the Broadmeadow proposal is the Blue Zephyr, a restored privately owned 1940s passenger train that provides transport to regional wine and food destinations, festivals and entertainment events.

Its operators plan to use the train to transport Sydneysiders to Broadmeadow and then by bus to Nelson Bay for whale watching tours starting in September.

It is hoped the train, which is now kept at North Rothbury, could be housed at Broadmeadow.

‘‘At the moment we can’t use the operational facility that we have here [Broadmeadow]. This would be ideal because it’s on the main line whereas at the moment we have to travel five kilometres down a branch line to get to it [the main line],’’ Mr Muter, the managing director of the Blue Zephyr, said.

Bruce Agland, the operations manager of the Rail Motor Society, said the proposed Broadmeadow rail heritage site made sense.

‘‘It’s certainly something that we would look at down the track. I can see how it could have opportunities for groups like ours.’’

Locomotive service station powered through the hours

THE Broadmeadow steam locomotive depot was built in the 1920s to maintain locomotives in northern NSW.

By the 1950s two roundhouses and associated turntables were working on the site, which had been transformed into one of the largest steam depots in Australia.

Hundreds of employees, including drivers, firemen, cleaners, fitters and shunters worked around the clock servicing trains, including the Newcastle Flyer locomotives engines.

Steam locomotives ceased being serviced at the site in February 23, 1973 after the last fire was dropped from the iconic Beyer Garrat No.6042 locomotive.

Roundhouse No.1 was demolished in 1990.

The roof of roundhouse No.2 was upgraded about five years at a cost of about $5million.

Privilege, parties and Maharajahs

CAN A DUCK SWIM?
Nanjing Night Net

By June Porter. Wakefield Press. 181pp. $34.95.

”Can a duck swim?” is evidently a polite version of that old rhetorical question about what bears do in the woods. I suspect the question is meant to connote a natural exuberance, a happy-go-lucky enjoyment of adventure, and a generous curiosity about the world and its works.

June Porter picked that question well as a title for her autobiography. Porter’s life story is intriguing because it includes a brief stint in India during and after World War II. There are, nonetheless, bonuses scattered before and after those insights into the dying days of the British Raj.

Porter grew up in Perth and, after school, ”looked forward to a life of parties and fun before, hopefully, marriage”. Happily for her, parties and fun seemed to crop up in abundance long after her marriage to an Adelaide businessman, soldier, then lord mayor.

In 1937, Porter was named Miss Western Australia, but declined the honour and boycotted the national final. By 1942, she was sufficiently established in what passed for Australian society to be described by the Women’s Weekly as a ”decorative young person”.

All that prologue is sweetly recounted, with Porter drawing on a trove of photographs, diaries and letters. Her unaided memory also remains daunting; Porter has forgotten the name of only one of four fellow passengers in her cabin on a voyage almost seven decades ago. None of that, though, would amount to much of a story without Porter’s term as lady-in-waiting to the wife of the Governor of Bihar, at a time when her husband was an assistant to the Governor of Bengal, the nearby war against the Japanese was concluding, and the movement for independence in India was re-gathering strength.

Off she went, to a world peopled by elephants (to ride), tigers (to shoot), servants (to boss around), Maharajahs (to visit) and high-falutin’ regional tours (to inspect the intriguing country). Porter’s memories are precise, richly textured and idiosyncratic. She finds space for the ”grubby-looking” girlfriend of the Maharajah of Cooch Behar who did her hair, notes her foot was fondled on a flight from Madras (Chennai), and has a paragraph on the havoc wrought on Indian waterways by the Australian blue water hyacinth. Gandhi is spelt incorrectly, but other detail seems sharp and sound.

Keeping up with the Caseys seemed to impose no strain (Richard Casey was Governor of Bengal). Nor did living in a viceregal Kolkata house with 60 rooms (”basically a palace and, by anyone’s standards, extremely good”).

Can a Duck Swim? contains relatively little about contemporary Indian politics; Porter comments at one point that ”riots were not uncommon”. Nor are many encounters with ordinary Indians included, however much Porter’s sympathies seem to have been engaged when peering at poverty outside markets. A few of the Maharajahs seemed to maintain a lifestyle more extravagant, and perhaps more oblivious, than that of the English. Porter asked one about a seven-strand pearl necklace which fell to her ankles, only to have him reply that the jewellery was for his ceremonial elephant.

British rather than Indian royals make cameos in the postwar section of Porter’s autobiography, with a kindly portrait of the Queen inserted. Kindliness, though, is not synonymous with sentimentality. ”Parties and fun” were there to be relished, but Porter seems always to have been keenly aware of how to see through her surroundings.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Lifting the veil on carnal love

ALL THAT IS.By James Salter. Picador. 290pp. $30.
Nanjing Night Net

At Richard Ford’s recent Canberra appearance, an audience member incidentally tossed a bouquet for James Salter’s erotic classic of 1967, A Sport and a Pastime. This was reasonably safe ground, as Ford is known to admire Salter. Indeed, the twosome took part in a New York literary gig at the end of April, each touting his latest novel.

Compared with Ford, the octogenarian Salter has been quiet in recent years. His 1997 memoir Burning the Days and 2005 short story collection Last Night are notable. Yet this is his first entirely new novel since Light Years and Solo Faces of the 1970s. Such is the literary bravado of the West Point graduate and former Korean War pilot.

In Salter’s fiction, true carnal love is like an ”assassin”, both exalting and abasing the ”victims” of its ”violent crime”. He describes this love as few other literary writers do, lifting the veil that even an Alice Munro leaves in place. But it would be unwise to prowl through his distinctive prose in search of a peepshow. The titles for the memoir and this novel are more reflective of what he’s on about. It’s for his insights and philosophies, rather than identifying with his world-view, that I read and recommend him.

This novel’s Philip Bowman, like the hapless Viri of Light Years, moves in gilded New York circles during the middle decades of the 20th century. Born the same year as Salter, he grows up to survive naval war and a long career as a book editor. The spine of All That Is lies in his relationships with very different women who represent very different principles and motivations.

In a 1993 interview, Salter remarked that his fellow-novelist (and admirer) Saul Bellow had once urged him to write about the horse country in Virginia. Salter had first wed a woman from that country. His Bowman does likewise. There are portents that the bride Vivian is not of the same world as Philip. ”What do you mean by literary?” inquires his prospective father-in-law. Philip’s interests are more Hardy, Pound and Hemingway. Vivian’s are style, riding and husbands. Philip’s mother fears Vivian has no soul. The couple are too tired to make love on their wedding night.

Salter thrillingly fictionalised the Korean air chase in The Hunters. On the surface, his attitude to women appears similar, that of hunter to prey. The same Salter interview undermines that semblance. Women are said to have ”the harder task” in life and be ”always the stronger” in his books. Bowman, too, denies that women are weak, but he himself behaves weakly. Vivian’s surprising strength and generosity rescues him.

When visited by a second great passion, ”it seemed his manhood had suddenly caught up with him”. ”He felt in possession of the city” of London, then ”England stood before him, naked in the darkness.” A third great love brings him the best of times and the worst of times. His

response, though scarcely that of an officer and a gentleman, engenders the forgiveness he craves.

Originally, Salter struggled to find a publisher for A Sport and a Pastime. Now Bowman’s profession enables wry backchat on the literary world. When some nobody is overheard bad-mouthing Bellow, she is corrected thus: ”You have to earn the right to betray an important writer.” In the dusk of Bowman’s career, his thought is that ”the power of the novel in the [American] nation’s culture had weakened”. Well, he would think that, wouldn’t he, but I agree with him.

Finally, feeling too old to dress casually in female company, Bowman may not be too old to find a few grace notes. For he, too, has enjoyed the amazing ”life beyond reckoning, the life that had been opened to him and that he had owned”.

That’s a key to Salter. He doesn’t really comfort virtue with its own reward. He faces life down unflinchingly, yet exhilarates in the memories. ”Everything is a dream,” counsels his foreword, ”only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real”.

Salter has done his share of preserving. All That Is rounds out his work and his trademark sentences fall sweetly to the page once more. I don’t quite find the originality or unity of his earlier novels; the Virginia section snags me temporarily, before the rest of the tapestry engrosses me.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Family treasures

Independence day … British governor-general Lord Mountbatten, centre, with lady Edwina Mountbatten and Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru on August 15, 1947.DAUGHTER OF EMPIRE: LIFE AS A MOUNTBATTEN.
Nanjing Night Net

By Pamela Hicks. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 262pp. $35.

A few hours before that momentous day in August 1947, when India became independent of Britain, the leaders of the Indian Congress Party came to the last Viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, to formally invite him to become the first Governor-General of the new nation. They presented him with an envelope that, they informed him, contained a list of everyone in the new Indian Government.

He opened it and found that a perfectly blank sheet of paper had been put in there by mistake. This gives a tiny glimpse of the pressure everyone was under as the deadline approached.

Such delightful stories, which never make the formal histories, are a precious part of these intriguing memoirs by Pamela Hicks, daughter of Lord Louis and Lady Edwina Mountbatten. Born in 1929, she followed her parents through some of the great historic occasions of the 20th century, from the years of World War II, her father’s adventurous career in the Royal Navy, his role as Chief of Combined Operations, and finally to his appointment as the last Viceroy of India. Later, she married David Hicks, a famous fashion designer.

As well as her memories of public events, her book, Daughter of Empire, is also a portrait of the inner life of a most unconventional family. I knew that while in India her mother, the beautiful Edwina, had fallen in love with Jawaharlal Nehru, first prime minister of India, though the author insists that it was not a sexual relationship. However, Edwina had many other male admirers.

One day she returned to their London home in Park Lane to be told by the butler: “Mr Larry Grey is in the drawing room, Mr Sandford is in the library, Mr Ted Philips is in the boudoir, Senor Portago is in the anteroom and I don’t know what to do with Mr Molyneux!”

Such a situation would put strain on any marriage but Hicks tells us that Lord Louis was amazingly lacking in jealousy and was only concerned for her mother’s happiness, so that the marriage worked. Later, he himself took a French lover named Yola.

Lady Pamela Hicks was born in Spain in April 1929 into one of the most distinguished families of England. Through her father, Lord Louis Mountbatten, she is a first cousin of the Duke of Edinburgh and a great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She has strong family connections to the Russian royal family. A regular visitor to the home in the 1930s was Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveen. She had been close to the Russian Tsarina and had been lucky to escape the brutal Bolsheviks.

The Baroness had Pamela and her sister in stitches with her story of worshipping in her Orthodox Church. When she resumed her seat after saying her prayers she felt loose hair tickling the back of her neck. Quickly, she pushed it up into her hat and secured it with a large hatpin. She then became aware of a male voice close to her ear whispering: “Madam, would you kindly release my beard!”

The Mountbattens were the centre of a vast social circle of friends and celebrities of all types, from royalty to Hollywood movie stars, and such people were always dropping in. Yet Pamela was a rather solitary child, who enjoyed playing with her bizarre collection of pets, or curled up with a book, or out riding.

In an earlier book, India Remembered, Hicks wrote of experiences in India during the days when her father was the last Viceroy. Later, she was to be lady in waiting to the Queen. She gives rare glimpses of that poignant occasion when the news reached the young Princess Elizabeth in Kenya, that her father, the King, was dead and that she must terminate her tour and return to London as Queen. When the Queen came down the steps of her aircraft she was dressed in mourning, and how the appropriate clothes were obtained at short notice is quite a story.

Hicks describes the 1954 royal tour of Australia and tells us that, while some of the crowds threw flowers into the royal car, others threw little flags and the sticks of the flags hurt the Queen. Her memoirs end with the death of her mother.

Daughter of Empire is a remarkable picture of one family at the heart of the British Empire as it was transformed into the Commonwealth of Nations.

Robert Willson taught history for many years at the Canberra Girls’ Grammar School.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Cultural ebbs and flows

Damn them … Nick Cater likens the 1981 Franklin River Dam protest rally in Hobart to anti-democratic rabble-rousing. No dams … protest at the Gordon River and Franklin River, Tasmania, on December 15, 1982.
Nanjing Night Net

THE LUCKY CULTURE AND THE RISE OF AN AUSTRALIAN RULING CLASS.By Nick Cater. HarperCollins. 304pp. $29.99.

It takes considerable chutzpah to write a 300-page book condemning Australia’s elitist ”Knowledge Class” and then thank no fewer than 60 journalists, academics, economists, historians, think-tank staff and political insiders for their personal assistance and friendship in your acknowledgments.

But that’s Nick Cater of The Australian for you, the anti-intellectual sociology graduate and broadsheet editor, the great admirer of the battlers in the outer suburbs and regions who nevertheless chooses to reside in inner Sydney.

But let’s put hypocrisy aside and consider The Lucky Culture and the Rise of an Australian Ruling Class at face value. Cater’s argument – when he finally articulates it four chapters into the book – is that ”the divide between the Knowledge Class and the rest has become the dominant fault line on the cultural, social and political landscape” and that ”a cohort of tertiary-educated professionals with a particular outlook” has a disproportionate influence on public affairs.

My own research into the 1999 republic referendum drew me to similar conclusions about the existence of a cultural divide between the ”mainstream” and the”elites”, groups that often find themselves speaking at cross purposes, with little common ground and a distinct lack of goodwill.

This cultural divide is an issue that needs to be seriously discussed, but too often we’re treated to another partisan shouting match. The Left dismisses the divide as a conservative myth; the Right uses it as a stick to beat those with whom it disagrees. Unfortunately, despite his claims to political neutrality, Cater fits cosily into the latter camp.

Far from adopting any traditional notions of noblesse oblige, Cater argues that Australia’s progressive insiders look down on their fellow citizens, and in their domination of important political and cultural institutions, represent a ”New Ruling Class”, ready to reshape the nation against the will of the majority. Similar ideas have been around in the English-speaking world since the 1950s, though Cater’s knowledge of this literature seems fairly cursory.

The Lucky Culture is very readable and generally engaging, but its structural flaws sometimes overshadow Cater’s writing talents. His selective, potted histories of the environmental movement, the Whitlam revolution, the ABC, universities and human rights legislation scattered throughout the book, seemingly at random, are self-serving and inadequate.

When faced with difficult questions requiring deep thinking, Cater resorts to cheap shots and occasionally strange non sequiturs. For example, Lindsay Tanner’s consideration of voluntary voting is raised, then, apropos of nothing, Cater asserts: ”An intelligence threshold on suffrage is a seductive idea, but it cannot be allowed to go unchallenged, since it goes against the grain of Australian democracy.” Just who is Cater arguing with here? Certainly not Tanner, who says nothing about intelligence thresholds.

Or, in what could have been an interesting discussion about the regrettable reliance on linguistic totems in contemporary debates, Cater suggests: ”To misapply a totem, to describe a plastic object as delightfully unsustainable, a yoghurt as nourishingly rich in fat, or a government policy as a step towards a more exclusive society, is to invite dumbfoundment.” Well, yes, but mainly because these are self-evidently absurd statements, unlikely to be uttered other than as satire. An opportunity to genuinely confront lazy thinking and everyday cant is missed.

In appealing for respect for outsider voices, Cater reveals his own intolerance for those with progressive views, especially with his odd suggestion that the Labor Party should essentially give up on arguing for what it believes in: ”It prosecutes a progressive agenda in the arrogant expectation that popular ignorance can be banished and that people can be convinced to change their minds.” And here I was thinking that attempting to persuade people with reasoned arguments and evidence is the essence of politics. Silly me.

A recurring theme of The Lucky Culture is Cater’s mocking contempt for virtually all forms of environmentalism. The Franklin River campaign? Anti-democratic rabble-rousing. Efforts to reduce the use of plastic bags? A waste of time and money. Climate change? Trust the crowd wisdom, not qualified climate scientists.

It is a shame that Cater’s ideological preoccupations overshadow what might have been a useful contribution to a discussion we need to have. A truly fair-minded and perceptive account of Australia’s cultural divide, one that seeks to explain rather than exacerbate divisions, remains to be written.

Dominic Kelly is a PhD candidate and tutor in politics at La Trobe University.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.