September 1989 Trip to attend the Heavy Haul Conference in Australia

BrisbaneMackay to Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay
Brisbane - Redbank ShopsMackay and into the outback
Brisbane - BeerwahMackay to Cairns in the Sunlander
Brisbane - Fishermans IslandCairns - Great Barrier Reef
Brisbane to RockhamptonCairns - Mulgrave Rambler
Rockhampton to MackayCairns to Ottawa

Friday 8 September 1989 Ottawa to Brisbane

I left Ottawa via Air Canada on the first leg of my flight to Brisbane through Toronto Los Angeles and Sydney.  The flight across the Pacific was a very boring 14 hours.  Qantas have a program which shows the progress on the screen that is used for movies.  It shows the flight speed and altitude while a small plane moves across a map.

I arrived in Sydney on Sunday morning to find that the domestic airlines were on strike. I managed to get a reservation on a Qantas flight to Brisbane so I wasn't very late after all.

I checked into the Sheraton which is good but an overly fancy hotel and spent the afternoon watching Astralian rules football.

Went out for a walk around 17:00.  It gets dark early, around 18:00 and at that time it begins to be a little cool.  I mustn't forget that it is early spring here.  There doesn't seem to be many good restaurants although there are lots of places selling chips.  Went to bed early.

Monday 11 September 1989 Brisbane

As expected, I woke up early in the night although I was very tired.  Got up early and went for a walk in downtown Brisbane.  I went as far as the Botanical Gardens where the flowers are beautiful and very bright so that they almost hurt the eyes.  There were the familiar bourgainvilla but a number of unfamiliar ones as well. First day of the Heavy Haul Conference today.  Pretty interesting.  Surprisingly there are not a great number of people from Canada here - just one from CN and four from CP.

I took a taxi out to Mount Gravatt this evening to visit Olive Chivers. She is very spry and very bright and cheerful.  It was strange to see her for the first time since 1950 when she and Jim emigrated to Australia.  She lives with her adopted son Jon in a bungalow.  It is pleasant with much space although there is no basement.  I came back to the hotel relatively early as I was still suffering from jet lag.

Tuesday 12 September 1989 Brisbane - Redbank Shops

I attended the conference sesssions during the morning and went by bus to the Redbank shops of the Queensland Railway in the afternoon.  This is in a south eastern suburb of Brisbane.  There was an interesting display of electric locomotives brought in specially for our visit.  The shops deal mainly with diesel locomotives although traction motors are handled there as well.

Some QR locomotives have a letter beside the number on the cab side.  "A" means weight reduced while "S" means equipped for driving on one side only.  Most of the units were equipped with two control stands for bi-directional driving from the one cab.  The letters can be difficult to pick out as they are a light yellow against a light blue.

This evening I went to chinatown and ate Mopreton Bay Bugs.  They are not as bad as they sound.  The bugs are a little like lobster as they have the same sort of shell and look the same color.  They don't have claws. Delicious.

Wednesday 15 September 1989 Brisbane - Beerwah

I had to spend quite a lot of time at the Qantas office this morning to alter travel arrangements as a result of the strike of the airline pilots.  There is even talk that the air traffic controllers will go on strike which will make it difficult to get home.

This afternoon I went on the electric train trip to Beerwah which is just north of Caboolture on the north coast main line.  The new electric trains are very impressive.  Very comfortable in spite of the restricted loading gauge.  The acceleration and deceleration is very good but track restrictions prevent any really good timings.

I saw some typical tropical Australian scenery with scattered trees and much brown.  Nothing beautiful, although there were some good views of the Glasshouse Mountain which was named by Captain Cook from the way the light shone from the sides.

At Beerwah we detrained for afternoon tea which was provided by the auxilliary.  This was dough bread with scones, jam and cream.  After this there was a demonstration of sheep shearing.  The sheep was manhandled on to a stage from the back of a pick up or ute and unceremoniously shorn.  One sheep had been shorn before we got there for practice and it was nicked in many places.  It must smart at least.  In the end the shearer won 3-0. Everybody here wears a hat with a brim to ward off the sun.

There are many pineapples grown in this area.  I saw some being loaded in boxes on to a QR flatcar equipped with truss rods and arch bar trucks.

From Beerwah we went back to the suburbs and took a bus to the Woolshed.  This was a reproduction shed where we watched some performing sheep - at least they just trotted up to their appointed position on the stage.  We then had a good steak dinner. The beer and wine were free all evening.  I was still feeling the effects of jet lag and left fairly early to catch the train back to the hotel which is located right over Brisbane Central station.  I met an interesting fellow from the Emu Bay Railway, Doug Beath.  He has quite an interest in railways and spoke quite a bit about the Queensland sugar industry and cane railways.  I will try to get to see something of them.

Thursday 14 September 1989 Brisbane - Fishermans Island

I attended the conference session this morning and also bought some souvenirs from an aborigine store.  I then went on the trip to Fishermans Island.  We first saw the coal loading operation.  This was quite simple really, particularly bearing in mind that the cars are all bottom unloading.  There was a train waiting for us and it started to move through as we arrived.  From there we went over to the container terminal where we had tea. This area is not particularly pleasant, being very flat and marshy.  The green lobby is quite active in this area although only the birds can really benefit.  The grain terminal was also interesting. It is surprising that it can be so simple as a result of the reduced number of grades.

Friday 15 November 1989 Brisbane

Last day of the conference in Brisbane today.  The sessions were very interesting, especially the South Africans who seem to think they know everything.  Late in the afternoon I went on the suburban electric railway for a ride before it became dark which was maddeningly early around 18:00.

Saturday 16 November 1989 Brisbane to Rockhampton

I left the hotel in good time this morning and took a cab to Roma Street station to pick up the electric train "Spirit of Capricorn" for the run all the way to Rockhampton.  There was quite a bit of activity at Roma Street with a container train as well as the "Queenslander" being switched out of the station.

We left at 08:15 precisely on time, and were quickly gliding smoothly through the northern Brisbane suburbs.  Retracing my steps as far as Beerwah we stopped at Caboolture on time at 09:02.  The food and drink service on this train is quite good.  This is airline style to the seat although there is more room through the corridors. The train was heavily booked and there was some confusion.  Some seats had been sold three times over and it took the conductor and assistant some time to sort it out., it was probably made worse by the late booking of our party.  There was a seat for everybody.  Smoking accommodation is in just one car.

The trains run on the left hand sde of the double track under four aspect signalling.  I saw many egrets and kookaburras.  The fields were full of pineapples, bananas, mangoes and grapes and tere was some logging.  The stations were well kept with many boxes of flowers, especially vivid red ones.

"Good on yer, mite, fer takin the trine."

The first signs of sugar cane came at Nambour.  I rode the cab from Cooroy to Howerd.  The new ATC (Indusi) works well but seems to be very restrictive.  They are certainly erring on the side of safety.  The railway is very busy and we had many meets, several of them running ones.  The countryside is very dry and subsequently quite brown.  There are no dense forests as the trees are well spaced.

We reached Bundaberg at 13:50 and departed at 13:54, twelve minutes late.  There is a great deal of sugar cane here and I saw the first sign of the cane railways. Surprisingly there are no views of the sea, The trip is not very scenic and I think the brochures exaggerate the beauty.  There is an aluminum smelter at Gladstone and then a great deal of running over flat, treeless brown plains that are put aside for cattle.  The distinctive Bramin cattle are used.  They were imported from India a few years ago to improve the resistance to high temperatures.  They have a distinctive hump on their backs.

We arrived at Rockhamton just as it was getting dark.  The hotel is not bad. I went to Pizza Hut with several others from the group for a meal.  We had a quick walk around the town afterwards and I was amazed to see the double track main line running down the centre of the town.  A train came along.  They have a bell for this section.  It is a handbell!

Sunday 16 September 1989 Rockhampton to Mackay

We continued our journey to Mackay this morning, this time by bus.  I woke early and went out for a walk, hoping to see a train come down the main street.  However, no such luck.  There is a pleasant park just in front of the hotel and I spent some time watching parrots in the trees.  They are a bright green and orange and are quite big.

The bus journey was quite interesting as we saw some kangaroos, the first for me.  The area is very dry and there were whole patches of dead trees.  Where there was water the trees are surprisingly green.  The bus had a great tubular steel roo bar on the front to provide protection in case they hit a kangaroo. I don't think it would do very much for the kangaroo though.

Passed a couple of freight trains on the Coast Line and then came upon signs of sugar cane in the Sarina area which is just south of Mackay.

We checked into the hotel at Mackay and then I contacted Bob Black of the Sugar Research Institute who took me out for a very interesting afternoon.  We went first to the Farleigh Mill where I met the dispatcher who keeps track of the trains by moving magnetic tags on a metal board,  There is radio communication with the trains.

Bob then took me out to ride a train.  The bins are taken right into the fields on trailers which are fitted with rails.  The trains are big.  I rode on "Inverness" which had 225 bins or about 1200 tons.  Waiting for the train we spent some time at an interchange point.  There were three men working here and all heavily into the beer (Fourex).  It was late afternoon when we set off up the Long Mile. The main line extends 63 km. to the north west of the mill.  Our first part was through cane fields but we quickly left the cane and climbed through bush country.  There were several kangaroos around.  The small ones just sat in the tall grass and peered out at us. The larger ones hopped off when we came close.  We had to reduce the size of the train twice and finally made it over the top with 75 cars.  The place where we reduced the second time, Denmans, was open country and the cattle came down freely to the trains to graze the sugar cane in the bins.  The operation is quite remarkable bearing in mind that  they do not have brakes on the train but just on the locomotive.

The train crew told me about a taipan they saw in this area this morning,  It was about 12 feet long and as thick as your wrist.  These snakes are highly venomous, nearly always fatal.  Glad I didn't see it. (They like to lie under the track on top of bridge piers, one reason why track maintenance is so poor in these areas).

It was dark by the time Bob picked me up and brought me back to the hotel for a quick drink.  There was nobody else around so I wandered around to see what I could find to eat.  The only place was a take out Chinese which was awful.  Eating well in Australia is very difficult.  They use so much grease and fat.

Monday 17 September Mackay and Coal Facilities at Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay

First day of our trip to see the coal facilities.  We went first to the CTC control office and then to the electric locomotive repair and servicing depot at Jilang, a new facility.  For the first time I climbed up and walked around the roof of an electric locomotive, not the sort of thing one would do without adequate precautions. We were served morning tea on a small strip of grass in the middle of the shop tracks.  They had set up a canvas awning to provide some shade against the fierce sun. It seemed strange to see bananas growing in a small strip of garden in the shop track.

From Jilang we went to Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay where there are coal facilities to unload from the trains and to load to vessels.  We passed several signs warning motorists to beware of kangaroos. First, a very good buffet lunch at the Hay Point Inn.  Not surprisingly there was a great deal of seafood, including Moreton Bay Bugs.  This time they were whole so I could get a better idea as to what they looked like.

The two coal terminals were very interesting particularly at Hay Point where we were taken right out to the loading jetty.  The sea was quite strong which made the boat move about quite a bit. Hay Point uses a wagon tipple which means that there is a break in the overhead electric wire for traction.  The trains have to coast through the dead section.  Wouldn't you know it but the train we watched managed to stall in this section. Dalrymple Bay uses bottom unloading so there is no problem in this respect.

We came back to Mackay and I had a visit with Bob James at the Sugar Research Institute.  It was quite an eye opener to see the sorts of research they get into.  There must be a lot of money to be made because they have some quite extensive research  facilities.

Tuesday 18 September 1989 Mackay and into the outback

Another interesting day today on a coach trip into the outback.  The first few miles were through sugar cane growing areas and we passed the Racecourse Mill.  We also saw a QR sugar cane train.  We climbed the Coast Range and the interior was very dry indeed.  At the top of the hill is a park where the trucks leave part of their trains.  Truck trains are not allowed on the coastal roads.  We passed a train at Coppabella where we were given morning tea.  The town was built and maintained by the QR.  It is quite pleasant but terribly isolated. From Coppabella we went on to Moranbah where we were given a demonstration of a narrow gauge tamper as well as a method of using epoxy to repair damaged concrete ties. The demonstration had been planned so that we could get to the site without going through brush.  I realized afterwards that this was probably to clear out any snakes etc.  Track workers here were wearing shorts.  I know it is hot but I would have wanted leg protection from nasties.

From Moranbah we went on to the coal mine where we had lunch at the canteen.  The food was plain but substantial and very plentiful.  Just like Thurso food.  We were then given a briefing and then taken out to see the opencast operation.  The draglines were incredible with booms about ten metres long. The whole area is rather like a moonscape.  The first and only ones I saw.

The trip back was very long.  Good job the coach was air conditioned otherwise it would have been unbearable. I said goodbye to the rest of the party at the Mackay airport and took a taxi into town for a meal. It was dusk and I was surprised at the numbers of parrots getting themselves ready for bed.  They were in the palm trees making a great deal of noise trying to get comfy.

Wednesday 19 September 1989 Mackay to Cairns in the Sunlander

I was up at 04:30 this morning in order to be in good time to catch the Sunlander from Mackay to Cairns.  I had paid my bill the previous evening and the taxi was nice and early.  Of course the train was almost an hour late.  I found my seat and hoisted my case aboard because the car was just off the platform (I was in car 13). Then I made a mad dash up to the front where I rode the engine as far as Prosperpine.  It was very uncomfortable, probably the most uncomfortable trip I have made in a locomotive.  The Queensland Railway trains are narrow gauge both in track and clearance with the result that there is little room in the cab.  I had to bend almost double to see out of the low windows.  There is a third seat but it is squeezed in between the back door and the drivers seat.  There is little room for more than one cheek.  There are two control stands in the cab so that the locomotive can be driven in both directions from the one cab. I have always felt that this was the start of my sciatica problems which have bothered me ever since.

The journey was pretty uneventful.  We met two trains on the single line (at Farleigh and Kattabul) and passed a train of sugar empties waiting to get off the Mackay Harbour Branch.  Train control is by electric train staff which the second man withdraws himself from the instrument.  When there is a meet they just exchange staffs. I mentioned this and was told that "They like us to put the staff through the instrument but they don't like us to delay trains."  I was also surprised at the lackadaisical approach to personal safety.  The second man would climb off the locomotive on his side and then walk across the front to the driver's side instead of getting off in full view of the driver.

This driver had his own story about the taipan.  He said that they will strike at wheels as the train passes and have been known to kill themselves this way.

The rest of the trip was quite uneventful.  The train emptied out somewhat at Townsville.  It was fully air conditioned with shower facilities.  The food service in the restaurant car was quite good.  The one noticeable thing was the preponderance of old retired people.  Just like The Canadian.  The scenery is pretty boring.  We only saw the sea once and that for little more than a mile.

We arrived at Cairns in the dark about forty minutes late. I managed to get a cab straight away and was quickly in the Sheraton which is my last stopping place in Australia.

Thursday 20 September 1989 Cairns - Great Barrier Reef

The first thing I did when I reached the hotel yesterday was to book a trip to the Great Barrier Reef today.  A bus picked me up at the hotel and took me to Port Douglas which is about 40 miles further up the coast.  This part of the country is a little greener and there are lots of vivid flowers. Mangoes grow wild and you can pick them as you wish.

Port Douglas is a tourist place. The trip up was very pleasant. There are a lot of unspoilt beaches - I wonder for how long?  There are a lot of rich tourists here.  I went out with a couple of hundred tourists on a fast catamaran to a pontoon placed on one of the reefs.  On the way out there was a lecture about what we would see  I arranged to go out with about ten others with two marine biologists.  This was a good idea as I learnt a good deal and I was also able to borrow a wet suit.  The water wells up from the depths of the Pacific and was extremely cold indeed.

There were not a great many interesting fish although those I saw tended to be quite big.  No barracudas, sting rays etc.  The best part was the corals.

On arrival back from the small boat trip I made a mad dash for the remains of the buffet lunch and then back snorkelling from the pontoon.  It was quite good with excellent visibility but again very cold - except on the top 18 inches or so. Before returning the crew made a head count.

It was a good day but a little disappointing.  There were more fish in Tobago while the Galapagos was definitely more exciting.

Friday 21 September 1989 Cairns - Mulgrave Rambler

This was my last full day in Australia.  I wanted to make the QR trip to Kuranda through the rain forest but this was not possible to arrange with the Mulgrave Rambler excursion in the afternoon. I wandered around the town in the morning.  The sea goes out a long way at Cairns and the foreshore is mainly mud. There was a flock of pelicans to watch as they preened themselved on the mud flats.

I was picked up at 13:00 and taken to Mulgrave where we made a quick stop at the sugar mill and then to the other end of the line where we were taken around a place that was growing orchids and had been for all of a year.  There was the opportunity to take afternoon tea but I got talking with the driver of the steam locomotive and missed my chance.

The locomotive "Nelson" had only recently been restored to working condition, having been stuffed and mounted for several years.  They didn't do a very good technical job of restoration.  The oil firing mechanism is one of the strangest I have ever seen and the drafting is very strange. It is so noisy that the driver has to wear ear protection.  There is a dead man's button which he has to press every minute or so otherwise the brakes will go on.  The trip was well worth it.  The scenery is attractive, being a mixture of canefields and wild country as we traverse a piece of National Park.  The waterways are very attractive.  The train control procedures could be better.  There seems to be little positive instruction.  They nearly had a head on with a cane train the previous week.  There is a problem with switches left open.

On arrival back at Mulgrave we were greeted to a good presentation about sugar growing and the crushing process. We then went for a guided tour of the mill.  All in all it was a good afternoon.

I went to a good restaurant this evening for my last meal.  I had a delicious combination of chicken and bug meat.

Saturday 22 September 1989 Cairns to Ottawa

Last day today.  I wandered around the town this morning and enjoyed the bourgainvilla, hibiscus and frangipani.  Plenty of action at the station where I watched the Kuranda train depart. The coaches are very old and many weigh about 21 tons.  At the end of the station is a busy road crossing.  The multiple tracks are watched over by a flagman who has a hut which looks like a police hut in England.  One of these is named (in chalk) Tardis after the Dr. Who TV serials.

I was astounded to see a girl in a bookstore dressed up like a Phillip Morris girl and handing out free cigarettes. I find this quite objectionable. Australia is still very macho and is about 20 years behind us in many ways. Non-smokers do not have many rights. The women are almost as coarse as the men.  It is almost impossible to find good food although chips and fat are everywhere. I had the impression that I was in the East End of London, particularly at the Saturday farmers' market.

I took a taxi to the airport.  The flight to Vancouver was completely forgettable. Qantas service was good.  I didn't go outside the plane in Brisbane.  At Honolulu we had to wait in a segregated lounge for about two hours before boarding the same plane.

On arrival in Vancouver I declared that I was over my limit.  I was dumbfouded when they waved me right through. Must be some advantages to being honest after all!  Jim Eisler and his wife were kind enough to meet me at the airport and drive me to the Hyatt.  It was very much appreciated after such a long journey.

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