OFF THE HUME #3 – bordering on the ridiculous

Where are the passengers?

Where are the passengers these days?



This is a road trip, so we didn’t need to visit the train station at Albury, on the Victoria/New South Wales border. We just happened to find a motel right across from the entrance, and there are a couple of good stories attached to it.

Anyone remember the Spirit of Progress? That train used to be the most popular way to travel between Melbourne and Sydney. Riding the rails was a glamorous event in those days, between 1937 and 1962.

The full journey required two trains. The Spirit of Progress took passengers from Melbourne as far as Albury. Then everybody had to pick up their luggage and walk over to the New South Wales train, disparagingly named the Melbourne Limited Express which would take them on to Sydney.

Freight had to change trains too, of course.

The reason? Victoria had broad gauge train track, New South Wales ‘standard gauge’, and neither would agree to change so a single train could run the whole route.

Eventually the Victorians blinked and laid new tracks in 1962. The Spirit was joined by The Southern Aurora, before both were replaced by the boringly named Sydney/Melbourne Express.

Less crowded than the airports.

Albury Station. Less crowded than the airports, and rather more beautiful.

I took the bike down to Melbourne on this last train a few years ago. There was friendly service, a comfortable seat and they were kind to my bike. But the cost was similar to flying and it took me 11 hours to make the dull journey. I won’t rush to do it again.

Construction of a high speed rail link between Sydney and Melbourne is mooted from time to time, but the proposal always ends up in the ‘too hard’ basket.

Billions are meanwhile poured into upgrading the road. A great pity, methinks, though while air travel remains so cheap the railways will never be able to compete. I compared the costs and times in an earlier post on this blog.

Although all but abandoned these days, Albury Railway Station is well maintained, attractively painted (in heritage colours of course) and boasts Australia’s, nay, the Southern Hemisphere’s, longest undercover railway platform.

No trains here till tomorrow.

No trains here till tomorrow.

The other entertainment for those crossing the border used to be the fruit fly inspections.

New South Wales fruit was infected by the little critters, laying their maggots in your peaches, while Victoria was apparently a fruit fly free zone. (Try saying that quickly…’fruit-fry-flee, flute-fly-free…’)

So I well remember the car stops by the Murray River that marked the state border, hastily scoffing oranges while uniformed inspectors stuck their heads into car boots and opened eskies looking for contraband vegetable matter.

Perhaps the Murray isn’t as wide as it used to be, or NSW fruit flies have evolved into better fliers. Whatever the reason, there’s no longer a ban on carrying fruit down the Hume Highway.

The ritual is commemorated in the name of the Flying Fruit Fly Circus</>, a wonderful school and performing group, training young people in juggling, acrobatics and drama.

I had the fun of writing a show for ‘the Fruities’ many years ago, and have followed their progress from humble beginnings in Albury/Wodonga to becoming a world-recognised institution – one of Australia’s finest.

I was delighted to see the Fruities have smart new premises, thanks to the government school stimulus package. Photo: Wikicommons

I was delighted to see the Fruities have smart new premises, thanks to the government school stimulus package. Photo: Wikicommons

Finally, we should give a commendation to the Indian Tandoori Restaurant, Dean St, Albury. We only went there because it was close to the motel, and were served the best Indian meal we’ve had for some time.

10 Comments

Filed under Travel-Australia

10 responses to “OFF THE HUME #3 – bordering on the ridiculous

  1. Yes it is a pity train travel is now so expensive, I love train travel but can only afford it in Queensland because I qualify for the seniors travel vouchers

    • Yes, the NSW Seniors’ card gives a day’s travel (train, bus or ferry) for $2.50. Very good value and great that it encourages older people to make use of public transport.

      • I am so envious of that. Having travelled all round Australia and used public transport in all major cities our Brisbane public transport is the most expensive. Hardly any concession rates at all. Many places actually have free bus rides in the CBD areas and, unlike Brisbane and Goldcoast, their buses are always full

  2. Some good stories there Richard. Train travel is prohibitively expensive in the UK too. I looked for some tickets to Edinburgh but the cost was way off my scale. Italy is my favourite – still nice & reasonable!

  3. Your piece reminded me about my own, written some time ago. I was absolutely astonished to learn about all the staggeringly expensive missteps in the creation of Australia’s rail network. Check it out sometime–http://jhalbrook.wordpress.com/2009/04/01/rails-and-trails-rails/

  4. I love train travel, would love to have been around to travel between Sydney and Melbourne in the glory days of trains. As a child I loved catching the train between Wauchope and Newcastle to visit family, it was always an adventure.

  5. I grew up in Albury during the 70s and fondly remember the quaint train station there. Thanks for the reminder.

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