One of the joys of working for the Australian Decorative & Fine Arts Societies, lecturing on one of their three circuits, was the opportunity to travel to ordinary parts of Australia, away from the tourist tracks, and whenever possible – as I did in New Zealand – I took the opportunity to travel surface so that I could see the landscape.
Accordingly, when I lectured to a succession of societies in New South Wales, I travelled twice by rail on the Main North Line from Sydney to Armidale.
This line was the original connection to Queensland, opened between Newcastle and Wallangarra between 1857 and 1888, and then completed south to Sydney in 1889.
The southern section out of Sydney was the most difficult to construct and is the most spectacular.
Once out of the north Sydney suburbs it shares a route with the freeway, then plunges into the four Boronia Tunnels to Hawkesbury River Station. From there it disappears into Long Island Tunnel, crosses the thousand-yard Hawkesbury River Bridge (1946, replacing the 1889 original) and immediately enters Mullet Creek Tunnel then skirts the waterside, after Wondabyne Station, into Woy Woy Tunnel, slightly over a mile long. On the way to Gosford the train provides a panorama of the river, alive with boats.
Beyond Gosford the landscape becomes mundane as the line travels through something we no longer have in Britain – an active coalfield. There are collieries, a power station, a station with the evocative name Sulphide Junction, and another which was originally Windy Creek but was later renamed, by a popular vote of its Welsh miner inhabitants, Cardiff.
Suburban trains from Sydney actually terminate in the city of Newcastle, but I was booked on the once-a-day, more comfortable CountryLink service and disembarked at Broadmeadow, the out-of-town station in the Newcastle suburbs, to meet my Newcastle DFAS hostess Gwen Hamilton.
The Society booked me into the excellent Noah’s-on-the-Beach [http://www.noahsonthebeach.com.au/page3102/Home-.aspx], to which one day I’ll return. The only facility it didn’t offer was free wi-fi, for which I trekked to the Bakehouse, 87-89 Hunter Street.