The trains from Byron Bay

AS they commute in their fast cars, new residents to our area will probably not realise the importance of rail travel in past decades.

The early settlers fought so hard to get the railway here and for many years it was the lifeline of the whole district.

Trains not only carried passengers to and from Sydney but they were also the main carrier of all our livestock, produce and supplies. As well they linked up with other transport facilities, especially shipping and ran excursions for holiday-makers from inland centres to the beaches.

There were many little stations all along the line where shuttle services as well as the old North Coast Mail would stop.

To the passengers wanting to get to their destination this interminable stopping soon became tedious. The express trains were much better for the long-distance passenger.

Also, before dining cars were introduced, the trains stopped at particular places for refreshments. The service was excellent and there was even a bar for those who wanted to drown their sorrows.

Jim McGettigan has given us an insight into travelling on the North Coast Mail between Byron Bay and Lismore during the Second World War. He was a day student at St Johns College, Woodlawn in 1943 and travelled daily on this train which ran between Murwillumbah and Sydney.

It arrived at Byron Bay about 6.30 where passengers could have breakfast. Here there was a special arrangement. Most people did not finish their meal in time so they were allowed to take it on board the train. There were no paper cups and plates, however, in those days. It was only good railway crockery, knives and forks. The meal was finished by the time the train arrived at Bangalow and the plates, etc were collected and left on the platform. Later in the day they were collected by a commuter train and returned to the Bay.

Although there was much soot and delays on the old steam trains there was something wonderfully exciting about a trip to Sydney in those days.Young boys loved the train going up St Helena Hill.

Often the engine would lose traction and come to a stop, especially if the line was wet. The fireman (steam trains of course in those days!) would climb down and shovel sand in front of the wheels. If there were soldiers on board the train there would be plenty of catcalls to accompany this operation!

After St Helena there was Talofa Station and then the larger station at Bangalow. A lot of children would alight here to go to the public and convent schools.

Railway stations were always well kept, with gardens and shrubs planted by an enthusiastic staff. Competitions were held for the best-kept stations. Bangalow was one of the best.

At Binna Burra several men would get off. They were employed at the large butter factory there.

Smaller stations came next - Nashua, Booyong (another outstanding floral display) and Eltham where the local storekeeper, Mr W C Lane, would get off. His home was at the Bay.

Bexhill was next. It was where the large brickworks was located. After that the train went through flat swampy country which had plenty of tall trees full of wonderful swamp birds.

On to Woodlawn Station and about a mile further to the Woodlawn College railway platform where Jim would leave the train. It would continue on to North Lismore, then South Lismore, through Casino and so southwards to Sydney.

Although there was much soot and delays on the old steam trains there was something wonderfully exciting about a trip to Sydney in those days.

Diesel motors and refreshment cars changed this - and then of course the trains stopped altogether!

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