A literary map of Melbourne’s railways?!

Amimation: London rail network - pulse of the city (not 'literary' but interesting nevertheless)

The English cricket writer, Neville Cardus, is famous for bringing a literary sensibility to the hitherto prosaic task of reporting on the game. International cricketer John Arlott said, “before him, cricket was reported … with him it was for the first time appreciated, felt, and imaginatively described”.

British novelist David Mitchell may be the Neville Cardus of the railways (not the very talented comedian of Mitchell & Webb fame – this is the David Mitchell who wrote the incomparable Cloud Atlas). I recently read his first novel, Ghostwritten, and was struck by the richness of the way one of the characters in the novel describes the London Tube:

As the fine denizens of London Town know, each tube line has a distinct personality and range of mood swings. The Victoria Line for example, breezy and reliable. The Jubilee line, the young disappointment of the family, branching out to the suburbs, eternally having extensions planned, twisting around to Greenwich, and back under the river out east somewhere. The District and Circle Line, well, even Death would rather fork out for a taxi if he’s in a hurry……

Docklands Light Railway, the nouveau riche neighbour, with its Prince Regent, West India Quay and its Gallions Reach and its Royal Albert. Stentorian Piccadilly wouldn’t approve of such artyfartyness, and nor would his twin uncle, Bakerloo. Central, the middle-aged cousin, matter-of-fact, direct, no forking off or going the long way round…….

Then you have the Oddball lines, like Shakespeare’s Oddball plays. Pericles, Hammersmith and City, East Verona Line, Titus of Waterloo……

London is a language. I guess all places are.

There’s lots more. The Northern Line “is the psycho of the family”. Kennington Tube Station is the sort of place “where best-forgotten films starring British rock stars as working class anti-heroes are set”.

Makes me wonder how, given some literary license, the essence of Melbourne’s public transport system might be captured. I know if my local station were a country, it would be cold war Russia; if it were a language it would be Pidgin English; and if it were a mental state it would be deeply depressed.

I’m already imagining a “literary map” of Melbourne’s rail network where every station is a novel – I’ll start by renaming Dandenong to Brighton Rock; Collingwood to Power without glory; Northcote to The slap; Parliament to Wolf Hall; Ringwood to The satanic verses; Toorak to Bonfire of the vanities; Eaglemont to Middlemarch;…….

It would be interesting to hear of other literary depictions of Melbourne’s railways (maybe someone like Murray Whelan has already had a go?). As inspiration, here’s Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour, Episode 45 on Trains and Episode 46, More Trains (sorry, this is the names of the songs, not the actual songs – if I told you how to get the songs I’d probably get a Torrent of abuse).

BOOK GIVEAWAYfollow this link to be in the running for one of two copies of the new book by James Boyce, 1835: the founding of Melbourne and the conquest of Australia. Entries close midday on Thursday, 25 August.

5 Comments on “A literary map of Melbourne’s railways?!”

  1. mdonnellan63 says:

    the last time i regularly caught trains, we still had staffed stations: my great aunt was very cosy with the station master at Ashburton and he always gave me a free ticket and collected stamps for me; Collingwood had a sulphur crested cockatoo in a cage; Richmond West had beautifully kept gardens; Prince’s Bridge had shops – key cutting, shoe repairs, dry cleaning, news etc. I recall that most stations had a kiosk of one sort or another close by. and toilets, a waiting room and a place to pick up packages. my world-weary teenage daughter rolled her eyes at me recently when i explained what all the rooms on the city-bound side at Northcote were once used for. one has evidence of a fireplace (i can’t remember fires at stations). i can also remember the rooms were painted in black, cream and green paint in a splatter (after Jackson Pollack?) pattern to foil grafittos. and i can remember ‘running away from home’ at seven and deciding that the flyover near Canterbury Station was a good place to camp and can vaguely remember ‘Free Zarb’ painted roughly on an adjacent wall – the same sentiment was also painted near Glenferrie.

    my partner remembers ‘Free the Guildford Four’ near Balaclava and her father worked at the Sandringham kiosk once he retired, hiding the Australasian Post because it offended his (Catholic) sensibilities. and my brother-in-law still talks about catching the last train to Sandringham, but waking up in St Kilda after a big night on the ‘turps’.

    I can also remeber that the lines through safe seats (Labor – Epping, Broadmeadows) still had red trains when the swinging/Liberal Ringwood/Belgrave line got their first silver trains. as kids, our family used to play guess the colour of the train when stopped at level crossings (BTW, don’t get rid of them) – my dad always got it right – he knew about state politics and trains.

    at South Melbourne: ‘First Our Football Team, Now Our Train’. little did we know then that PT was doomed to become a distant second to private cars for so long and even now during its resurgance, most travellers are plugged in to their virtual world to care too much about the journey. we don’t really need a book for each station, we need a book about each station and hopefully new chapters telling good stories about being able to shop at local kiosks, spending a penny, waiting rooms away from the harsh weather and not being worried about being shot or harassed by private police forces.

  2. Sam says:

    There was an ‘anthology’ of short stories by Melbourne authors called ‘All Change Please’ published in 2003 or 2004 that was designed to be read on public transport.

    A review here http://www.simonsellars.com/melbourne-small-press-maybe-next-year

  3. Q.Maisie says:

    For anybody’s who stood on the platform in winter at Broadmeadows in the late 1970s it was like standing above a sad tundra dotted with scotch thistles, cold and bleak, like you had emerged from Scott’s tent in the Antarctic, “I’ll be gone a while”…only to be brought back to the present by the Clockwork Orange like appearance of the Oak Park Boot Boys, trawling for violence further up the line.

  4. URT says:

    Clifton Hill station is a Nick Hornby novel; Toorak station a Jane Austen; Glen Waverley a James Paterson.
    Parliament is Shane Maloney; Southern Cross is Irvine Welsh; Flagstaff – John Grisham; Melbourne Central – Twilight.
    Flinders Street is more like a year’s subscription to more periodicals than you could ever read.
    (Metro is like a bad shelf stacker that hasn’t come to grips with Dewey and puts what you want just where you’ll never find it)

    • Alan Davies says:

      I like it! I think I get most of them but unsure about Melbourne Central – Twilight (teenagers?) and Southern Cross – Irvine Welsh (uncouth characters?).

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