I enjoy myself doing most things, but the day we go on Puffing Billy I have fun. Having been issued with our commemorative cardboard tickets – Rosemary remembers the sound of them being clipped – we prowl up and down the platform experiencing a journey back to our childhood as we recognise letterboxes and weighing machines, watch the conductor ring his bell, listen to the organ grinder (a gesture to tourists: I don’t remember his original on Eastwood station), scrutinise pistons, worry a bit about burning coal, admire the gleam and gravitas of the engine, and grin at the noise of steam and whistle. The engine driver notes our glee and takes our photo.
As we chug through ferntree gulleys, over trestle bridges, and past cleared farm land, breathing in the toxic fumes of steam, we stick our feet out the windows and break two rules from long ago: the admonition of signs on trains that read “Keep wholly within the car”; and the strict rules for behaviour in public advocated by Miss Cahill head mistress of Hornsby Girls’ High School.
At Gembrook we have two hours to prowl around. The station offers reminders from the past and spectacular bark and a short walk takes us to the perfect place for lunch amongst tall trees.
The afternoon turns chilly as we head back to Belgrave on the final stage of our journey to Gembrook and the past.