The Train for Diamond Creek.

 

There was movement on the station, for the word had got around

that the train for Diamond Creek might leave on time

for the first time in four weeks, so with hardly any sound

five hundred feet traversed the inlaid grime.

All the tired and weary workers from the offices and shops

were mustered through the one gate on the right,

and on the ramp each hurrying foot with muted joy clip-clops

in the hope of getting home on time tonight.

 

There was Harrison, who drove his car till ulcers cut him down,

an old man with his hair as white as snow;

but when that train door opened he would board it with a bound,

and make the dapper businessman look slow.

And Clancy of the Housing Loans could make him look a hack,

though he staggered, and appeared to need his cane,

for never passenger got out the door ere Clancy beat him back;

he had learnt politeness makes you miss the train.

 

And one there was, a lady with a wistful simple face

and a beauty which with breeding seemed ingrained.

Angelic eyes looked troubled at the headlong hurtling race

from which with calm demeanour she refrained.

She was young and strong and wiry - just the sort who might get on

if she hobbled quickly on her platform shoes,

but she took her slowness calmly, in no way woebegone,

as if there were no waiting train to lose.

 

The old man looked towards her, briefly halting in his stride,

and he said, "She cannot know the Melbourne trains.

If she lingers at the newsstand she must soon be forced to ride

with her toenails in the doorway and her fingers all chilblains

as they hold the doors apart." But on Clancy dragged his friend.

"She will dawdle past the doorways till she sees

some callow youth whom her ruby lips and flashing eyes can bend,

and she'll travel in his seat, or on his knees."

 

A thousand men roam Melbourne's streets, all looking for a job,

and many try the railways soon or late.

And a team of smart selectors screen the ever-thronging mob

for the men who call the trains at Princes' Gate.

Many men speak English, and they have no other tongue;

all these are turned away without a test,

unless they have some permanent congestion of the lung,

in which case they may try out with the rest.

 

 

They test them out in Arabic, or Hindu, or Swahili,

and ask them questions no one ever knew,

and a fellow who spoke Greek and Hebrew got a job there nearly,

but he failed because he spoke good English too.

So the passengers crammed quickly on, and minutes ticked away;

and never does the clock's hand move so slow

as in those minutes just before you hear a ghost voice say,

"Trine on pledforn therdeen no a go.

 

"Instad is now trine on pledforn twaluf, and it leave

in two minute and thairdy second taime."

There is never time to argue, never is time to grieve,

you must pick a point across at which to aim,

then a seething tide of people - and I choose my word with care -

crosses the dusty platform in a flash,

and they sit and stand and huddle with a silent, waiting stare

while the tiny spaces fill with cigarette ash.

 

So they sat there, and they sat there, and they sat, in silent strain

till the carriages on thirteen trundled out.

But no voice in toneless triumph told them that had been their train,

and hope of getting home began to sprout.

"trine a Dime an Cric, stop alla stashe on twalf,

Stencleer," came the voice, and soon they moved

and a blast of freezing air came in, and restored to semi-health

all the suffocating cattle, and their humour soon improved.

 

A mood of mild euphoria soon filled the carriage air,

together with the particles of iron from the rails,

and Clancy thought the scenery was more than passing fair

as the backyard washing bloomed like tacking sails.

But some there were who blubbered, and with sympathy were met,

as the juggernaught rushed into night unstopping

and through Jolimont and Richmond slowly thundered like a jet

while its captives' tears fell quietly on their shopping.

 

But Harrison and Clancy sat impassive on their seats.

They knew "stopping at all stations" is just sound,

and all trains stop at Clifton Hill, where different pathways meet,

so those wanting to retrace could turn around.

As they slithered to a stop many heads came poking through

seeking any reassurance from the sign

which said, "Next train, Diamond Creek," but the regulars all knew

they would only know for sure along the line.

 

 

Many brows were sweating as the carriages moved off

but the clanking train turned truly to the right,

and Clancy now allowed himself a single nervous cough,

for it seemed that this might be their lucky night.

Their silent hearts were singing, though their faces stayed impassive,

and cheerful souls with unbroken poker faces

stopped upon their local platform, and slammed the massive

doors, and faded off like phantom traces.

 

Only one straight track remained, and through the night they sped,

and Heidelberg, where Harrison rose swiftly to his feet,

at last appeared in sight. "Nice trip for once," old Clancy said,

as Harrison walked off, and he watched him to the street.

The stationmaster stood impassive, his face a mask of stone,

for years of work had steeled his heart from pity.

He listened without comment as the train let out a groan

as it left the station backward, toward the city.