When I was a kid, my mum and dad developed a habit of going for a Sunday drive in the country.
Very often, my aunt and uncle would come along too, as well as Dad’s mate from work and his wife. We would form a mini convoy and head off along the highway.
For us kids, driving for hours was far from exciting. There were no i-Pods and no in car video systems. While the adults admired the countryside and listened to sport reports on the car radio, we sat in the back seat bored witless. My brother would fall asleep before we reached the city limits, so I was left to watch trees, trees and more trees flash past the window.
And so it was, that when we finally stopped for lunch, there was an excess of childish energy to be burnt off. After a quick meal of a sandwich and/or sausage roll and a glass of raspberry soft drink, (the 1950s equivalent of fast food), at a country pub, we would leave the adults in the beer garden and go in search of adventure.
One Sunday we stopped in Gatton, a charming small town in the Lockyer Valley west of Brisbane. The adults were happily ensconced on the shady verandah of the pub, so my cousin, Greame, and I decided to go across the road to check out the railway station.
All was quiet, it being Sunday. The station master was not present and the office was locked. A quick check of the timetable posted on the noticeboard told us that there would be no trains on that day. We walked up and down on the tracks and found that there was a little spur line that ran parallel with the main track and on that spur line stood…A HANDCAR.
We had hit the jackpot! Well, you can just imagine the fun we had rolling up and down the spur line. It was great. We felt like we were flying.
Then my cousin, or it might have been me, suggested that we should see if we could get out on to the main track so that we could really get up some speed. Brilliant!
It didn’t take long to figure out how to work the switch that moved the tracks and, hey presto, we were on the main line to Brisbane with our handcar. Woohoo!
We hurtled up and down the straight stretch of track, yelling and laughing. We had an absolute ball, until we noticed that there were several adults standing on the platform, waving their arms in an agitated fashion. The station master, who had heard our shrieking from his residence nearby, beckoned us back to the switch and we exited the main line approximately five minutes before a very long grain train chugged through the station.
The parents were none too happy with us. My brother took great delight in the fact that he had chosen to stay on the pub verandah and play with his little cars, and was, therefore, blameless and exempt from the punishment which was about to come my way.
You know what? It was worth the spanking. It was by far the most fun I had ever had. Seeing how close we had been to being crushed by a goods train was a bit scary, but we were kids. We were invincible, bulletproof. We bragged about that adventure for months.
I am so glad I lived in the era of (relatively) safe, unsupervised play for youngsters. Our play was creative, adventurous and punctuated by somewhat calculated risk. We developed problem solving skills and, amid many bumps and bruises, learned how far we could push our bodies.
It was preparation for life and a whole lot of fun.