If the shriek of a steam whistle and the hiss of a steam engine are music to your ears, Helen Flanagan suggests the Valley Rattler in Gympie.
Hanging baskets of flowers, a dinky refreshment room and the ticketing office of the Gympie Railway Station are shades of 1913, the year the original 1870’s building was replaced and the new rail line, connecting the gold-rich town to Brisbane was opened. Travel by coastal steamer to Maryborough and train to Gympie with an onward stagecoach service to Noosa had finally become a thing of the past.
Today the Mary Valley Rattler Heritage Railway runs steam train tours as a tribute to the region’s rail heritage. In charge of the eight driving-wheeled, 80 tonne locomotive, built in the UK by Armstrong Whitworth, at a cost of 5013 pounds and shipped to Brisbane in 1927 is John, a steam train driver since 1959. He is assisted by fireman Archie.
The station master calls “all aboard” and rings the big brass bell as the steam whistle shrieks. Number 802 pulls out of the station past the old Queenslander-style Railway Hotel, masses of brilliantly coloured jacaranda trees, work sheds and outhouses swathed in bougainvillea, through the Gympie burbs and onto what was considered the alternative railway to the coastal line from Brisbane in 1884/85.
The Rattler’s carriages date from 1909 and were built at workshops in Ipswich. The Club car with its bar, coffee tables, comfy tub chairs and banquette-style seats was originally built as a Pullman-type sleeper with curtained berths down each side and a central aisle. When delivered to the workshop for major restoration, all that could be salvaged was the underframe and bogies. These were repaired, refurbed and fitted with a completely new superstructure.
From Deep Creek Bridge, which is thirty metres above the creek bed, evidence can be seen of the many gold workings that made up an essential part of Gympie’s golden era. Once past Monkland railway station, the Rattler crosses the Mary Valley and negotiates steep gradients and narrow bridges. Thrusting up the windows, ale in hand, there’s a much-needed cool breeze. It’s now also much easier to check out 802’s billowing smoke stack and rear carriages as it rounds each bend. There are spectacular views, much evidence of thriving rural communities, large herds of grazing dairy and beef cattle and a tapestry of pineapple, macadamia and vegetable farms whiz by.
The gentle cha-kung cha-kung rhythm reaches max crescendo, is replaced by sounds of creaking wood and punctuated by much clanking over tracks. Is this what train buffs call the romanticism of rail?
Amamoor is home to the Gympie Muster and after a brief stop at the fully restored station, a squiz at the arts and crafts, plus knits and bits that are reminiscent of yesteryear, passengers gawk as the locomotive and fire truck go into turn-around-mode. Back on board it’s full steam ahead to Dagun station. Moffatdale Ridge wines and Kenilworth cheeses are available for tastings and purchase, large local pineapples and organic avocados are an absolute steal and an icy Dagun Delight with mango and macadamia, lived up to its name.
Forty kilometres of huffing-puffing and choo-chooing later, a memorable afternoon was over. Next time we’ll pack the esky for the journey and experience a full day on the Rattler. The stop at Imbil for country-style markets and a good old fashioned lunch at the Railway Hotel is a must-do.
Ride the Rattler on Saturday, Sunday and Wedndesdays. Ph: (07) 5482 2750 www.thevalleyrattler.com
Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au