XV

The 12.35 PM
Sandringham to Flinders Street
Feb 6 2013

I’m taking pictures from Sandringham station around 350 kilometres south west of Harrietville where a fire is burning up 7,000 hectares on this third Total Fire Ban day of the summer. So naturally I’m thinking about the country, and how close the country has to get to the city before it’s no longer the country. When you look down the line of a suburban railway station in this part of Melbourne you’d swear you were in the country. But today, despite the burning of Harrietville, there is no evidence in the Sandringham sky of anything other than the exquisite azure expatriates ache for.

My train of thought is interrupted when a Metlink Man comes up and says if I’m going to take photographs I need an indemnity form, something written down. I mumble something about an arts project and he looks blankly at me and reiterates I need a form. I put the I-phone away and try to look harmless, at least less of the criminal I now feel I am. It’s quite hard. I slink onto the waiting train.

From Sandringham to Ripponlea you can feel the wealth peel off the pavement. From the train, the swimming pools and tennis courts are conspicuous on house-blocks so large you could land a helicopter. They get bigger around North Brighton and start to shrink from Ripponlea. Between Middle and North Brighton Stations there is even a Croquet Club, and a little further along I snatch a glimpse of a girl in white shorts cleaning white graffiti off a fence of grey wooden palings. For some reason it makes me think of that 80s TV show Brideshead Revisited.

When you cross Elwood Canal the house-blocks start to shrink. Come Richmond the houses are on top of each other. Every time I stop at Richmond station I remember how Bernard Munday and I almost got our heads kicked in by three skinheads ‘cos they didn’t like the way Bernard swaggered under the weight of the slab of beer we’d bought to celebrate our school CBC winning the swim championships.
Actually I’m pretty sure I remember this incident in greater detail today because at Windsor my carriage is overrun by a couple-of-dozen senior students from my old alma mater. Before the blue-and green invasion I was thinking how whitebread was this train line. By my count, of twenty passengers only one was not Anglo. By the time the swarm has settled the demographic is much more representative of the diverse Australia I know and love. It’s one of the best things about traveling on trains. In a whisper of time, the whole dynamic of your carriage-world can be turned upside down, inside out.