The 12.52 PM
Williamstown to Flinders Street
February 13 2013

After my ride from Sandringham, I feel I need a common denominator for traveling on Melbourne’s fifteen train lines. Because I like order, I choose Time. I will take a train between 12 and 1 PM from each originating station. This will be the common denominator of all my train trips.

Today, I have Werribee in my sights.

To get there, I plan to take the 11.07 Tram from St Kilda Town Hall to get the 11.41 Train from Flinders Street to Werribee to catch the 12.31 from Werribee to Flinders Street.

The problem is: the 11.07 Tram doesn’t turn up. It has simply disappeared, evaporated into the PT ether. How ironic that a tram is going to disrupt the temporal order of my train travel. Is there some mechanistic rivalry going on here or is it just another ‘Waiting For Godot’ moment in the world of public transport? Either way Godot 11.07 does not materialize but thankfully the 11.23 does.

I’ve missed the 11.41 to Werribee but the smiling girl at the Flinders Street Information Kiosk tells me the next train leaves at 12.01. The thing is I want to stop first at Footscray and meet Nick Tsiligris, the Olympic Donut Van Man. It’s a forty minute trip so if I take the 12.01 to Footscray and then pick up the 12.21 to Werribee after I meet Nick, the return train will leave after 1PM and my attempt at order will have gone out the window at my first try. So I just hang around the Kiosk, cursing the Ghost Tram and looking at the Train Constellation, the map that shows all 200+ stations on the 15 lines. And I notice something really brilliant.

My plan-of-attack on the rail network is to start with Sandringham, the train line due south of Flinders Street and work westwards. Well guess what? Heading west from Sandringham, the next line is not Werribee, it’s Williamstown. I check the schedule with Smiley Girl who tells me there is an 11.59 to Footscray. This means I’ll have time to meet Nick and pick up the next train to Williamstown in time for the 12.52 return. I’m pretty happy. My OCD is pretty happy. I pick up a Sandwich and head for Platform 10 dreaming of Nick’s jam donuts.

On the train, there’s a young woman sitting over my right shoulder and she is talking out loud to someone on the phone about “my baby”. From the one-sided conversation, I glean she’d been told she couldn’t have children but now her new doctor has said she can. But the way she keeps talking about ‘my baby’ gives the impression she already has one. The tenses are getting mixed up like in my sentences and it’s not until she talks about ‘pre-planning my baby’ that I realize that she doesn’t have one, and in fact won’t have one for a few years, she’s just preparing for it. I have the distinct impression she is talking about a product she can get on lay-by. Plus I start to think it’s not a real story at all and she’s just faking the call ‘cos she’s talking so loud!! About a baby that doesn’t exist, a ghost baby.

I really need a donut. I get off at Footscray and walk into the building site that is the Station Upgrade. I walk down all four platforms looking for the Olympic Donut Van but all I see is manic construction. I’m feeling miffed when I spot a metro man who points me in the right direction.

Nick’s van is growing out of scaffolding and concrete. It certainly has a presence. It seems so much a part of the place. It’s like the station is being built around it, to his specs alone. It’s a great image because it’s contrary to the spirit of most urban development, which is total erasure of the past. I ask Nick for one jam donut. It smells so good that I can hardly wait to tear it out of its brown paper bag. Then I remember why I’m here and I ask him a few questions, tell him about my project and ask if I can take his photo, which I do. When I say I might come back and visit him he looks a bit worried, like I’m a stalker or something worse. But the smell of that damn donut has robbed me of my professional etiquette and I can’t think straight to put his mind at ease. I just walk off, stuffing the donut in my face, heading towards the platform.

Williamstown Station looks like a country station. It’s so pretty, it makes me want to move to Williamstown. It’s not really Way Out West in The Dingoes vein, more in the Peter Knight way of things although I’m not sure he was thinking of Williamstown when he wrote that music. Like Brighton, Williamstown has a North Williamstown station, a Williamstown Beach station and a plain ol’ Williamstown station. It doesn’t have a Middle Williamstown Station but it does have a Croquet Club. I get this weird feeling of déjà vu. Is Williamstown the new Brighton? Or is Brighton the old Williamstown?

Thoughts of Brighton quickly evaporate when we skim into Newport. On one side is this epic railway scape dotted by the Yard Master’s paraphernalia and the new/old Sub Station where Tim Rogers and Tony Joe White are headlining. On the other side is a housing development that looks like it’s been lifted straight out of the Paris banlieue on the train line to Charles De Gaulle Airport.

Coming into Spotswood, I look for the moccasin factory that Anthony Hopkins audits in Andrew Knight’s eponymously titled movie. By the time I remember that there never was a moccasin factory in Spotswood, I’m meeting ‘Yarraville from the train’. There’s a very cool cafe that spills out of a shed onto a grassy area and threatens to take over the railway platform like couch grass, it’s that close. Before I can get the smell of coffee out of my ol’factory I’m cruising through Seddon, an extension of Yarraville’s gentrification only with more space.

On the Williamstown line, Footscray is the place to be! Franco Cozzo used to define all things Foot-a-scray but now he’s as spectral as the 11.07 Tram. These days, Footscray is divided by the railway line like Melbourne is divided by the Yarra. On the south side is Little Vietnam and on the north a mini-Victoriana estate. Somehow the two parts create a synergy that is irresistible to the local, a magnet whose attractions are hard to resist. The Cozzo store-sign still farewells the train-passenger like one of those hoardings on the outskirts of country towns: “Thank you for visiting. You are now leaving Footscray”.

From Footscray to Flinders Street, the South Ken Skate Park and the Is Don Is Good Two Towers are the curtain-raiser to the big show: Southern Cross Station. It’s a great wave-like construction that compresses and releases space all at once. It seems the perfect entrance to the city from that part of Melbourne that boasts the greatest population diversity. It is as if it’s been designed to accommodate all the competing and complementary racial, ethnic and cultural interests that disembark on its platforms.

Appropriately, it has a quieting effect on the passengers, even the young woman with the ghost baby who has bizarrely and strangely joined me on my return trip from Werribee. She is a shadow over my left shoulder that shifts in the sun as the 12.52 creeps into Flinders Street.