“What sort of government closes a railway station?” Frank addressed the crowd outside the old ticket office. “A pack of commies or a bunch of fascists?”
Mary didn’t say the answer. Someone might think she was cheating; might think Frank had told her the answer over breakfast. Which he had.
“It’s neither left not right!” Frank answered his own question, shouting through the cardboard megaphone he’d spent all night making. “It’s crooked! It’s out of bloody line!”
“Plenty o’line right here,” offered Henry, the soon to be redundant signal box keeper. “Railway line.”
Stumpy Ericson, who lived right next door to the station in an old railway cottage, felt he knew the answer. “I know,” he called from his kitchen window, “it’s a city government; government of the country, by the city, for the city.”
“And what colour is a government like that?” Frank wheeled around and looked up at him hopefully. “Is it red, or is it blue?”
Stumpy’s three legged blue heeler Red had a sudden attack of fleabite and fell over trying to stop the nipping. He rolled down the hill, narrowly missing the ANZAC memorial, and coming to a thumping halt against the CFA shed door.
“What colour is it, Frank?” Mary felt sorry for her husband. He was trying so hard to jolly the crowd along a bit, but it’s hard to generate mass hysteria amongst a mob of fifteen people. And she suspected old Ernie was asleep standing up.
“It’s puce”, Frank said.
“What’s puce?” Ernie asked earnestly, with his eyes still shut.
“It’s a government that shuts country railway stations.”
“No, I mean, what is it? What’s it look like?”
“Well Ernie, Puce is a colour: A sort of…”Mary tried to be helpful again.
“Oh!” Ernie nodded, absorbing this new information.
“If something’s not broke, don’t fix it!” Frank tried to bring the meeting back to order; to bring the subject back to governments and railway lines, and to the end of the No Hope Junction railway stop.
“But it is broke, isn’t it?” Stumpy called out, elbows leaning on his window sill. "It’s been losing money for years."
Frank thought Stumpy was rude to cut him off like that, though he should have been used to people being rude to him in this town; after all, he was the only supporter of the Mighty Dons for miles.
This was the only town for miles.
Frank showed great strength of character by not throwing his megaphone down, marching over to that window, and giving Stump a thump. Instead, Frank closed his eyes, counted to three slowly, and regained his composure before replying.
“It’s not brok-en though, is it? It still works, doesn’t it? And it still slows down here to let the express through, so it wouldn’t cost them anything to let us on and off here, would it? It’s crazy making people drive 60 miles north to catch a train coming back thru here on the way to the city.”
“Dunno what you wanna go to
for anyway, old Ernie had had a thought. "I was there about forty years ago, and it was horrible crowded. In fact, if you didn’t go there in the first place, you wouldn’t have to come back again, would you?” Melbourne
“It’s that stupid football team of his, isn’t it?” Ferrarro jumped in with his own two bob’s worth. Captain of the local team; the No Hope Junction No Hopers Ferrarro could see right through Frank; this wasn’t about the town being cut off, it was about Frank’s obsession with a city team.
“S’pose if we changed our colours to black and red he wouldn’t need to catch the train at all, Smithy was on to him, too. He could stay here and lend us a hand.”
“And”, Ferrarro was on a roll, “what about that stupid number 1 on his stupid old duffle coat, and the stupid old famous Jack Clarke?”
“Who’s Jack Clarke?” young Stevie asked.
“No one can remember”, Ferrarro said. Frank claimed it would be disloyal to take the name off his coat just cos Clarke doesn’t play anymore, but Ferrarro reckoned it’s cos that name was the only thing holdin’ that grotty old coat together.
“Generations to come will remember us as the Great Infrastructure Terminators”, Frank megaphoned some more. “As GITs!”
“Better than being remembered as Essendon supporters”, Smithy decided to join the fun. “That’s why the train stopped stopping at Essendon last year; no one else wanted to go there ‘cos no one else barracks for ‘em except you.”
“Well you must admit, Smithy, it’s stupid that I have to catch a train that passes through Essendon and go all the way to the city and have to catch a different train back to actually get off at Essendon.”
“I wasn’t saying you’re stupid, Frank”, Smithy said cheerfully. “I wouldn’t think there’d be any need for that.”
Smithy turned and walked away, taking most of the crowd with him.
“Don’t know what you’re so upset about”, Ernie scratched behind his ear. “Like you say, the train slows down comin’ through here, you should just get off anyway.”
Next Saturday arvo, Stumpy was weeding along the back fence of his old railway cottage, just as the train slowed down to let the express through.
“Oi”, Frank called out to him from the first carriage of the train.
His magnificent Dons scarf fluttering behind him, Frank was ready to leap off just as soon as his carriage reached the platform.
“Quick, mate, I don’t wanna break me thermos…”
Stumpy grabbed Frank’s kit bag as his friend came past, then watched as the determined Don leapt clear of the train where the platform began.
The train had been travelling at about 15 kliks as it approached the platform, so when he landed Frank was doing about 15 kliks as well.
Leaning backwards, Frank jogged alongside the train, using his arms and legs to try and slow himself down, while the train continued it’s crawl ever Northward.
Jogging, braking, slowing – he was a graceful sight. Stumpy’s blue heeler Red ran alongside him, three legs pumping away in their own peculiar rhythm.
Frank was fast approaching the end of the platform, while the end of the train was fast approaching Frank. He was just wondering if he would be able to stop before he ran out of platform, when he felt himself hoisted into the air by his britches, and dragged through the door of the guard’s van.
“Crikey, mate! the guard’s voice crowed with pride. "You nearly missed it – the train doesn’t stop here any more!”