The short Report
Stage 1 of beautification works at Loftus station have commenced.
The detailed Report
In accordance with the exemption conditions of the NSW Rail Safety Law under which Pete’s Hobby Railway operates, I am not permitted to allow the general public entry to either inspect or ride on the Railway. This does not mean that the public are not able to experience the ambience of the project. My block of land has a 100 metres frontage to a public road, with the railway running parallel about 10m inside the boundary fence before sweeping away on highly visible large radius curves on rising grades. Except for late in the day in mid-summer, this is the sunny side for photographs.
The major feature easily visible as part of this front fence-line running is the 1915 era replica of a New South Wales Government Railways unattended platform. I have named the platform LOFTUS – not only was this the construction name given to the local Junee railway station back in the 1870s, but it is also the name of the village within Sydney’s Sutherland Shire where I resided for some 60 years. The simple waiting shed on PHR’s platform is based on that which stood on Sydney’s Loftus station for many, many years until modernisation in the 1980s.
My station is identified by a replica of the old style wooden nameboard, supported on two lengths of rail, as was done in days of old. The letters and surrounds are painted in white, while the background is black. In later years on the “big” railway, these colours were reversed. Over the years, these signboards replaced by various designs of concrete then metal until today they are less than half the size of the original boards – and dare I say, not as attractive!
Befitting an unattended platform, PHR has an original green hand signal which would be displayed by one of the waiting passengers to attract the attention of the driver of the approaching train… about the only time that a green indication is given to stop a train!
PHR’s LOFTUS station does not have the benefit of electric lighting. However, by courtesy of a generous benefactor, PHR has on extended loan an original kerosene platform lantern, fully restored and operational. Because of its rarity, the lantern is currently exhibited only on specific operating days.
Although the station and waiting shed were officially opened by our local State Member of Parliament, Steph Cooke back on Saturday, 30th June 2018 (see Progress Report No. 44), associated works have never been fully completed. Project Managers Phil and Josh feel that it is now time to undertake some beautification works. Of course, without permanent staff, unattended platforms had no one to develop and maintain station gardens. However, if stations were attended, the staff (if they were so bent!) would have more than ample opportunities to develop their gardening skills. This was supported by Management who would arrange for annual competitions to select the best railway gardens around the State.
For the purpose of Station gardens on the New South Wales Government Railways, these were divided into twelve sections – in this case, Junee (Loftus during the construction era) was in Section 7, for stations from Nubba to Albury, including branch lines. Nubba platform was 10miles/16km south from Harden, but now, long gone! Other sections covered Rooms, Administrative Offices and Traffic Depot gardens, also even for Railway Refreshment Gatehouses and residences occupied by Railway employees.
But perhaps PHR’s Loftus could come under “Station gardens not attended by Railway Staff – Special Certificates will be awarded for First, Second and Third Prizes in cases where gardens are maintained by Public bodies (Shire or Municipal Councils excepted).”
Enhancement of the Loftus platform precinct had long been proposed, however had been delayed owing to more urgent works elsewhere. While these works (such as completion of the turntable project) are still “urgent”, some time was allocated in at least commence the platform beautification.
From a gardener’s viewpoint (and I am not one, so kindly excuse my reporting blunders!), some difficulties to be faced included the extremes of temperature from zero Celsius to heatwave 40 degrees plus, with extended dry periods. Accordingly, Australian native plants common to the area were proposed, together with a drip-feed water supply.
The Project Commences
Finally, on Tuesday, 3rd November, on-site works commenced in earnest on this first stage. Phil and Josh had already visited a local Nursery in Wagga, initially selecting five young Callistemon Bottlebrush shrubs. These are quick growing (to a height of 3 to 5 metres, unless trimmed), are drought tolerant, flower in spring and autumn and a bird attracting. With some distance measuring, these were planted, the first stage of the drip-feed watering system installed (complete with a timer on the tap, installed previously) and the lot covered with wood shavings, etc. Each plant was individually watered and given a “drink” of Seasol (a seaweed solution, promoted as “the complete garden treatment and recommended for overcoming the initial planting shock”).
A couple of days later, Phil and Josh returned with additional plantings for the new garden, including extending same to the sloped western end of the platform. Selected were Grevillea Pink Lady (going under the botanical name of Grevillea Juniperina), Grevillea Spring Delight (Grevillea Crithmofolia), Grevillea Gin Gem (Grevillea Obstusifolia) and Grevillea Scarlet Sprite (Grevillea Rosmarininfolia). All of these are Australian native plants and are bird attracting. They are intended as ground cover shrubs, growing to no more than a half-metre in height, apart from the Scarlet Sprite which will grow to a metre in height. The first two produce white flowers and the other two, red flowers. Hope the birds aren’t colour blind!
For the station ramp area, only the smaller ground cover shrubs were planted, so as not to restrict crew visibility. The drip-feed watering system was extended to cover this additional area. A short length of dead log was placed in the back corner; a rockery will be added to make it a refuge for bearded dragons, lizards and frogs.
Improvements were carried out to this first stage of the garden beautification works on Tuesday 1/12. These involved the building of two small rockeries, one at each end of the garden, with the idea to provide protection for smaller creatures (lizards, etc.) from larger predators. In addition, a watering arrangement, suitable for birds, bearded dragons, lizards, etc., has been installed. This is permanently connected to a close-by tap and topped up automatically by a small enclosed ball-valve arrangement. (This is a commercially available “bird bath”!) Small rocks have been placed around and in the bowl so as to make it easier for smaller wild-life to gain access for a drink (or bath) and will doubtless be appreciated by all concerned – once they find it. All the brainwave of Phil and Josh!
Extended Beautification Plans and Other Proposals for Loftus Platform
A concrete sloped ramp will be laid adjacent to the existing narrow timber ramp to benefit crew walking from platform to track level for engine lubrication etc.
Future beautification plans provide for an extension of the garden behind the waiting shed building and to the sloped area at the eastern end of the platform. A proper pathway will be laid along the full length of the rear of the platform, leading to the exit ramp already located next to the waiting room.
Already, PHR has additional signage to be erected at the platform, together with a further level crossing sign advising that as the crossing is unattended, the gate(s) should be closed again after use. As mentioned above, PHR has on extended loan, a fully restored kerosene platform lamp. I would like to explore ways in which this can be securely attached to the building so that it can become a permanent display.
Stations and platforms would normally display public notices, in the case of the latter, within the waiting room area. These could include posters of altered train services over major holiday periods and would normally be pasted on to existing notice boards. PHR already possesses some suitable posters from the 1950s era for this purpose.
Later stage plans include the installation of an elevated water tank and column, along with a lower quadrant home or starting signal – all to add to the ambience of a steam-era railway.
There is always tomorrow for these works, however I wish today would pass so that these plans can materialise. Hopefully these will make PHR and in particular, Loftus platform and surrounds, more of an attraction to visitors visiting Junee along the Canola Trail, even if physical access is not possible.
Thank you to Phil and Josh for taking on this project.
Until the next Report…