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All aboard at the Puffing Billy Railway

“You realise we’ll be the only adults there without kids?” Nate said. He steered the car as I continued eating my chewy bacon and egg sandwich, devoid of any flavour because we had forgotten to ask the waitress for barbecue sauce. “I’m sure it’ll be the most fun of your life,” I replied, dusting crumbs off of my brown shorts. Ever since we had decided to go to Melbourne, I had spent nights googling ‘best things to do in Melbourne’. After much deliberation, Puffing Billy finally made the shortlist and we managed to squeeze it on our last day there…or rather I booked it and hoped Nate would be thrilled at the prospect of a steam train ride. (I know I was!)

It was another early morning for us, leaving Melbourne at 8 am in a GoGet and navigating the confusing roads. Why were we driving on tramlines? Why were hook turns a thing? Nevertheless, as the passenger, I was having a cruisy time as Nate tried deciphering the mysterious Victorian road rules.

An hour later, we arrived at Belgrave station (narrowly missing driving to the wrong station had we not double-checked at our breakfast pit stop), and there was no doubt about it. The station was crawling with families and children. From the main Belgrave station, we walked two minutes down a winding pathway leading to the Puffing Billy train station, and already I could see Nate eyeing all the little rascals running around and screaming. We gathered our tickets, headed through the shop filled with railway souvenirs and paraphernalia, before walking out onto a wooden platform.

Remember that moment in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when Harry sees the Hogwarts Express for the first time? That was me, except I wasn’t a wizard sadly, just a stunned train admirer.

As someone who loves everything vintage, it was incredible walking along the platform and gazing up at the historic mahogany brown steam train, transported to another time with a thick cloud of steam blowing from the train chimney and conductors in their uniforms blowing whistles proudly. Built in the 1900s, the Puffing Billy Railway was a crucial part of life for those who lived in the Dandenong Ranges, connecting and transporting goods for people in the hills. However, a landslide in 1953 and economic losses meant that the railway closed a year later. Not all hope was lost though. In the 1960s, a group of volunteers with help from the Victorian government, worked to by-pass the landslide and the railway was reopened in 1962 with a route from Belgrave to Menzies Creek, coincidentally the exact trip Nate and I were about to take. As we continued down the platform, Nate pulled his camera from his grey sling bag and began shooting the steam train from every angle he could see. I did the same, but once I found our carriage I climbed straight on, determined to get a good view. Children be damned! Seated with three other families, the good thing was that there was a view from both sides and so I felt less guilty even though I knew Nate was definitely thinking who is this crazy lady I’m dating. Ten minutes before our 10 am departure, we tried to make the best of our stiff seats when one of the mums next to us put her legs through the window, plopped down on the windowsill and rested her body against the two horizontal metal railings. It took me less than a second to follow suit and once I poked my head out and looked back at the carriages, I realised all the kids and their parents had done the same. I turned to Nate, my jaw dropped and said, “This. Is. Amazing!” which he returned with a hearty laugh before he joined me on the windowsill, our legs dangling as we waited in anticipation for the clock to strike twelve. Once the conductor’s whistle signalled our departure and all the doors were locked tightly, we were off, the steam pumping and lots of young and old, smiling faces beaming from behind the rails. Starting at a slow pace, the steam train started to gain momentum once we left Belgrave station, making our way to Menzies Creek. Feeling every inch of the bumpy ride from where I sat, I had my camera out, taking as many photos as I could to remember the trip. “Babe, the bridge!” Nate said, and I turned my head to realise we had already descended upon the wooden Monbulk Creek trestle bridge, one of the sights I was desperate to see. It never occurred to me though it was over a main road, with multiple cars parked on the side and viewers casually waving back at us. Did they know people in the carriages? Or were they just frequent train enthusiasts? I waved at them, shaken out of my historical reverie and realised how much things must have changed since the railway was built. To think many many years ago, there would’ve been horses and carts travelling under the very same bridge I was on, many lives now ghosts of the Ranges. Time is a funny thing, especially when you hit a certain age and are zooming across a hillscape on a relic from the past. Before my 30th birthday yesterday year, I made it a constant joke that I would stay 21 forever. But for a single moment on that train, with babies crying and specks of dust flying in my eyes, I sat completely still, camera down, wind flying through my hair, not feeling 30 or even 5 years old. All I could do was look forward and see where the track would take us.

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