A Big Part of the Poetry of the World

2018-09-05 C'maine Shunting Yards Cropped

I went into Castlemaine today and I just had to take some photos of the small shunting yard near the station. Tracks, signals, empty wagons: they’re a big part of the Poetry of the World, to my mind.

When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike along the railway line as far as I could get. Of course, I always had to turn back without getting to an end of any kind. I guess, in my childish imagination, that pair of rails stretching all the way into the distance was a concrete image of ETERNITY. I had no idea of the meaning of “end of the line” then . . . One day I cut out an advertisement from the papers for train drivers: that was the job for me, I thought. Mum was horrified.

I was talking to one of the local farmers here the other day, and I happened to admire a huge gum tree near the road. He explained that a sleeper-cutter had come to cut it down decades ago with another nearby tree. Today that tree is a greying stump, but its neighbour survives because it grew too near to Malcolm’s house: the sleeper-cutter thought it might smash the place down. Now most sleepers are made out of concrete, so the job of sleep-cutting is a lost art, vanished forever from the repertoire of labour.

Yes, it’s an odd word, “sleeper”, when it refers to those huge slabs of timber that support railway tracks. I can’t help wondering whether we serve as “sleepers” in our own right at night. What mysterious lines run over our inert dreaming bodies in their beds, and what kind of freight gets carried on them by unfathomable ethereal trains to places we can’t even begin to imagine?

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