This piece was originally published on the previous version of this site, which is more than likely lost to the annals of history because I have absolutely no idea how to internet properly. It was written in January 2012 and published in March of that same year. The reason I’m republishing it now is that it was one of the more popular things I wrote and my memory was jogged by Tim Connell’s Topics in today’s Newcastle Herald. So here it is.
I grew up loving Thomas the Tank Engine. I am pretty much the embodiment of a person who, as a child, bought – hook, line and sinker – into the romantic notions of train travel.
I would much rather catch a train than sit in cattle class on a commercial airliner for any extended period of time.
I love the clickety-clack of the wheels, the gentle swaying, and the being able to enjoy the rolling countryside as wind your way around hills and valleys towards your destination. To me, that is a most blissful experience.
Running counter to all this, however, is the train that links Newcastle to the bustling state capital of Sydney some 120-odd kilometres to our south.
The Shitkansen (A term, I believe, coined by Melbourne-based, Newcastle ex-pat Marcus Westbury), named after the famed Japanese Shinkansen bullet trains, is more or less a perfect example of everything that a train trip shouldn’t be.
It is appallingly slow; the passengers are not the type of people you would want to be spend any time in a confined space with and it takes you (for the most part, there is one fantastic exception. More later) not through the scenic parts of the Australian bush, but through some of the greatest examples of suburban hell that you will ever see.
Come, let me take you though a trip on the Shitkansen and point out some of the high (and low) lights of the slow trundle between Newcastle and Sydney.
Newcastle is the northern terminus of the Shitkansen. It is from here your journey begins. As you enter the station, you will immediately see, glistening in the sun, your noble, steel steed that will whisk you to your destination at the speed of what it takes to get from Newcastle to Sydney in accordance with the timetable. Tread carefully, while at Newcastle station you are on sacred ground.
Civic is located between an area populated by those that think they’re classy (Honeysuckle) and an area populated by those that actually are (Civic Theatre). Newcastle City Council’s chambers and administration buildings can also be found not too far from Civic, though I’m sure many Newcastle ratepayers would enjoy seeing the Shitkansen run into these buildings, rather than just near them. But you can’t have everything.
Wickham station is located behind The Store. I have never alighted a train here, so I can only hope you don’t actually have to walk through there to exit the station. Heaven help you if you can’t avoid it.
Hamilton station has a pub either side of it. Given you’re in Hamilton that can only be a good thing. I’ve often found that a strong drink, or several, is a requirement for dealing with Beaumont-Wanting-So-Desperately-To-Be-Darby Street. Like Broadmeadow, you can also catch trains from here to other exotic locales. Like Warrabrook.
Broadmeadow is the home station for the Newcastle Knights. From here it’s a short walk to International Sports Centre, Newcastle Harness Racing Club and Broadmeadow McDonalds. You can also catch trains to the farther reaches of NSW from here if the Shitkansen isn’t really to your fancy.
Cardiff is not that exciting. I did, however, see one of the worst pub bands I’ve ever seen in my life at the Iron Horse down the road from the station. So that’s something…I guess. This station also has many, many steps. If you hate moving, this isn’t the station for you.
Cockle Creek is one of the highlights on the Shitkansen trip. On Twitter, it is the only aspect of the trip, aside from the Shitkansen itself, that has its own hashtag – #CockleCreek. There used to be a sulphide smelter near here. Now they’re building houses on the site. That should end well. Yeah, nah.
Booragul contains a church, a high school and a retirement home. Most trains don’t even bother stopping here. The one I’m on is clearly special.
Fassifern is where you used to be able to catch a train out to Toronto (T’ronno Toronto. Not Toronto in Canada. There is no train to Canada). These days it’s a bike path. This gives me a sad. I never got to catch the train to Toronto before they ripped up the line. Maybe, when they build trams in Newcastle (cough As if cough), they can bring the Toronto train back in because trains are far more awesome than bikes.
Awaba is an aboriginal name that translates to English as “you are almost back into civilised society” or “you have just left the last of civilised society for quite some time” depending on which direction you’re travelling. Languages are fascinating like that; how it has a different meaning depending on which way you approach it from.
- Your definition of civilised society may vary. For the sake of the story, let’s just define civilised as places where there are sealed roads.
Dora Creek is named after Dora the Explorer. Yeah, this side of Lake Macquarie is a little odd.
Morisset is the home of the Mega Market and also a hospital for people who are not of sound mind. Now, I’m not saying for certain that the two are related, but…
Wyee. This station is met with the questions of “whyyyyeeee indeed?” I have no idea why Wyee exists. In fact, I’m not convinced that it does. It’s just a random train platform with a silly name on it put in by City Rail to make the trip last longer. They’re bastards like that.
Warnervale is named after Australian test opening batsman David Warner. I don’t wish to be a Debbie-downer, but I think they may have been a little premature in doing that. Sure he can be nifty when wielding the willow, but to the point of being worthy of having a town named after him? I think that’s unlikely. There’s also a “Warnie’s Vale Café” near the station. Typical Warnie, always having to get involved in stuff that he has no business doing so.
Wyong is…. Wyong? I once got stuck here for a number of hours when I was younger, following a mechanical failure of the Shitkansen. It was 8pm on Sunday evening. As a result, I’ve never been endeared to Wyong, but honestly I have absolutely no idea what’s here. All I can see out the window is the Wyong Racing Club – and the cash-masturbation “sport” of horse racing is something who’s mere existence still puzzles me.
Tuggerah was welcomed by one passenger on my trip with a loud, witty “TUG HER, AYE?” pun. I’m sure there are parts of Tuggerah that are lovely, but all I’ve ever seen of it is the clutter-filled homemaker’s centre. And not being a middle-aged housewife, there is no reason why I would ever want to go there. Avoid.
Ourimbah is where you alight if you’re making your way towards the University of Newcastle’s Central Coast campus. When ever referring to Ourimbah, it must always be said in your best Speedy Gonzales impersonation. Bonus points are awarded for running around quickly while doing so.
Gosford is the halfway point of the trip. When travelling south, this is where your Shitkansen will fill to capacity. When travelling north, the Shitkansen will usually empty itself of the most entertaining passengers. This is probably an indication that you never, ever, want to spend time in Gosford. Best just move on.
Woy Woy is named twice. I haven’t got a solid reason as to why, but I believe it’s a subtle hint that you should probably depart this area at double-time. You may also hear this area referred to as The (Motherf**king) Woy. The local population believes the replacement of a “Woy” with the definite article gives the region a more upper-class feel. They are the only ones that think so.
Remember that exception I mentioned at the start? Well here it is.
The run between The (Motherf**king) Woy and Hornsby is, if nothing else, quite picturesque. The Shitkansen snakes its way along the edge of Brisbane Waters, through some nice bush, across the Hawkesbury River, back into bush and up the hill towards the civilisation of the Big Smoke. It is really worth just sitting back, have a good look out the window (make sure you sit on the eastern side of the train) and just take it in. This is, on its own, a really lovely stretch of the trip and a beautiful example of magnificent Australian bushland.
The down side is that if you’re in a carriage with a few…interesting characters, you are stuck knowing that there is no chance that they’re going to be alighting any time soon.
As I write this, I currently have a family of rather loud, very red-faced Bogan-Australians who are taking great joy in arguing with each other using words that you would only hear on TV after the watershed. The mother (I guess) has also chastised her son (I assume) for losing the hat that came as a free gift in one of the Sunday newspapers earlier this week. Apparently her having to walk two blocks to the newsagent means the hat had a certain amount of sentimental value to her. The children in the group are also taking turns at playing some truly horrendous noises (that I believe may be classified as the bastard child of dubstep and R&B music) from their phones as loudly as possible. Sans headphones. Urgh.
By and large they are a lesson in what not to do while travelling on public transport. I’m sure Newcastle’s doyen of transit, The 100 Bus, will agree with me.
Also on this carriage are some young people who have attended today’s Big Day Out at Homebush. What they’re doing on a train heading back to Newcastle at 7pm is beyond me. I’m not exactly a “party animal”, but even by my standards, bailing from a one-day music festival before it even gets dark is a pretty poor effort. I weep for the future.
Hornsby is the first port of call within the bounds of the Big Smoke. Other than that, there’s really no reason why this place should even exist. When heading north, this is the last bit of civilisation you will see for well over an hour.
Epping is next has you begin the crawl through Sydney’s outer suburbs. I only recently learned that there is more to Epping than a train station and a bus stop, though a quick look around suggests that there really isn’t that much more. Alight here if you want to catch the train to Macquarie University.
Eastwood gives me the irrits. I have no idea what Eastwood is actually east of given it’s generally in the same area as the western suburbs – though not as west as the exciting suburbs of Penrith and Parramatta. One person did suggest that it is, in fact, east of Perth. It’s probably for the best that person doesn’t engage in procreation.
The penultimate stop on the Shitkansen adventure is Strathfield. In recent weeks I’ve spent more time at Strathfield than is considered healthy for an individual. Strathfield is the best place to alight the Shitkansen if you’re planning on heading way out west (towards Penriff [note; not Penrith. I spoke to locals to confirm the spelling. It’s similar to how we Novocastrians pronounce Toronto as “T’ronno”] and up into the Blue Mountains).
Finally, after what seems like a lifetime or several, you arrive at Central. It is here where your Shitkansen journey comes to an end. Central is a grand old station, built long ago, probably before trains even existed. It is here where us folk from the laid-back north collide head on with the hustle and bustle crowd of Sydney’s CBD. Be warned: pissing these people off is not recommended. Consider it a bit like a zoo and please do not feed the animals.
So sure, the Shitkansen ruins everything that you could possibly love about train travel, but that in itself makes it something unique that you should at least experience once in your life.
Just, you know, be careful and avoid eye contact with everyone.