AUSTRALIAN RAILWAY STORY

Railway Voices CD: 11. THE DEPRESSION

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Art Creasey

In those days there were so many people carrying the swag. Some were riding freight trains, some would be pushing prams, all their belongings on the thing, and some ... bicycle bums would be wheeling bicycles and all that, but I was strictly a bloody train jumper. And of course you'd meet good coppers and bad coppers. Sergeant Small, he would've been the best known copper there was in bloody Australia. Every hobo knew about him, whether they were in Victoria, they'd say, "Keep away from bloody Quirindi". You'd have to by-pass Quirindi because he'd bloody pick you up. He'd charge you with anything.

Song: Sergeant Small by Tex Morton (1938)
Originally recorded by Tex Morton and banned shortly after release.
Mark Gregory banjo and vocals

Riding down from Queensland on a dirty timber train,
We stopped to take on water in the early morning rain,
I saw a hobo coming by, he didn't show much fear,
He walked along the line of trucks, saying, "any room in here?"
Then I pulled the cover saying, "throw your blankets in,"
He dropped his billy and his roll and he socked me on the chin.
I wish that I was fourteen stone and I was six feet tall,
I'd take a special trip up north, to beat up Sergeant Small.

Art Creasey

Anyhow, we were waiting for a bloody rattler outside Dubbo. There was a big slow grade there, and there was one train there used to always be known as the ... midnight horror ... used to come through round about eleven to twelve o'clock at night. But even though it was a big slow grade the only way you were sure of catching it was to grease the bloody train lines with bloody dripping. And of course all hoboes, that's all we had in those days, bread and bloody dripping, you know. And that's how we caught that bloody train.

Song: The Sandy Hollow Line by Duke Tritton (1937).
Set to music and sung by John Dengate.

The sun was blazing in the sky and waves of shimmering heat,
Glared down on the railway cutting, we were half dead on our feet,
And the ganger stood on the bank of the cut and he snarled at the men below,
"You'd better keep those shovels full or all you cows'll go."

Linda McLean Duke Tritton's daughter

Men were expendable I suppose, you could say. There was always somebody else waiting for relief work for this job. But we thought when we went out on the Sandy Hollow Line, that this was going to be the greatest thing that ever happened to us because we were going to be paid wages, which of course we were. After having dole coupons for years for food, it was thought to be a big thing, but it didn't turn out of course to be anything like we expected. If people ask me what do I really remember about it, I suppose I could say, "the dirt, the smells, the flies, the broken men, broken women too, the women suffered terribly there." Really dad's poem really covers it all. It says the lot about the feelings of people in those days and conditions we all lived under.

Sandy Hollow Line (cont.)

And so we plodded to our camps and it seemed to our weary brains,
We were no better than convicts, though we didn't wear the chains,
And in those drear depression days, we were unwanted men,
But we knew that when a war broke out, we'd all be heroes then.
And we'd be handed a rifle and forced to fight for the swine,
Who tortured us and starved us, on the Sandy Hollow Line.

Railway Voices a CD of Australian railway workers stories with songs and poems