Trains and boats and planes

for Gillian who wants to die.


Two gentlemen decided on a locomotive journey to Adelaide. With their mates. Thirty of them. Let’s be honest, it was a football trip.

Within five minutes of leaving Spencer Street they’d begun stealing nips of alcohol. One would engage the waiter in tales of impossible catches of barracouta at Apollo Bay. Yes, they were country lads. Let’s sing the theme song again. “Oh we do like to be beside the seaside, oh we do like to be beside the sea / Down at the Bay there’s a football ground, and that’s where the Bay boys hang around…” Lyrics of genius. The real version is a “Pride of Erin” that they used to dance to with their sisters. But only because their mums made them.

But anyway, while one was talking up barracouta another would reach behind the waiter and pull another nip of scotch from the dispenser. As if he really needed it. And when Thommo barged into an old gent, who was on his way to the bar to inquire about tea and scones, his glasses were knocked from his head, but Thommo retrieved them most courteously and managed to lick each lens and huff on them with his beery breath so that when old tea and scones put them on he staggered about like Mister Magoo. Good one, Thommo.

The barman wasn’t going to put up with any more fishing stories and was on his guard, but Axe found the emergency brake on the wall and pulled it to see what would happen. Well, what happened was the train’s wheels locked and stripped 20 mil from the rails in a shower of sparks.

The entire cargo of passengers piled onto the floor like the 1st AIF at Gallipoli. That’s not funny, Bruce. But that’s what happened and when they all got up dusting themselves and straightening apparel, or in Thommo’s case trying to adjust the apparel of the ladies, the barman discovered there were no bottles of spirits left in the bar at all.

The guard was called, found bottles on the person of Sparrow and Pistol, and they were ejected from the train at Horsham. Awful behavior. Sparrow and Pistol stood on the Horsham platform watching the train depart, their holiday ruined. It was like the last scene in Anna Karenina. Without Anna Karenina.

Pistol noticed a bus. The illuminated destination board said Adelaide. They got on. It was quite late. The passengers were mostly asleep except for a couple deep in a vigorous embrace. Difficult in a bus but worthwhile if you know a good chiropractor.

Pistol and Sparrow sat in the seats across the aisle and began humming “Oh we do like to be beside…” Many of the passengers recognised it as a “Pride of Erin”, but it still didn’t stop them from hissing Sssshhhh like the air brakes on a road train.

The couple were squirming in rapture and she thrust her leg in ecstasy. Pistol tickled her sole. She moaned. He tickled it again and she clung to her beau and thrust her tongue in his ear. Pistol tickled her toes again and suddenly it occurred to her that she could feel both her boyfriend’s hands and they were nowhere near her foot.

She sat up and glared at Pistol, who looked her in the eye and tickled her foot again. She screamed at the top of her lungs and the whole bus leapt into an eruption of reading lights, flying crossword puzzles, knitting in all sorts of tones of brown, and tubes of Mentholatum.

Pistol and Sparrow stood on the pavement at the bus station of Nhill and watched the bus pull away in an exhaust of outrage.

“How’s it going boys?” a policeman asked as his patrol car slid in beside them.

“Oh, we got off at the wrong stop,” said Sparrow, who was never lost for a word.

“Strewth, that’s real bad luck. Especially as you got off the train a bit early, too. On a footy trip too, aren’t ya? Who do you barrack for?”

Pistol looked up at the sign above the bus stop. “Nhill,” he said.

“Good answer,” said the cop. “What about I drive you to Bordertown and you can catch the next train? But ease up on the emergency brake and the scotch this time, eh.”

At the service station at Bordertown, a coach pulled in beside the bowser.

“Look,” said Pistol, “that’s the love bus.”

“The knitting machine,” Sparrow corrected.

The driver stepped down from the bus and went to the rear and opened the engine compartment. He tinkered in a desultory sort of fashion.

Pistol sidled up to him. “Having trouble with the motor, boss?” he asked.

The coach driver looked up from the engine and glared when he saw it was the toe tickler. But then the motorist’s exasperation gave way to hope. “Know anything about motors?” he asked.

“Yeah, mate, I’m a diesel mechanic,” said Pistol, who didn’t even know a bus engine was at the back until he saw the driver lift the hatch.

“Can you have a go at it for us then?” asked the driver, who was desperate to get to Adelaide so he could watch the late-night TV ads.

“Sure,” said Pistol accepting the wrench.

He waited until the driver scuttled back to his cabin and then started hitting things really hard with the wrench. It gave off quite convincing chimes and percussions.

“You haven’t got a clue,” said Sparrow. “It’s not a glockenspiel.”

“It gives me time to think,” reasoned Pistol.

“So what made you wait 30 years?”

“Look,” said Pistol, ignoring Sparrow, who was really just an annoying little feral. “See that big green button, what do you reckon that’s for? Doesn’t green mean go?”

He pressed the button and the motor roared into life. The driver accepted Sparrow and Pistol back onto the bus to cheers from the passengers, except the girl who had her shoes back on and cardigan buttoned up tight. She was determined to stay awake until Adelaide. And staying awake in Adelaide is next to impossible.

The Adelaide bus arrives in town half an hour before the train so that when the rest of the team alighted at the station Sparrow and Pistol were sitting in the transit lounge drinking coffee and trying to read the papers.

“We thought you’d never get here,” Sparrow called to his teammates.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 29, 2021 as "Trains and boats and planes".

A free press is one you pay for. Now is the time to subscribe.

Bruce Pascoe is a Yuin, Bunurong and Tasmanian man.

Sharing credit ×

Share this article, without restrictions.

You’ve shared all of your credits for this month. They will refresh on June 1. If you would like to share more, you can buy a gift subscription for a friend.