The Diesel

I was putting the washing on the clothes horse inside our Port Melbourne flat when I heard the strong, rich, vibrant sound of a diesel train’s horn.

“I heard a diesel!”I called out and then started wondering if everyone called those trains, ‘a diesel’. It sounds a bit odd.

We used to hear that sound a lot in Eaglehawk as the train from Swan Hill passed through Eaglehawk on its way to Melbourne. It would sound its horn at every level crossing and I would hear the horn getting louder and then fading away as the train headed towards Bendigo. We lived a good few blocks away from the railway line so usually didn’t hear the train itself, except on late-summer nights.

I remember lying in bed as a child, hot and under just a sheet, and hearing a deep,deep, heavy, groaning rumble approach and then recede into the distance. The familiar horn accompanied it. I could almost imagine the ground vibrating.

These were the wheat trains, travelling slowly and by night, from the wheat towns in the North West of the State to Melbourne and the Port. I liked knowing that about the trains. I think I knew that the wheat was probably going to go on ships, to England, maybe.

As an adult I have driven through these small towns with a railway siding and huge silos and can imagine the work and activity and satisfaction of getting that crop onto the train and sent away.

I’ve always liked the sound of the diesel’s horn and have been pleased to hear in in the urban environment of Port Melbourne. Sometimes at Lagoon Oval I’ll hear it come across from the docks and it feels as if the country has come to the city.

I hope I’ll hear it from inside the flat again, while I’m putting washing on the clothes horse. It’s a far cry from hearing the horn at Eaglehawk whilst helping Mum hang up the washing on the long clothesline in the back yard. I was glad to be reminded of that.




Blackbird Song

The blackbird sings its song to a variety of accompaniments.

Yesterday morning, in relative silence after the huge rumbling,shaking and flashing thunderstorms which crashed over Melbourne overnight, the song was a tuneful counterpoint to the steady hissing of rain and tyres on the wet roads. I hoped the bird had been safely sheltered from the elements.

A few days ago, it was singing along to the arrhythmic hammering of the carpenters on the nearby building site. If I knew more about music, I think I could talk about jazz.

Sometimes, I hear it filtering through ‘builders’radio’ which is less than pleasant for me but I suspect that the bird doesn’t notice.

My favourite time to hear the simple, pure song is in the dark early morning when there is no light, just sound.

The First Cruise Ship of Summer

“What’s the Channel 7 helicopter doing?’

We went out onto the balcony and there, behind the red and white Spirit of Tasmania ferry which is always there in the morning, was a towering white ship. The first cruise ship of summer, the Dawn Princess, had come in silently overnight and berthed on the other side of Station Pier. It was about twice the height of the Spirit and longer, a white, floating apartment building.

So! Not the first swallow of summer but the first of many summer season cruise ships which appear in the morning and are gone by the evening. They are a clear marker of summer in Port Melbourne.


Later, I walked down to the pier, and realized that there were actually five ships jammed around the pier. There were two small Navy vessels rafted up against the wharf and a black and white lighter tucked up against the Dawn Princess, a lamb next to its mother.


I’d seen the Navy boats coming up the Channel yesterday but had thought nothing more of them. But seeing them today made me realize that they were possibly part of yesterday’s Commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of Australian soldiers sailing off to World War 1 from the next pier along, Princes Pier. Suddenly on the TV news last night, Princes Pier had flashed up on the screen in the background of a ceremony honouring those soldiers of 100 years ago.

Outside the fish and ship shop, a group of people sat with large cases in front of them. Others were striding off down Beach Street wheeling their cases and more were piling up at the 109 tram stop trying to make sense of a transport system new to them. I suppose they’d already bought their Myki public transport swipe cards from the IGA because there were large blue temporary Myki signs stuck up on bigger signs and fences.

Yellow taxi after yellow taxi crawled up the road towards the ship and a taxi bus from Traralgon was parked awkwardly waiting for its passengers to take back to Gippsland. Huge fuel trucks and garbage trucks joined the stream.


I turned around from photographing the traffic and looked straight into the grey, hairy trunk of a palm tree. It was a happy surprise to look closely at something natural after all the traffic and bustle.The diamond pattern of its crisscross strips of bark and the fraying strands escaping from it were a satisfying combination of the simple and complex in one structure.


Later that afternoon, I was writing this piece and got up to check the size of the ship. And there it was , sailing away down the channel already. Well, that was quick!


Blackbird Song

4.12 am. It’s as pitch black as the city will allow. A brief birdsong rises up the cliff face of the apartment building and enters my window. The bird tries again and adds a few quiet bars. Next time, a bit more volume. I wait but the blackbird song doesn’t quite get going. All is silent again except for the occasional passing car.

4.15 pm. Another winter’s day. I step out of the building for a walk along the beach and enter a courtyard echoing with blackbird song. The piping music soars in the entire space with the simple clarity of a boy soprano in a cathedral.


I look around. There it is. One small blackbird puffed up against the cold, perched on a white balcony.

The sound follows me as I dodge across Beach Road to the beachside footpath.

Looking back, I can still hear the high clear song as it floats above the roar of peak hour traffic into the crisp, clear, wintry sky.