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The Long Train Journey

In Australia, in the days before company cars became the accepted thing, Bill was a north Queensland representative. He worked the whole of the north and the west from Rockhampton by public transport on a tour of duty that took twelve weeks to complete.

On one trip to Mount Isa and Cloncurry in the far north-west, he finished working the Isa late on a hot summer afternoon. At 5.30 it was still oppressively hot. The only transport to Cloncurry was a slow goods train with no passenger accommodation. Bill and one other rep carried their cases into the guard's van, and prepared themselves for a hot, dreary journey with the guard.

In those days there was no direct rail link between Mount Isa and Cloncurry. The line took a deep loop to the south through a tiny railway town called Duchess, which was about halfway. The train finally got under way. The night was still hot. Progress was slow and there were continual stops along the way. The reps would ask:

"What are we stopping for this time?"

The answers:

"We're taking on water."

"There's a cow on the line."

Bill had a good look at one of these cows, and when the train stopped again twenty minutes later because of a cow on the line, he studied it carefully and was prepared to swear it was the same cow. At last, after what seemed like hours of this, the train stopped again.

"What are we stopping for this time?"

"We're at Duchess. Do you feel like a beer?"

"Where's the pub?"

The guard pointed at a naked bulb about fifty metres across the tracks.

"No fear," said Bill. I'm not going over there. The train might go without me."

"Well it can't go without me," said the guard, "and I'm going over."

The two reps and the guard were joined by the driver and the four picked their way across the tracks in the darkness to the pub. The light they were following lit up a big sign that said, "Cold Beer".

Bill's mouth began to water.

Inside, the cold beer turned out to be a wooden cask up on the counter, with a wet sack thrown over it. There was one other customer, a real western droving type, with the highheel boots and the broad-brimmed hat. Bill spoke to him:

"Will you have a drink with us?"

"Thanks, mate."

The beers were served and they all took a long pull. Bill asked the drover:

"You live round these parts?"

"No," came the reply. I'm from the Centre. I'm down here on holidays. Boy, it's good to be back east again."

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