Friday, May 22, 2009

OZ Day 10: Once more on the Main South; rugby on a rainy night in Sydney. . .


The sunlight barely held on for the shot at Oolong. . .
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Monday, April 20: So, we'll give this Main South thing one more try. Skunked the day before from getting not only the QR National train with CL's up front (they finally passed through Gunning westbound around 5am!), but the weather sucked, too.

So, this morning it's nice and clear, and we have two eastbound coming our way out of Cootamundra. Granted, they're the usual, garden-variety chunder-inducing Pacific National container and steel trains, meaning they'll be powered by the most-stupefyingly dull power you can find in Australia, a pair of NR class (this would be like going to the Union Pacific in the mid-1980s and finding--gasp!--SD40-2's). But, at least we'll have some trains headed our way into the sun.

The first train we set up for just west of Gunning at Oolong, where the railroad negotiates a tight horseshoe curve and comes under an overbridge. We set up, the sun looks good. Train arrives--with the expected dull-ass NR's up front in bleached-out National Rail paint--and sun dips behind a cloud just as he gets in range.
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Not to miss: The Naughty sign near Yass. . .

We retire to the Merino Cafe for brekkie--I had an early lunch, actually, and got into the spirit of the area with lamb on pita bread--and then head west to Yass Jct. for the second train. But first things first: we stop to take a shot of the delightfully-naughty (for pervos like us) Macca's sign declaring "MYass, Open 24 hours". Then we wait for the eastbound, a PacNational steel train bound for Port Kembla behind. . .a pair of NR's! At least the trailing one is in Indian-Pacific paint. We follow this train east, shooting it coming past the blades at Jerrawa, at Gunning, and at a pair of locations climbing over the Cullerin Range. It's really just an exercise in "we were there" rather than inspired rail photography. The sun comes and goes, it spits a bit of rain, and then goes into the clouds to stay; we decide to head east for an appointment in Wollongong.
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Eastbound steel train leaves Yass Junction: two NR's. Ho-hum. . .


. . .and again at Jerrawa, past more semaphores. . .


. . an climbing towards the summit near Cullerin. . .
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Charlie and Paul will be returning home after a week with Lance and I. We've been invited to visit Andreas Keller's place in Wollongong, see his model railway, and then Lance will head out with Charlie and Paul and bring them home. I'll go into Sydney with Rick Schoenfelder where we'll somehow get to Leichhardt Oval, a classic old rugby field on the northwest side of downtown near Rozelle, where we'll catch the evening National Rugby League match between Wests Tigers and the Melbourne Storm.

First, we must get to Wollongong, and we head out of Moss Vale on a narrow 2-lane highway that at times is hairpin-upon-hairpin. How commercial trucks can meet on this grade is beyond me: some curves are restriced to 15km/h! It reminds me of that popular Powerpoint show of the outrageously narrow and dangerous highway across the Andes mountains--the kind where big rocks are used as guardrails! It isn't quite that narrow, but it IS impressive, and precipitous. The road widens halfway down--a point the highway department is proud to declare with roadsigns. It's a beautiful ride if you don't have to drive. Thankfully, Lance did little rubbernecking.


One of the faster curves: that 25km/h, NOT mph. . .
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We meet up with John Wilson, Andreas and Rick, and head to Andreas' place, where he shows off his fine-looking and smooth-operating HO layout: three 2' X 15' or so decks stacked atop each other, connected by a double helix in a crawlspace behind the garage. He's also kind enough to show off several of his exquisite models, several of which were entirely scratchbuilt from resin parts cast from his masters. The guy is a monster when it comes to modelling.
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Just a small portion of Andreas' layout. Here's more


And Andreas' helix. For some reason, he says, folks like to look at the helix as much as the "front" of the layout! Having built a helix, I know I do!

The stadium at the end of the street: sorta like Fenway. . .
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A Rugby Match!
Lance and Paul and Charlie took off for the big city, and Rick and I caught a train from "the Gong" into Sydney, up the spectacular route along the Tasman sea. Amazing piece of railway! Tunnels, curves, coal mines, views of crashing surf. Then suburban stations, multiple mainlines, flying junctions, commuter trains three-abreast pacing each other into Sydney Central. We arrived at rush hour, hastily leaving Central and walked across the street to catch a bus to the Leichhardt neighborhood--we hoped. Several folks were wearing Wests Tigers jerseys and such, so we figured if we'd follow them we'd somehow get there. Rick just happened to have a large purple Melbourne Storm banner with him, probably something you don't travel all the way from Newman with unless you think you'll be going to a Storm match.

Leichhardt is a classic old downdown stadium, set down in a working-class neighborhood. I kind of equate it to a Wrigley Field without the Yuppies or Fenway Park without a green monster. A new grandstand replaced an older wood structure that was torn down after termites devoured much of it. We walk from the bus several blocks past houses in an older neighborhood. The crowd is excited for their teams, boisterous, but tolerant as well. One group of fans I photograph turn out to be from Corvallis, Oregon. Fancy that.

We purchase bleacher seating for $25/seat. It's general admission, sold from a trailer. The stadium is old and has lots of character. The men's bathrooms are in a tunnel reached from the end zone area. Those without seats in the fancy new grandstand sit on old wooden benches (how old? We saw several of them collapse under a guy who weighed considerably less than I do)ringing the other 3/4 of the field; above the dozen or so rows of benches is a large grassy area where others stand or sit on blankets. A temporary JumboTron is set up. There's one scoreboard, and it's manually operated. From a Major U.S. Sports perspective, the place reminds one of what the NFL must've been like in the 1930s--or what urban high school football is like in many places today. The atmosphere was similar: dimly lit, with cheerleaders, a loud, makeshift PA system, and players who enter the field bursting through a big banner. One interesting aspect of Australian sport: bookies are allowed to take bets right on the ground, from a booth set up inside the entrance. Try THAT, NFL!
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Leichhardt has the feeling of a hardscrabble urban high school football stadium. . .

Being this close to the action is part of the place's appeal. . .
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Leichhardt isn't Wests Tigers primary stadium; they play only three games a year here, the rest in suburban Campbelltown. Ten years ago, the Balmain Tigers called this place home, but slumping economics in National Rugby League--despite its "national" name, its teams primarily play in New South Wales--forced Balmain to merge with rival Western Sydney Magpies, creating the Wests Tigers. But Leichhardt is still near and dear to rugby fans, who are closer to the action here than in any other field in the league. It is definately not a fancy place to play. It's down and dirty and honest, which you can't say about many football fields in the U.S. anymore.
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The single Jumbotron is brought in for the game; most of the 12,000 spectators sat on a grassy hill.


None of those NFL pussies playing here!
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I was only vaguely familiar with rugby, my limited exposure to it largely coming from watching club games in college, where rugby was largely an athletic competition used as an excuse to party after the game. (For a full discussion of NRL and how their game differs from other forms of rugby, go here.) Suffice it to say, though, that Rick was right about pro rugby: it makes the NFL look like a bunch of effite, panty-waist, overpaid pampered wussies. NRL is played all-out for the full game, end to end, and apart from a half-time, non-stop. There's no blocking--it's you and the ball and a wall of guys in front of you wanting to mash your face into the turf.

This evening, it was wet turf. It began sprinkling, and then, for a bit, pouring. Rick brought an umbrella, thankfully. We ate foot-long hotdogs (only $4AU) and drank cokes ($3AU)--prices like these, no wonder the league is teetering on financial ruin: where are the $7 beers and $5 puny hotdogs we're used to in the States? The game ended with Wests leading 16-9. We were soaked, but had a blast. We caught a bus back to Central where Lance met us. Rick took a train back to the Gong (he had a flight out of SYD in the morning, and he was about to have a very short night of it), and we headed towards Enfield to bed down in our spacious and oh-so-luxurious accomodation on the third floor of the Formulae One Motel. No elevators. And 70 lb. suitcases.
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Lance sure missed a good one.


The lone scoreboard: manual, of course. Nothing fancy.

4 comments:

Justin Franz said...

This Aussi stuff is out of this world. Makes me want to pack the cameras and a six pack of Fosters and head out trackside there. Keep it coming!

Justin Franz

BEK said...

Justin, if you go to Australia, don't even THINK of mentioning Fosters to the locals. I know the advertising in the states is "Fosters: Australian for beer." Down there, it's "Fosters: Australian for Piss." It's the Busch of Australia. No self-respecting Aussie will go near the stuff. Most of the empty cans I saw around the rugby field were Carling's.

BEK said...

Oops, make that Carlton (in Victoria) and Toohey's.

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