Remembering 1997: The Sweetest Year in My Life (Part 15)

As I gain confidence in using public transport other than bus, I also began to explore places further away from the city and reachable by train service. Such trips also widen my perspective about the city itself.

I can’t recall which suburban train route that I first took (after that trip to Georgina’s house), but all I remember was after several trips, I began to learn that the best way to explore the whole network was by using “All Day” ticket (its Multirider version was also available). For student, the ticket cost $3 and it was valid for the whole day until midnight. Once validated, I can go to everywhere that I want, using Transperth’s buses or trains.

Something that puzzled me about the railway service in Perth was the fact that almost all trains in the station are consist of electric trainsets.

Typical scenery of Perth station platform, like what I used to see in 1997.

This is stark contrast to what I see in railway station back home in Indonesia where you will see locomotive hauled trains in large number, in Perth station there are no such things. If there is something different is the presence of a diesel railcar which regularly departs from a secluded platform on south east part of the station (which I later found out to be “Australind” train which serve Perth-Bunbury route).

But still no locomotive hauled train service to be seen.

The answer came when I read some books about West Australian railway history in some bookshops. Apparently loco hauled train services to Perth station have long gone. The last time there was such service was back in late 1980s, just prior to the electrification of suburban train service in the city.

The old Australind trainset with locomotive.

And they even ban freight trains from ever entering Perth city center area. While loco hauled passenger trains ceased in 1987, when Australind swapped its elderly loco hauled coaches with the current Diesel trainsets.

The current Australind train, which is a diesel railcar set.

If there is a loco hauled passenger train service that regularly came to Perth, it has to be the Indian Pacific train, which connects Perth and Sydney, on a 3 day journey. And that train too terminates at East Perth station, about 3 km away from Perth city center. But once in a while, there would be a loco hauled passenger train that would stop by at Perth station. The service operated by Hotham Valley railway, which runs chartered heritage train service.

A Hotham Valley excursion train is seen stopping at Fremantle station. The train had previously stopped at Perth station.

Normally, when I want to go with the train, I would catch the bus from Fitzgerald Street and then goes all the way to the city. I would normally disembark on a bus stop on the top of Horseshoe Bridge. The bus stop is quite an important one because many buses from northern suburbs would stop by in this spot, to allow passengers easy access to the station. Upon disembarking, I would catch any trains that I would like to go with.

One tricky feature of the Transperth train is the fact that its door would only open if you press the button next to it. When I first use to train service, the doors would open automatically like what I see on Singapore MRT trains. I thought it worked that way until one day I almost missed the train when I wanted to board it in one small quiet station, because the doors didn’t open! I was panicked until one guy inside the train opened the door for me and taught about the usage of the button.

A door of Transperth suburban train. Note the buttons next to the door.      

It is said that this feature is meant for safety purpose. This is also applicable for those who want to disembark from the train. But how effective this feature is, to enhance safety remains a mystery for me. For newcomers, especially tourists, this could be a trap.

There were 4 service lines of Transperth suburban trains in 1997: the Fremantle, Midland, Armadale, and Joondalup line. The Fremantle line is interconnected with Midland line. Which mean that any train from runs on Fremantle line, upon arriving at Perth, would continue to Midland. The same thing can be said between Armadale and Joondalup service. I will explain each service below, not the detailed technical aspects of them but rather my perspective.

Transperth suburban train network map. I’ve also added revision of what it used to look like in 1997 (minus Lathlain station at Armadale line).

The Armadale line is the longest one. It connects Perth with a small town of Armadale which is located to the south east of Perth city. Naturally it also has the most numerous stations. But it also featured some of the longest gap between stations, giving it an intercity trip feel. It also passes through one of the most rural scenery that you can see from onboard the suburban trains. At one point, it passes above a freight only railway line in Kenwick. As it nears Armadale, the scenery began to look rural. But upon arriving at the station, it looks partly urbanized again. The line beyond Armadale goes all the way to the south of West Australia. If I’m not mistaken, it terminates in the town of Bunbury. In fact, Australind train service (the only intercity train that depart from Perth station) also plying the same route, and then continues further beyond Armadale. Some stations also double as bus station, where upon disembarking from train; you can go straight into the buses. It is very convenient, indeed.

A Transperth suburban train on Armadale line service.

The next line, which is on the opposite of Armadale line in Perth is Joondalup line. This line is quite new, being built in early 1990s to serve Perth’s northern suburbs expansion.  And one unique feature of this line, which I’ve never seen before, is the fact that the railway line utilizes the space in the middle of freeway! It travels in the middle of Mitchell freeway.

Transperth’s Joondalup railway line is built in the middle of freeway.

And the scenery can be quite boring, because we barely able to see whatever beyond the highway. All of the stations in this line are interchange station, except for 3 of them. Although named “Joondalup”, the line didn’t terminate in that suburb. Instead, it terminated at the suburb of Currambine. The station was located right in the middle of modern suburban, and I was really amazed that the modern design of the houses around the station contrasting with those around North Perth area. Throughout my stay in Perth in 1997, I only manage to travel on this line once.

The original Currambine station seen in 1997.

The next line that I would like to mention is Midland line (not to be confused with the British one). This line goes to the east of Perth, all the way into the suburb of Midland. It is probably the shortest suburban line in Perth metropolitan area. Two of the stations on this line, Mount Lawley and East Perth are located quite near to my college.

A Transperth suburban train is seen approaching Mount Lawley station on Midland line.

On my first trip on this line, I didn’t see anything unusual about it. It felt like ordinary suburban train service. But upon looking on the track below, I’m quite surprised to see that it consist of 3 rails!

Dual gauge track on Midland line.

Apparently the tracks on this line are dual gauge. It was the first time I’ve seen such thing. And it is built in such way for a good reason, because the line is also used for intercity trains that run on standard gauge from East Perth station, such as Kalgoorlie-bound Prospector trains and Indian Pacific.

The original Prospector trainset seen at Midland station.

Even the interstate Indian Pacific passenger train service (which is billed as “The only train that connect East coast and West coast of a continent in the world”) also plying this route, although I never saw them during my stay in 1997.

An Indian Pacific train is seen departing from Perth as it passes through Mount Lawley suburb.

Midland station itself is located in a suburban with a very classic feel. It has a huge railway yard that consists of some dual gauge lines. Just across the station is a large railway complex. The suburban train line terminates here. While the standard gauge railway line goes to the west into the distance. Back then I wondered: when will I be able to travel by train beyond this station…?

An Indian Pacific train as it head east  The remnants of old Midland station can be seen in foreground, while Darling range hills loom in the background.

The last line, which was also my favorite suburban railway line, is Fremantle line. This line connects Perth with the Fremantle harbor. Contrary to other lines, where they connect the Perth city center with suburban residential areas, Fremantle line actually connects Perth with tourist destination, which makes it very popular among tourists. It passes through many tourist destination, such as Subiaco oval, Cottesloe beach, Claremont showground, and of course Fremantle itself.  The line itself will see increasing activities if there are some events, such as the annual Perth Royal Show, football match at Subiaco oval, or if there is American aircraft carrier docked at Fremantle harbor.

The facade of Fremantle station, complete with its bus station.

The town of Fremantle itself is also an exciting place to visit. It is a very lively place to visit every weekend, and one of my favorite places to spend the weekend. Although I’ve been to Fremantle during the first days in Perth, visiting the place alone truly gave me freedom to explore the place.

I like visiting its traditional market to buy some unique candies or snacks that would normally be unavailable at regular supermarket. Or playing around in an open field, which uniquely surrounded by dual gauge railway line.

One memorable cuisine that I encounter in Fremantle (or “Freo” as the locals would nickname the place), is fish and chips.

A portion of Fish & Chips.

Although originally come from UK, it is also hugely popular in Australia. And despite the fact that it is widely available in the city, one place in Fremantle stood out: the Cicerello’s. Back then, the establishment was just a simple low class restaurant where customer come to the cashier and made the order like in fast food joints, and then the food is given to the customer in a wrapped paper package.

They have several menu aside of their main fish and chip (all are seafood items, fried in batter). I remember when I first visited the place; I ordered “seafood platter”, which it is fish and chips but also feature shrimp and calamari. What surprised me when I first receive my menu was its behemoth size! It was probably enough for 2 average Indonesians.

Seafood Platter.

It is also accompanied by usual tomato ketchup and chili sauce, as well as mayonnaise sauce. But they also have one unusual sauce that I never saw before: tartar sauce. It tasted like mayonnaise, unless it has diced pickles in it.

All of the sauces are in small plastic packages with unique design. It consists of two containers joined under single cap. In order to squeeze out the sauce, you don’t need to cut anything. Just squeeze both containers and the sauce will ooze out of the opening in the middle. Very practical!

The restaurant was my favorite Fish & Chips restaurant when I was in Perth in 1997, because it sold the menu in large portion at a reasonably cheap price too. Its accessible location, combined with seaside location also made it a good place to enjoy the weekend. But years later, the restaurant was converted into an upmarket fine dining restaurant. To date, it is still a popular eating place, albeit for higher end market.

Another thing that I like to spend my past time during the weekend is to visit the bookshops. I truly marveled on their wide varieties and vast collections, which is a stark contrast to bookshops in Indonesia where the variety is limited. Back then I was a big aviation enthusiast who was thirsty for all information about aviation. And in the age where Google didn’t exist, and Yahoo was in its infancy, the best way to gain information was through printed media.

There were two major bookstores in Perth city which I frequently visited: Dymocks and Angus & Robertson. Both were located on Hay Street Mall.

The entrance of Dymocks book store in Hay street.     

What fascinates me about those bookshops is their collection. They have everything that I’m looking more.

The interior of Dymocks bookstore in Hay street.

In addition, the bookshop employees are courteous and helpful. They would take initiative in asking you and giving you help.

The employees of Dymocks bookstore.

Soft and classical music are also played to improve the visitor’s experience when reading books. That is truly stark contrast to the bookshop in Indonesia, where the collections are inadequate, the shopkeepers are not attentive, and sometime they would play loud rock music!

I remember I frequently read the book about British aircraft carriers, which finally answering my curiosity about how British carriers used to look like, in pre-Invincible class carrier era.

It turned their carriers used to bore resemblance to their American counterparts.

The Audacious class HMS Ark Royal as it underway in the ocean sometime in 1970s. Note a F-4 Phantom in the middle.

And I often read the book about “Air Disaster” a collection of investigation of some air accidents, written by a leading Australian aviation expert: Mr. Macarthur Job. The content is detailed, comprehensive, yet quite easy to follow for those with moderate knowledge of aviation.

The First series of Air Disaster book. I eventually bought this and its sequel.

On the other hand, thanks to the freedom in Australia, I also get to see sex education books that are readily available in top part of bookshelf. The contents are explicit as they features real nude models (some are voluptuous), not illustration, performing mock sex scenes. I remember when I was in high school, some naughty classmates would bring sex education book, where the picture only consist faint illustration, and that is rudimentary in comparison to what I found in Australia. Oh, by the way, these kinds of books are normally not available in Indonesian bookstores. Even if they do, they would be tightly wrapped in plastic, where buyers couldn’t find out its content until buying them!

An example of Sex education book.

Aside of browsing bookshops, I also like to visit hobby shops.  It can be said that Australia is a hobbyist-friendly country. Whatever your hobby is, it will be accommodated. And hobby shops sell any item that we in Surabaya can only dream of, such as wider varieties of model trains, airplane model kits, remote controlled ship models, car miniatures, and many more!

An interior of a hobby shop in Australia.   

There were 4 hobby shops that I would normally visit: Perth Hobby Centre at Murray Street, Valhalla hobby shop at Wellington Street (just across the road from Perth station), a hobby shop that I forgot its name in Piccadilly arcade, and Stanbridge Hobby shop in Mount Lawley. I heard that these days, all of them have either relocated or even closed down. And nowadays there are much more hobby shops in Perth metropolitan area.

Prior to depart to Australia, I’ve seen on the internet about the model kit of Avro Vulcan and XB-70 Valkyrie on 1/72 scale size. The Vulcan is manufactured by Airfix, while Valkyrie by AMT Model. Both are truly enormous, and I was wondering if I’d come across them. Chance eventually materializes when I visit Stanbridge hobby shop in Mount Lawley. Being close to my college, one day after school, I walked to the place (it was quite a long walk). Upon entering the shop, I was greeted by the sight of vast collections of hobby items. I went to the airplane model kit sections, and truly surprised by vast amount of collections that they have.

1/72 scale Avro Vulcan model kit by Airfix. Back in 1990s, the box was predominantly white.

And, voila! Apparently both of them were there. Their boxes were quite massive. The box for the Valkyrie bomber itself is around 1 meter long, while the Vulcan is almost the same size.

An example of 1/72 scale XB-70 Valkyrie model kit, manufactured by AMT.

Despite of my excitement, I decided to not to purchase them. I know that assembling those airplanes would have been truly a nightmare for me, as I have had previous experience in constructing the model airplane kit, and I struggled to do that. In addition, their bulky size would have been a hassle to transport to Indonesia. I never regret my decision to not to buy them.

In the end, I decided to purchase a book about XB-70 Valkyrie.

Other items that fascinate me in those hobby shops are model trains. These scaled models of trains are built with great precision and detail. Back when I was little baby, I thought there were toys. I played them around, and I had even destroyed one of them. But when I first look at them in the store, I was truly shocked by its expensive price. All are priced above 100 dollars! And that is just for a single locomotive, excluding the carriage(s), tracks, controllers, and associated accessories.

A large collection of model trains for sale in a shelf of a model railway shop in Australia.

The European made is even more expensive! Upon finding that, I realized that model trains are not toys, despite of their cute and adorable appearance. But still, the sight of model trains in store racks in hobby shop is like a heaven for me.

A heavenly view for would be railway modeller who wants to indulge his childhood dreams

Although I was initially deterred to purchase them, years later I eventually buy my first model trainsets, which eventually led to my involvement in this unique hobby.



About bagus70

I'm an adventurous railfans who love to seek out the world of railway, beyond the border of my office.
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