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Page 185




Could this possibly be true?

I recently received this rather thought provoking email attachment. Paraphrased, it went like this . . .

The U.S. standard railway gauge is 4 feet 8½ inches. That’s a rather odd number so why was that gauge used?
Because that was the gauge used in England and English expatriates designed the U.S. railways.

Why did the English use that width?
Because the first railway lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railway tramways and that’s the gauge they used.

Right, so why did the tram designers use that gauge?
So the tram builders could use the same jigs and tools that they had used for building horse-drawn carriages.

Okay, why did the horse-drawn carriages have that particular odd wheel spacing?
Because existing English roads were frequently deeply rutted and the ruts were thus spaced. Any other wheel spacing would result in chaotic travelling and broken wheels.

So how did the roads become rutted?
Many roads were originally built by the Romans whose chariots, which had a wheel gauge of 4 feet 8½ inches, wore the ruts. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

Wait! Let's take this to the bitter end. Why did the Romans use a gauge of 4 feet 8½ inches?
Because Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses.

The Space Shuttle had two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters which were manufactured by a company in Utah. The engineers who designed the boosters would have preferred to make them a bit fatter but they had to be transported to the launch site by rail and that railway passed through a tunnel ... Can you see where this is going? The tunnel was just wide enough to accommodate trains which ran on rails with a gauge of 4 feet 8½ inches so the design of the amazing Space Shuttle was limited by the width of Roman war horses' backsides.

You know, it's just bizarre enough to be true.

Mount Kosciuszko has a rather bizarre story too

In 1840 Australia's second highest mountain was named by the Polish-born explorer Paul Edmund Strzelecki in honour of a Polish General, Tadeusz Kościuszko. Strzelecki was under the misapprehension that the mountain he climbed was Australia's highest peak. Oops, it must have been a bit embarrassing when later measurements revealed it to be slightly lower than its neighbour. The peak Strzelecki conquered we today know as Mount Townsend. What to do, what to do?

Totally unphased, the New South Wales Lands Department came up with an easy solution. They just swapped the names so Mount Townsend (named after Assistant Surveyor-General Townsend) became Mount Kosciuszko and vice versa. Problem solved - though this introduced a few anomalies. For example, the 1863 picture by Eugene von Guerard hanging in the National Gallery of Australia entitled Northeast view from the northern top of Mount Kosciusko is actually from Mount Townsend.

If you have keen eyes you may have noticed the spelling of the mountain's name in the picture title. Poor old Mount Kosciuszko not only had its name changed for expedience, but for many years it was spelt incorrectly as Kosciusko. In fact, it frequently still is. The spelling "Mount Kosciuszko" was officially adopted in 1997 by the Geographical Names Board of New South Wales.

Is Mount Kosciuszko Australia's highest mountain? Yes ... and no. What we today know as Mount Kosciuszko is the highest mountain on the Australian mainland and Tasmania but in 1933 the United Kingdom placed what is now Australian Antarctic Territory under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia. In that Territory is a peak called Mount McClintock which is higher than Mount Kosciuszko. So after 1933 Mount McClintock became Australia's highest mountain while Mount Kosciuszko remains the highest mountain in Australia.

To complicate matters further, there is an ice dome in Australian Antarctic Territory called Dome Argus whose altitude exceeds that of Mount McClintock. Does an ice dome count as the highest ground? Then there is controversy over whether Paul Edmund Strzelecki actually did climb and name Kosciuszko or was he on Townsend all the time ... and does it really matter?

To end, a spot of trivia. The postcode of the Australian Antarctic Territory is 7151. You never know when you might need it.

We're on the move again ... back to Temora

It took two aircraft events to drag us away from the Governor's Hill Carapark in Goulburn where we were very happy. Peter and Karen Lyne, the managers, are such lovely people; they made us feel totally comfortable. The permanent residents at the park were also very friendly people. Hello to Cheryl, John and Coral, Stuart, Matthew, Andrew and all the others whose names have slipped through the cracks in my wonky memory. You all made the park feel like home. We also loved the town of Goulburn; we came for two weeks, stayed for two months and enjoyed every day.

PM and trains

Departure morning. Saying farewell to my favourite of the 'G' Class trains. I hope they behave when we're gone.

The two aviation events were to turn into three and then four. The first was the annual fly-in of the Antique Aeroplane Association of Australia (A.A.A.A.) which held a national fly-in at Temora Airfield to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

Even as I write a heavy morning mist has lifted but is hanging low over the airfield. The grass is soaking. There is an incoming aircraft circling above the overcast but with wall to wall cloud the pilot can't find a hole to descend through yet. I expect he or she has one eye on the fuel and a plan to divert if the cloud persists.

Later: It took a while for the cloud to break up but then old aircraft began arriving one after another. I expect they were all sitting on a clear airfield not too far away waiting for the word from Temora. All day long they took off and landed; the noise was almost continuous. There was the heavy rumble from large, slow revving radial engines and the ear-splitting crackle from high revving propeller blades as their tips went supersonic and ... everything in-between. There was only one turbine-powered aircraft present, a converted Cessna Bird Dog from Italy called a SIAI Marchetti SM-1019.

SIAI Marchetti SM-1019

This old fashioned design - the Bird Dog first flew in 1949 - had an impressive performance with its turboprop engine.
It was built in 1976 and scorned the full length of the runway, lifting off in under 150 metres from a standstill!

The largest aircraft present was a de Havilland Dragon Rapide of 1944 vintage.

de Havilland Dragon Rapide

The Dragon Rapide first appeared in 1934. It could fly at 250 km/hr and carried (typically) eight passengers.
Who needs an Airbus 380 with 853 seats? This is real flying.

The strangest looking aircraft at the fly-in was an amateur-built Cozy Mark IV ...

Cozy Mark IV

In case you're wondering, this Cozy Mk IV is facing left in both pictures. The 'pusher' propeller is on the back and the nose wheel is retracted when the aircraft is parked; an attitude sometimes known as 'grazing'. Parked thus it is very stable and capable of withstanding quite high wind speeds.

The Cozy is not a kit aeroplane, the builder constructs most of it from readily available materials using plans from the U.S. designer. It can climb to 20,000 feet and cruises at 350 km/hr with a range of 1,850 kilometres. It can seat three passengers in addition to the pilot. The canard wing arrangement makes the Cozy almost immune to stalling. The aircraft in the picture was built in 2004 and was a visitor at the fly-in.

The second aviation event will be the Temora Aviation Museum's regular Showcase Day which is scheduled for the Saturday after the A.A.A.A. fly-in.

The third event will be NatFly. Two weeks after the Museum's Showcase Day, NatFly, the largest recreational aviation event in Australia, will take place over the Temora airfield from 17th to 20th April 2014. As we've never attended NatFly before we don't know what to expect.

A week later the final aviation event is an airshow to be held at Mudgee, 390 kilometres to the north. We have attended an airshow there before and it was excellent so we're looking forward to the next one, aren't we Pam? Pam! Are you awake?

A Trip to Gundagai

The little New South Wales town of Gundagai (pronounced as Gunder Guy) has a distinctive name made famous by the folk song, The Road To Gundagai. The song itself became famous when it was adopted as the theme tune for the tremendously popular radio series Dad and Dave which was broadcast before the days of television; in fact before I was born. Although the radio series actually had no link to Gundagai other than its theme tune, this little town has taken ownership of it and milks it for all it's worth. It even has statues of the characters from the radio serial outside the Tourist Information Centre. Or rather, the sculptor's idea of what they might have looked like.

Sculptures of Dad, Dave, Mum and Mabel

Dad, Dave, Mum and Mabel now belong to Gundagai.

I can't say we were terribly taken with the town centre which exhibited the same sad decay we've seen in so many country towns - quiet streets, empty shops and peeling paint. Even the café where we stopped for lunch was dismal and not overly friendly. The fact that there were sprays of flowers and the photograph of a man in one corner of the counter accompanied by a burning candle did nothing to cheer the atmosphere. A walk around the town only served to confirm our opinion.

However, the Tour Director decided we should visit one of two local look-out points before we left Gundagai and from there things improved.

Gundagai from southern look-out

View from the south lookout. Gundagai covers the slope of the facing hill. Crossing the green flood plain are two disused bridges. The left bridge carried a railway, the right a road. Both are now tourist attractions.

Once upon a time the old road bridge would have been the main thoroughfare into Gundagai but the dual bridges of the Hume Highway superceded it, allowing all through traffic to bypass the town.

Hume Highway

The Hume Highway passes to the west on its dual concrete carriageways.

We saw a sign to the old railway station which is supposed to be open to the public but, not surprisingly, wasn't. However, we were able to wander around outside. The tracks are still there but rusty with disuse. The line ran from Cootamundra via Gundagai to Tumut. It opened as far as Gundagai in 1886 and to Tumut in 1903. The line was finally abandoned when sections near Cootamundra were damaged by floods in 1984.

Gundagai Station

Though the railway station was neat, clean and well maintained, the tracks beyond told the true story.

An attraction worth seeing in Gundagai is known as the Marble Masterpiece - a fitting name. It was constructed over a period of twenty eight years by a stonemason called Frank Rusconi. The Masterpiece is a miniature cathedral made from 20,948 individual pieces of marble, each cut, turned and polished by hand. The marble was sourced from various places according to the colour required.

The Marble Masterpiece is on display at the Visitor Information Centre and is encased in a glass cabinet. The choice of location to display such a magnificent work is shamefully inadequate; the plain brick wall behind it doesn't set it off at all and the brick colour blends rather than contrasts with the Marble Masterpiece - see photo below. Given the beauty of this creation, it would be really nice if somebody occasionally cleaned the cabinet's glass. Photography is hard given the placing of the many floodlights which inevitably resulted in reflections in the glass in front, behind and to the sides of the miniature.

Miniature Marble Cathedral

I hope this unsatisfactory image gives you some idea of the intricacy of this Marble Masterpiece.
The picture on the wall shows the creator of the Masterpiece, Frank Rusconi.

To the right of the picture is a miniature altar also made by Frank Rusconi from marble. Its design was taken from an actual cathedral whereas the main work was built from plans in Rusconi's head; nothing was ever committed to paper.

A rather strange legend associated with Gundagai developed from a poem written by a bullock driver some time before 1857 when it first appeared in print. The name of the poem was Bullocky Bill and the subject was a dog which sat on its owner's tuckerbox (lunch box). A later poem by Jack Moses drew on the original poem for inspiration and was published in the 1920s. It caught on and inspired Jack O'Hagan's song, Where the Dog Sits on the Tuckerbox. The stonemason who built the Marble Masterpiece, Frank Rusconi, suggested a memorial be commissioned and four years later the community backed the idea and the sculpture of the dog (pictured below) was commissioned. It was positioned five miles to the north of Gundagai and unveiled by the Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons, on 28 November 1932 as a tribute to pioneers.

The tourist brochure states that Jack O'Hagan's song immortalised the legend putting Gundagai firmly on the world map. The more I read of this story the more bemused I become.

Dog on a Tucker Box

Even if the dog ever existed and did sit on a tuckerbox, why build a shrine to it and have a P.M. unveil it?
There must be something I'm missing.

Before leaving Gundagai, let me tell you a little of its early history. The town originally sprang up around a ford in the Murrumbidgee River and developed across the flood plain which was bordered on the south side by the Murrumbidgee and on the north by Morleys Creek. You wouldn't think a degree in town planning would be necessary to convince a person that this was not an ideal location. The phrase 'flood plain' might have been a clue. Despite warnings from the Wiradjuri Aboriginal people that the area periodically flooded, the building continued and Gundagai was gazetted in 1840.

One night in 1852 the Murrumbidgee broke its banks and furious flood water raged through the town. Trapped between the two flooding waterways of the Murrumbidgee and Morleys Creek, more than eighty people drowned and much of the town was wiped out. Had it not been for the heroic rescue efforts of several Aboriginal men, the death toll would have been much greater.

The town was rebuilt on the slopes either side of the flood plain. In the late 1800s Gundagai prospered when gold was discovered and around the turn of the century the railway arrived. Now the gold and the railway have gone and the Hume Highway takes road traffic past the town. It desperately needs a focal point to attract visitors, or industry to revitalise it; it is tired and unfortunately doesn't hide it well.

A Temora Aviation Museum Showcase Day

They advertised that the Sabre, Spitfire, Wirraway and Hudson would fly and rumour had it that a visiting Kittyhawk would also fly. The cloud was low and rain constantly threatened but in the main it was dry.

The Lockheed Hudson was the first to fly, piloted by Doug Hamilton. Its large radial engines belched smoke as they were started.

Lockheed Hudson Engine Start

Smoke belching from the Hudson's starboard engine as it catches. Note the gigantic gun turret on top of the fuselage.

This is the only remaining flying Hudson in the world. It was built in 1939 and has been restored to excellent condition. Doug Hamilton, as always, gave a good display.

Next was supposed to be the Wirraway however the pilot, after taxiing to the end of the runway for take off, changed his mind and taxied back. The commentator explained that it was raining down at the end of the runway and "rain is very abrasive - it would damage the paint on the wing leading edge and engine cowling".

Fortunately Doug Hamilton decided to fly the Mark 16 Spitfire instead; a bit of drizzle in the distance wasn't going to keep Doug on the ground. The low overcast cramped his display a little but it was still excellent and he managed a lovely barrel roll without troubling the cloud. What a fantastic sound the Spitfire makes! The day I hear a Merlin engine without getting goose bumps you'll know I'm dead.

Doug Hamilton and the Mk 16 Spitfire

Doug Hamilton, helmet in hand, says a few words to the crowd in front of the Spitfire.

It was the Sabre I was particularly waiting to see but this display, too, was cancelled due to a few puddles on the runway and the low cloudbase. It was explained that the Sabre doesn't have anti-lock brakes and landing on a wet runway is dangerous. Squadron Leader Paul Simmons, who flies the Sabre, normally holds the nose high on landing to assist the airbrakes to kill speed and reduce wear on the wheel brakes. Runway 05/23 is over 2 kilometres long and 30 metres wide. It was completed ten years ago at a cost of $3.8 million. And a l'il ol' Sabre can't land on it 'cos of a few puddles?

So that was the end of the flying display. The Wirraway and Sabre didn't fly and the rumoured Kittyhawk never showed. The $20 entrance fee got the crowd a display of two aircraft. Thank God for Doug Hamilton; he flew them both! Blaming the weather was pretty weak. No effort was made to wait for an improvement, everything was pushed into the hangar with, what seemed to me, undue haste. A $10 refund in the form of a voucher to be used at a future Showcase Day would have been appropriate, Temora.

A couple of hours later the cloud had broken up, the sun was shining and we saw the Wirraway take off. We hoped it wouldn't rain before it returned - wouldn't want to spoil the paint.

One very interesting feature of the day was the presence of a WW II Spitfire pilot. Sergeant Pilot Vernon Lancaster, aged ninety six, flew with 611 Squadron of the R.A.F. and had been awarded the D.F.C. He was interviewed by the commentator over the public address system and found himself a little out of his depth, poor chap. After lengthy questions the microphone would be pushed in front of him and after a long pause he would reply very briefly. To the commentator it must have felt like pulling teeth.

Vernon Lancaster DFC

Vern Lancaster D.F.C. chats for a video, April 2014.

Vernon Lancaster DFC

Vern in a 611 Squadron photo taken around May 1943.

As usual on Showcase Day, the Museum's maintenance hangar was opened to the public after the flying finished. There was a disassembled Rolls Royce Merlin V12 engine on display on a rack. I took this photo of one of its two huge cylinder heads, placing a 20 cent coin (arrowed in red) next to it to give scale.

Merlin Cylinder Head

No wonder the Spitfire has a bite with two of these under its bonnet.

Parked Sabre

The parked C.A.C. Sabre. Ever wonder what you'd see if you shone a light down its air intake? Wonder no more.

Sabre Air Intake

Looking down the throat of the Sabre to the blades of the first stage of its R.R. Avon compressor.

NatFly 2014

We'd heard so much about NatFly but still didn't really know what it was all about. It was held over the Easter weekend at the Temora Airfield and, since we were here for the Antique Aeroplane Association's fly-in and had stayed on for the Aviation Museum's Showcase, it seemed only natural to stay two more weeks for NatFly.

It turned out to be a national gathering of recreational flyers mixed with an exposition of all things available for sale into this market. There were marquees scattered about the airfield, aircraft for sale, excellent aerobatic displays, vintage cars, market stalls and all to a constant backdrop of little aeroplanes taking off, buzzing around overhead and landing.

Parked Aircraft

I looked to my left . . .

Parked Aircraft

. . . and I looked to my right.

The Aviation Museum wheeled out its Mark 16 Spitfire and gave the crowd a thrilling display of WWII's most memorable fighter going through its paces seventy years on.

Mark 16 Spitfire

Oh, those eliptical wings! They didn't tell us who was flying it; probably Doug Hamilton as David Lowie wasn't there.

On to Mudgee

A few days later we bid farewell to our neighbours at Temora on a morning when everything seemed to go wrong but ... nothing we couldn't handle. C'est la vie, as the French might say. We're always sorry to bid Temora farewell, it's such a friendly town.

The journey to Mudgee was hard on our Pajero as we seemed to be travelling lengthways along the Great Dividing Range with constant steep climbs followed by almost suicidal descents. As always, the Pajero performed faultlessly.

The Mudgee Tourist and Caravan Resort was better than average and made a pleasant base for our stay in the town. As we were there for ANZAC Day we attended the eleven o’clock memorial service which was very relaxed but still ticked all the boxes. There was a Kiwi rugby team visiting which performed the haka with great enthusiasm. The local band was scrappy and often out of tune though occasionally all the musicians did start at the same time. The trumpeter blew a recognisable Last Post and the national flag was raised to the top of the pole in a series of rasping jerks. The kids refused to keep quiet; embarrassed parents made empty threats which the kids ignored.

A woman near us sang very loudly and kept looking at us with disapproval. I don’t know whether Pam was moving her lips – she’d forgotten her cheat sheet – but I heard no sound. I didn’t even pretend, I was admiring the boobs and bums of the sheilas around us. It passed the time very pleasantly, just as it does while pushing a trolley around Woolworths. Pervert? Who, me?

Afterwards we enjoyed a coffee then drove out to the little town of Gulgong and viewed the area from Flirtation Hill Lookout. I wonder where that name came from? Like you, I could guess!

Gulgong's main street originated from the access track between two rows of tents - a tent settlement had sprung up soon after gold was discovered in the area. When buildings replaced the tents it left a very narrow road between them, and so it remains to this day.

Another day ‘Tour Director’ Pam organised a day out which took in many little Midwest towns on a circular route of over 200 kilometres. The first place we visited was the little town of Lue (rhymes with cooee). There we discovered a small, abandoned railway station.

Lue Abandoned Station

Long abandoned Lue Station. I'd love to buy it and convert it into a home.

A wander around revealed that at one time there had been two tracks running through the station, the rotting sleepers of the outer track could still be seen though the steel rails and any points had gone. About one hundred metres from the platform were two levers, one still connected to a square shaft suspended on bearings which led to a bell crank which must have operated one set of points in bygone days. Possibly the second lever had been connected to another set of points allowing a train to divert onto the parallel track so an approaching train from the opposite direction could pass, then exit forward back onto the main line.

Old Points Levers

Why so far from the station, I wonder. Or had there been a signal box here?

I wondered whether the infrastructure had been left intact so that the line could be re-activated at some future date. The road had criss-crossed the line several times and each crossing was still equipped with warning lights although one crossing had been covered with bitumen. I'm not too sure about this old wooden bridge though ...

Lue's old wooden railway bridge

I'm not sure I'd stand under this old wooden bridge while a heavy train crossed overhead.

The line was built to transport wheat and later passengers. While operational it connected Sydney to Mudgee. Today the two hundred kilometre section between Sydney and the country town of Kandos is still maintained and occasionally used, we were told, though possibly only once or twice a year. These tourist trains are hauled by a steam engine when fire risks permit. Beyond Kandos the fifty kilometre section to Mudgee (through Lue) is currently not serviceable but ... it's still there.

As you may have guessed, I love old railways; they have a fascinating atmosphere as if still possessed by the powerful locomotives that had once hauled trains along them, and the characters that manned those locomotives. I think this fascination began when I stood on the platform of Stockport Station in England as a small boy and marvelled how steam pressure alone could force those huge connecting rods forward, turning the giant driving wheels around and moving forward an enormous train that stretched way back along the platform. As I stood staring at the driving parts of the steam loco - yes, that's how old I am - steam suddenly blasted out from somewhere with a tremendous roar, making me jump out of my skin. I looked up at the footplate, my little heart pounding, to see the coal-blackened faces of the driver and fireman grinning down at me. Bastards!

Before leaving Mudgee I had estimated that we had sufficient fuel to complete the drive comfortably, however some additional places of interest/beauty had become slotted in at various Tourist Information Centres. It was about four o'clock when we rolled into Sofala. Due to the overcast, the afternoon was already giving way to dusk. I immediately recognised Sofala as the town where we had previously almost run out of fuel due my error in believing the auxiliary tank was full. Sofala had no service station on that occasion and it still didn't. This prompted me to calculate our current situation. We had just come from Kandos and were on our way to Hill End then Hargrave, surely one of those places would sell fuel. Well, both did – from their General Stores which had closed early. Another careful calculation indicated that we should reach Mudgee with a few litres to spare ... and so it was.

Back in Mudgee we headed for the Woolworths discount fuel outlet and filled up in the mistaken belief that a discount of eight cents per litre would beat any other price in town. Not so! Woolworths base price was considerably higher than everyone elses. So much for loyalty - they seem to have added the discount on so they could take it off again. Even with the 'discount' we could still have bought diesel cheaper at several other service stations in Mudgee. That's one to watch in future!

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