1977 Granville Rail Disaster

A young woman works as a cashier at the local petrol station. She accepts people’s payment for the fuel (17cents per litre) and fills their tanks while they wait in the car. She gets sexist jibes from the men in their unbuttoned shirts and their hairy chests. They’d suck on their toothpicks under their bushy moustaches and flick their shoulder-length hair in her face, and step out of the car, even though they didn’t need to, she filled the tank for them. They’d hoik up their tight bell-bottomed pants and leer at her, winking from behind their aviators, David Bowie crooning from the car radio.

They paid her in full, but she copped so much slack and attitude from the customers, that every day became an onslaught, a battle to be fought. More than that, she taught herself mechanics; how to change a flat tyre, how to check the oil, how to charge a flat battery. She knew just as much and worked just as hard, if not harder, than her male colleagues and got paid so much less.

She needed a new job. She looked through the newspaper for any job advertisements. Maybe she could go to university and get an education, thanks to Whitlam. She just needed to get out of there.

She circled a job in the paper for a secretarial role in an office and made plans to catch the eight o’clock train from Parramatta.  She wanted to ask for the day off, but seeing as though her job was only a casual one, she wasn’t sure she would have a job to go back to, so she pulled a sick day. She was willing to take that risk. She needed a change of environment. She only had practical skills, so she knew she wasn’t equipped for this secretary job, but she’d try anyway.

The evening before the job interview, she had a small get-together with a few friends, to celebrate the moving on, from a grimy motor-shed to greater heights. She prepared some finger food, made skewers of cheese and cabanossi, cocktail onions, gherkins and footy franks. She even prepared some prawn cocktails and pigs in a blanket to nibble on and punch to drink. She could already smell freedom, she could definitely taste it.

The party was wilder than she thought and she overslept her alarm. She ran for the train, long loose hair whipping in the wind. She needed that train, it was freedom. Horns blared as she darted around the traffic standstill, she couldn’t go back to that petrol station, even the thought of oil slick and the smell of diesel made her sick to the core. As she ran down the road, faded Holdens coughed up a choking smog and she just stomached a lungful and kept running.

The red rattler was in sight. She shouldn’t have slept in, she had one too many glasses of punch last night, she should’ve known.

She stopped to buy a ticket, but the man in front of her was taking too long, asking for directions and fumbling in his purse for loose change. She swayed from side to side, biting her lip and watching her wristwatch. Finally, she bought a ticket, ran for the train but- the doors slid shut right in front of her.

With a jolt, the train lurched forward, leaving her on the platform.

She found an empty seat and sat, head in her hands. She could almost smell the grease on them. She knew she had to go back.

She looked up.

Advertised at the bus stop just across the intersection was a Business College. She breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe she could be a clerk after all.

She approached the Business College and took pamphlets to enrol in the summer. She could catch the February intake in a fortnight.

She walked home with a spring in her step.

When she returned that night, she turned the dial on the TV to watch the 6pm edition of the news. The fanfare of ABC trumpets greeted her, but the news anchor was less cheery. With a grim face, he announced that there had been a train crash at Granville, the death toll was uncertain and at least more than 150 people injured. The locomotive had derailed into a bridge, which had then collapsed, crushing the first 3 cars and tipping the rest on its side. The 8am train from Parramatta.


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