5 December 2019

The Woodline Picnic - Sons of Gwalia Mine, 1948.


The following is an extract from unpublished manuscript "Pages From a life" by D,B.-Wignall. 2010 C. I found this in Norma King's collection. It is a well-written piece that paints a vivid picture.

The Woodline Trains of Sons of Gwalia Mine. Image from http://www.gwalia.org.au/ckfinder/userfiles/files/Gwalia%20Newsletter%20-%20June%202015.pdf
With the advent of spring came the excitement of the annual wood-line picnic.

The narrow-gauge railway line which extended from the townsite of Gwalia into the hinter-land followed the camps of the timber cutters in their pursuit of supplying bush timber to burn in the ever-hungry boilers of the Sons of Gwalia mine. The picnic was put on by the mine and everybody was invited. On the chosen Saturday the whole town turned out in holiday mood and boarded the "train".

Each wooden trolley was furnished with a plump bag of oats at either end to provide comfortable seating while our feet rested on the wooden floor.

Great was the excitement when the little steam engine sounded its toots and the adventure began.

Off we set at a leisurely pace winding our way through the lightly timbered park-land. It must have been a good season, for carpets of wildflowers decked our way and we enjoyed a 360-degree panoramic view. Patches of pink, white and yellow daisies spread before us as far as the eye could see. Every so often cries of "oos" and "ahs" spontaneously greeted the sight of patches of the spectacular Sturt's desert pea with its blood-red and black standards glistening above its jade-green foliage hiding the ochre red earth beneath.

As if in response to an unspoken request, some of the young lads vaulted from their seats and gathered up some of the choice blooms of spider orchids which they presented to the girl of their choice while running alongside the moving train. It was all very Arcadian with high spirits reflecting the intoxicating splendour of this glorious spring day.

In no time we arrived at our picnic spot and willing hands soon set up the barbecues and the trestle tables were covered with sizzling steaks sausages and fresh buns. The old hands tapped the kegs and passed round the drinks, ginger beer for the children and chilled ale for the adults. Someone was playing the accordion and Neapolitan songs were being crooned to the accompaniment as rugs were spread in family groups. There was inclusiveness which embraced everyone.

A gentle land breeze kept the bush flies at bay as we enjoyed a generous repast in this land of peace and plenty. Following the eating and drinking, many stretched out for a nap while the ever-energetic small fry explored their surroundings.

Before the tea and cakes came, the games, foot races and the traditional tug of war with the ethnic groups pitting their strength in friendly rivalry accompanied by much mutual bantering. The new arrivals to Australia fleeing the horrors of World War Two had no trouble settling their differences with no recourse to violence.

So ended a memorable day with sun-burnt faces and much bonding.

P.S. Sixty years after this day, I was privileged to attend a reunion of the Gwalia-Leonora Society at the Hyde Park Hotel in Perth. There were about 80 people in attendance and the reunion was a living testament to the community that was forged in that remote mining centre. I was delighted to meet up with some of my former pupils and the people that had welcomed me into their community as a twenty-one-year-old teacher, all those years ago.

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