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How Phillip Hughes' death moved the nation

  • 05 December 2014

V Line is Victoria’s country rail service and nearly twenty years ago I was a regular customer travelling into the city from the then rural outpost of Little River. In those days, with its rickety carriages and freelance attitude to the niceties of timetables, the V Line service was often the butt of some unkind humour to which, on occasions, I would contribute. 

Much has changed in the new century. The carriages are comfortable; the locomotives sleekly try – but don’t manage – to imitate the dashing look of European fast trains, and the general ambience is pleasant. Timetabling remains contentious partly because some of the rails are dodgy and partly because every now and then there are ‘delays’ for this or that inscrutable reason.

There was no delay on Thursday last week, however, when my wife and I sprinted the length of Southern Cross Station’s Platform 3A to get a fingernail on the last carriage on 3B before it eased out into the sun bound for distant hinterlands and coasts and, as far as we were concerned, home. 

Well, when I say ‘sprinted’ – I doggedly jogged dragging the case on wheels bulging with the things my wife regarded as essential for what had been an overnight stay, while she followed with a relentless metre-devouring pace uninfluenced by repeated announcements that the train was about to leave. When I reached the doorway to the last carriage, I stood with one foot on the step, as if pinning the whole massive caravanserai to the spot, and waved gratefully to the guard a train’s length away, who must have convinced the driver not to shut the doors until my wife arrived – which, breathless, she duly did, and we tumbled aboard.

We collapsed into the first available seats gasping and smiling, as you do when trying to look as if this last-second arrival was all part of your normal train-catching routine and didn’t merit the briefly curious glances of the other, settled and ensconced travellers. Doors beeped and slid noisily shut. The train rocked, shuddered and rolled out into the sunlight.  

For a while we both silently watched the passing scenery – graffiti-scrawled brick walls, rusty-roofed factories, abandoned boilers, overgrown rails going nowhere, all giving way slowly to backyards with their fleetingly glimpsed tomato bushes, half-dismantled cars, sagging, corrugated-iron chook pens, hills hoists flying flags of shirts, underwear and towels, luxuriant broad-leafed