Take a journey back in time

My introduction to all things vintage machinery was the annual Hunter Valley Steamfest. This festival has been running for over three decades. I’ll admit I wouldn’t know a tractor from a harvester, but people like me and locomotive enthusiasts alike love all the sights, smells and sounds of Steamfest. Held over a weekend in April it always draws a huge crowd.

There is loads for kids to see and do at Steamfest. Rides, roving performances, interactive activities and historic displays are experiences they’ll never forget. When I attended the festival as a child, riding on the mini train was the coolest thing ever. Adults will do lots of reminiscing. Steamfest brings different types of passenger trains out of retirement. For me the old red rattler took me right back to being 18. I still remember the small caged glowing red heaters, leather seats and overwhelming noise from the engine as we shuffled along the track. Steamfest is also a great excuse to spend time with friends and family over great food and machinery. Seeing my dad gush over the annual Show ‘n’ Shine is always amusing. An impressive showcase of some 400 classic cars mixed with rock ‘n’ roll entertainment, I can understand his excitement especially for the Jaguars. A good tip for the weekend is to get in early and snag a ticket for a ride on the steam trains. It’s the heart and soul of the weekend and is a not to be missed experience. Every year children’s excited faces crowd the windows to take in the best view but my favourite place to be is the buffet car. I wish every train adventure came with the opportunity to enjoy a hot pie or sausage roll.

Skilled lovers of all things driven by oil or steam demonstrate the uses of somewhat alien machines throughout Steamfest. In an age where things are not built to last and repairing is a
thing of the past, seeing these pieces of history still working as well as they did when they were first made is incredibly impressive. It’s a great day for kids to enjoy some educational fun encouraging preservation of the past and to get involved in history.

Steamfest whet my appetite for the pageantry of railway machinery and Maitland has two fantastic museums dedicated to all things locomotive. I discovered a place that I regularly drive past is actually the Maitland Rail Museum. Railway machinery out the front displays their passion for preserving and showcasing railway history from their warehouse in Telarah. I was keen to know more and attended their open day which takes place on the first Sunday of each month. This interpretative museum promotes and displays their collection of acquired machinery to the delight of keen crowds. The day felt low key and friendly so I didn’t feel silly asking what were probably very elementary questions to the resident historians. The museum has a particular focus on the significant South Maitland Railway which helped shape the industrial and cultural heritage of Maitland. The museum can also open its doors by request during the week for group visits and have a pop up museum tent at Steamfest every year.

At the open day a visitor recommended Richmond Vale Railway Museum. The next Sunday we jumped in the car and drove four kilometres south of Kurri Kurri for more locomotive action. With the only operating heritage railway north of the Hawkesbury, there are full sized and miniature train rides to enjoy. The museum opens on the first three Sundays of each month and every school holiday Sunday. I was also pleased to see their selection of special events throughout the year including the Family Fun Fest and the intriguingly titled Cranky Handle Rally. Taking place at the Richmond Vale Rail Museum and hosted over the last three decades by the Hunter Valley Vintage Farm Machinery Club. I don’t think I’ll ever see as many tractors in my life and people taking selfies with the row of red, white and rusty mechanical farm hands. There are train rides both large and small and that’s how I cap off my visit. Simultaneously delighting in a soft serve from a pink Mr Whippy truck and enjoying the aroma from the sausage sizzle.

I’m a professed novice of all things railway. But Steamfest, the Maitland Rail Museum and Richmond Vale Railway Museum have given me an appreciation for industrial treasures. I
met people with loads of enthusiasm for sharing their knowledge and have a greater admiration for the importance of railways. However, I still don’t know what a cranky handle is.

Story by Genevieve Graham