The sun disappeared behind a cloud as Ruby and Annie stood waiting on Williamstown Station. Although it was early Autumn, the cold winds of Bass Strait were making their presence felt. In ten minutes they would be in the warmth of the train, out of the biting wind.
The nature of their journey did not become clear to Ruby until she bought the tickets the day before. The stationmaster had brought out a map of Australia to show her where she was going.
“From here you will travel to Spencer Street Station. That only takes half an hour. Then you catch the steam train to Albury on the NSW border. The NSW gauge is narrower so you have to get on another train to Sydney. Then from Sydney you go up the NSW coast to the border at Wallangarra. Once you’re in Queensland the railway line gets narrower still so you need to get another train to Brisbane. Then from Brisbane it’s a 17 hour trip to Charleville.
The journey would take up to a week and cover 1,700 miles.
The stationmaster assured her she would be able to get food along the way as the train stopped for that very purpose.
“You’d be better getting a sleeper,” he suggested but when Ruby saw how much it would cost she opted for a regular seat.
“With any luck you’ll get a compartment to yourself and you and the lass can stretch out and have a sleep,” said the stationmaster. He eyed the two with concern.
“Family problems?” he asked, not realising how close to the mark he was.
“My mother lives there. She’s very ill.” Ruby realised she was lying again. She was getting good at this. At least Annie was too young to know what she was saying.
Some instinct, maybe it was wishful thinking, made Ruby step outside the station and look down the street towards the Workshops. In the increasing gloom she strained her eyes, hoping to see the person who could, even now, convince her to stay.
“Train’s coming,” called the stationmaster.
Ruby gathered her bags and with Annie on her hip, left her married life behind her.