It looked like an ordinary train but it was much more than that.
It’s the 12:04am; the last train to Belgrave departing from Flinder’s Street station and if you miss it it’s a long walk home; about 40 Kms.
We had been refereeing at Albert Park Stadium for more than a decade and, most of the time, there was a car to get us there, but for a couple of years after the cops put my old Kombi off the road we were down to one car. My eldest had stopped refereeing by then but for my youngest and myself it was our sole source of income.
Poorly paid but all cash money and as long as we got to the stadium early enough [most games started at 5:50 pm] we would be rostered on for enough games to make the night worthwhile.
My wife got home too late for us to take the car and she got first dibs on it because she earned more money than I did.
For a variety of reasons the last game could finish quite late and we had to hang around to get paid and either get a lift into the city or catch the last tram.
The 12:04 was legendary and no one in their right mind wanted to willingly catch that train so there was always a mad scramble to catch the the 11:47, the second last train.
The journey took about an hour followed by a fifteen minute walk in the dark so we didn’t need any additional complications.
After running up and down for six games we were pretty tired. We were both senior referees so we usually got the difficult games. By the end of the night we just wanted to go home.
It was inevitable that one night there would be enough complications to force us to catch that train. As it was, we were so held up that we nearly missed it.
The train was packed.
Four minutes into the next day and it was packed!
We were experienced public transport users so we were on our guard. We headed for a group of young ‘suits’ who had obviously stayed back for a few drinks. They looked reasonably harmless and I figured that if anything kicked off the hoons would go for them first leaving us to duck for cover.
The atmosphere in the carriage was was light and happy but I knew that this could change as we went along and picked up more people along the way.
The first surprise came in the form of an accordion player who got on at Richmond and stayed with us till Camberwell. He played his accordion and sang the whole way. Whenever he picked a song that people knew the whole carriage would join in.
It was excellent.
When we got to Camberwell he took a bow and got off the train. He didn’t ask for any money and he got off so quickly that no one thought to offer him any.
The whole carriage waved to him as the train pulled out.
That pretty much set the tone for the journey and new people getting on joined right in.
Now, there is an unwritten law that no one speaks to anyone else on a train in Melbourne but that rule went out the window [so to speak] on this 12:04 to Belgrave.
The conversations were all friendly and mostly in depth. There were some seriously dangerous people on this train but it seemed that the normal rules that applied to the universe had been suspended, just for this journey.
Eventually the train reached Ringwood, which was then and still is a dangerous suburb at night.
The train sat in the station for what seemed like forever and eventually the roughest looking bloke on our carriage leaned out the door and shouted to the driver, “Can we get this fucking train moving before we all get killed.”
That wasn’t his exact words but that’s what he meant and I guess the driver thought that if this particularly tough looking bloke was worried, it was probably time to move.
After Ringwood our happy little bad of misfits started to thin out until we reached Tecoma, the second last stop on the line and there was only Matt and I left in the carriage.
By the time we made it into our home it was nearly 2o’clock in the morning. We were hungry and tired but we talked about our adventure while we ate and finally made it to our beds.
We have often talked about that train ride and the story of it has gone into family folk law.
Sometimes the universe manages to combine certain elements so that you end up with a story that you tell over and over, and so it was with the 12:04 to Belgrave.