The 9:27am Intercity Express from Central to Kiama was due to depart.
At the last moment a young Corporal from the Australian Army jumped on the train. The carriage door closed shut behind him, almost catching his gear.
“Saved again,” he thought. He walked up a couple of steps to the upper level of the carriage, threw his pack on a single seat and slumped down with a sigh on the other single seat. The “Oscar” train moved out of the platform.
At first he sat with the back to the front of the train but after a moment of deliberation, he got up, turned the back of the seat around and sat down, facing the front of the carriage.
Across the aisle was an old couple sitting on a three seater bench and as the old man looked up to him the soldier said with a smile, “Force of habit. One can’t be too careful.”
“You think you are in a war zone?” the old man asked.
“Can’t shake the habit – must look where I’m going,” the soldier answered.
“Good habit to have as a soldier,” the old man said and went back to the book he was reading. The train was picking up speed as it was heading through the southern suburbs to Hurstville.
A hot day was forecast and the morning heat made the soldier sweat from the combined effect of the heat and carrying his heavy pack. He hoped the air-conditioned train would cool him down soon. But the old women didn’t like the air-conditioning and cuddled up to her husband searching for warmth. She had put an extra jumper on. She shut her eyes and was soon asleep. Her husband kept reading his book.
Soon after Sutherland the train travelled through open, bush like country. The soil was poor and only small shrubs could be seen.
“Good place for the Taliban to hide,” the soldier was thinking. But he dismissed the thought and was thinking of his parents’ place down at Bombo where he had grown up. Bombo has a beautiful beach at a bay opposite the town of Kiama. The beach was often visited by dolphins. He fondly remembered how he had been surfing with the dolphins side by side. That seemed to have been in another life time, Those were the days.
After Waterfall the train line is snaking through the now more forest like bush. It is part of the National Park with tall trees and other thick vegetation. Sometimes, and when one looked hard enough, one could see Rock Wallabies. But today was not the day.
As the soldier looked across through the opposite window he noticed the old man seemed to be somehow distressed., grabbing his forehead and then getting a handkerchief out of his pocket with which he wiped his nose and eyes.
“Are you okay, Old-timer?” he asked the old man.
“I’m getting a bit emotional reading this book,” he said and turned the cover of the book to the soldier forgetting it was printed in German. The soldier looked and squinted a bit as he was not able to read what he saw. But he could make out an air plane and bombs falling on a city.
“It must be a good read if it grabs you that much.”
“No. no,” The old man said, “it is a collection of stories by eyewitnesses and reminds me of a time, nearly seventy years ago, when I was a child in Berlin during the war and had similar experiences.”
“What, World War II?”
“Yes, it was a bad time for us civilians too. But, I was not afraid then, even so it was sometimes horrific. But reading the accounts in this book brings it all back with a whammy. I’m more afraid now realising what happened to us then.”
“It is like flash backs, isn’t it? Some of my mates get that after some action.”
“You have been to Afghanistan?” the old man asked.
“Yes, I’m just back from Uruzgan Province. It is bitter cold up there now. But during the heat of summer the bloody Taliban add to our discomfort. – Sorry, the Poms gave you a hard time during the war.”
“Not only the Poms, Australians too were manning those Lancasters, for Bomber Command. During the night the RAF came and during the day the Americans bombed the hell out of us. I can still hear the drone of the bombers, B 17, high up in the sky.”
The train was approaching Otford now, a settlement in a beautiful valley. On one side horses were grazing peacefully. The slopes of the valley were covered with tall Eucalyptus trees.
“Its good to come home to such a green environment after the dry desert of Afghanistan,” said the soldier and waved his hand towards the green scenery that passed by the train window. After a couple of tunnels the vista opened towards the sea and a waterfall tumbled, after the recent rain, under them from the escarpment to their right. After another bend they could see the small beach at Stanwell Park.
“Look, Soldier.” the old German said and his wife woke up to have a look too.
“This is absolutely beautiful and we both enjoyed this view every time we passed here during the last sixty years or so.”
“Sixty years? You are a fair dinkum Aussies then! I’m only twenty eight and not much happened to me yet. Except that the Taliban have taken some pot shots at me.”
“I’m happy you survived, and Germans are not shooting at Australians any more. In fact they are in Afghanistan too.”
“My Granddad was on Crete during the war, fighting the Germans.”
“And my Dad was there too, probably fighting your Pop.”
“There you are,” the soldier said and they were both laughing.
After Thirroul the train picked up speed and was fast approaching Wollongong.
The old couple prepared to get off there. When the train stopped the soldier jumped up and gave the old man his hand.
“It was nice to have met you, Mate,” he said
“Thanks soldier, look after yourself.”
When he and his wife were on the platform he said to her: “A nice young man and a good soldier. Australia can be proud to have people like him.”