Festival of Steam, Thirlmere, NSW, 5th March 2017

Locomotive 3642, built 1926. Preparing for the Thirlmere to Sydney trip, 5 March 2017.
I joined Transport Heritage NSW after a steam train came through Gunning last winter. We headed off this morning without umbrellas after looking at the 11% rain prediction on Google Weather. And then it began to pour.

By the time we got to Thirlmere, the rain had settled in. It was a bit of a walk from where we parked to the entrance. But we were lucky enough to buy reasonably priced umbrellas at the markets and, once I was sure my camera and my bag were all fine, the atmosphere of the festival started to work its magic on me.

The weather was a real downer. It was horrible. We wanted to visit the potter on the main stretch of the festival, but the footpath was a flowing creek that was impassable. Had the weather been fine, this would have been one of the best festivals I have been to in regional Australia. Hopefully next year it will be better, because I will be going back.

We had planned on driving to Picton for lunch, but the rain threw a spanner in the works. The festival was in full swing despite the rain, and we treated ourselves to a "Spartan Yiros", a Greek sandwich, from one of the many food stalls. It was delicious. Food included Korean, Turkish, Danish, and Asian, and there were stores selling model trains and clothes and all sorts of things.

There was a real vibe. Despite the rain, quite a few people turned out in their steam-punk finery. And the sound of steam engines and whistles amid old-timey music kept our spirits up as we headed towards the displays.

At the entrance, the Blues Preachers were playing. These guys didn't stop the whole time we were there and they were great. I love old-timey mountain music and they have the look and sound down pat. I bought two of their albums, Dead Catz Can Bounce and Dry So Long. The Blues Preachers completed a weekend of great music for us. We listened to it all the way home in the car.

As we entered the pavilion at Trainworks, we were greeted by a display of "steam train art". I bought a couple of postcards depicting steam trains in historical Australian settings. There were reasonably priced prints and some original oil paintings for sale. Check out www.steamtrainart.com.au if this style of art is your thing. I particularly liked the fly-fishing scenes.

Locomotive 2705 at Thirlmere Station
The highlight of the trip was the steam train ride to Buxton. Locomotive 2705 did the honours to Buxton (about 9km away), and the trailing diesel electric brought us back. The carriages were period six seaters in all their faded glory.

It took about 40 minutes or so for the round trip, but nobody really noticed. Despite the rain, every train trip at the festival was sold out. Spectators lined the track all the way along the route to take photos and wave as the lucky passengers rolled on by.

Click play below to hear the 2705's steam whistle.

There were other steam engines on display, including a model train setup with fully functioning, small-scale (shoebox size) steam engines, work trucks, showbags and show rides for children, in addition to the permanent collection at Trainworks.

There were a handful of classic work vehicles on display
If you missed the festival but are interested in what is happening in this space, there is an online exhibition from Transport Heritage NSW, and don't forget the National Film and Sound Archive's Public Transport online collection.

If the weather had been good, this would easily have been the best festival in regional Australia. I hope the effort for next year's festival remains undiminished, as I intend to be there again.

But book your ticket for the Festival of Steam early if you want to take a ride on the steam train. And if you are an enthusiast, support a worthy heritage project and join Transport Heritage NSW.

Part of the permanent collection at Thirlmere