Catching up with the Thursday Crew
It takes a large team to run a steam heritage railway and for many of our long-term volunteers, it is the friendships they make on regular shifts that keep them coming back. With the railway intermittently closed throughout the pandemic, Conductor Akbar Hessami took on a new role as Zoom Master, hosting a casual zoom meeting every Thursday at the same time his crew would normally gather for the Station Master’s briefing. Where restrictions have allowed, they’ve also kept in touch with crew members who aren’t on Zoom, having morning tea near Emerald Station or at the Lakeside Visitor Centre Railway Café at Lakeside.
Dropping in on the Thursday crew Zoom, it is obvious that lockdown video conferencing fatigue is yet to set in for the group. There is lively banter amongst old friends. Everyone on the call this week is an experienced volunteer, with Peter Kemp holding the title of the longest serving – having joined the Railway as a volunteer in 1998. Peter was the Station Master at Belgrave when a special train carried the Olympic torch on its way to the 2000 Sydney Games. Each crew member quickly recalls the year they signed up: Reg Olive (2002), Sue McGregor (2009), Akbar Hessami (2012), Stan Edwards (2013), Derek Reed (2014) and Graeme Phillips (2015). Sylvia Condon is the relative newcomer of the team, having started as a Trainee Conductor in 2016.
Their collective experience is impressive. Between them, they cover a gamut of public-facing roles: Conductor, Head Conductor, Booking Officer, Roster Clerk, Station Master. Little wonder the conversation is so energetic. Whether their role is station-based or onboard the train, the common thread is that they all enjoy meeting visitors from across Australia and the world. Good company also helps. The team spirit is strong on Thursdays!
Over time, some of the Thursday crew have dived into training opportunities, taking on multiple roles or coordination duties. Stan’s involvement has been particularly eclectic. He started as a special events volunteer at public events such as the Australian Model Railway Association Train Show and Thomas at the Royal Melbourne Show, playing the ‘Not-So’ Fat Controller, before becoming a Conductor on a more regular basis. Already qualified in three different roles, Stan is now also training as a Guard and Station Master. While breadth of experience is important for some volunteers, others choose to specialise in one role they particularly enjoy. For Sylvia, being a Conductor fits well with her busy lifestyle and still makes her smile!
Volunteering at the Railway is a chance to keep up existing skills in retirement or build confidence while studying. It can also be a complete departure from professional lives or hobbies. Volunteers do not require existing qualifications and all training is provided in house. This means our crews come from all walks of life and aren’t necessarily guided by an interest in trains. This diversity is apparent when we chat to the Thursday crew about their careers and motivations.
Derek: The camaraderie of the Thursday Group is special – working with this group is such fun. I have also volunteered in the workshop restoring NGG16, which is now in service, as well as the museum at Menzies Creek. The opportunity to do a variety of things interests me; you meet such a variety of people.
Sylvia: The Thursday crew are a great group of caring people who help me to stay sane. I’m also motivated by the joy of passengers, particularly children when they see and hear Puffing Billy for the first time, and it is wonderful to watch them on the open carriages.
Graeme: I love the whole experience learning about the history of the railway, and meeting and talking to a wide range of people about their roles – in particular, the group I work with on Thursdays.
Peter: I’m looking forward to getting back on the Railway soon and reuniting with all the people involved.
Reg: I enjoy my role on Puffing Billy working with my crew, meeting passengers, hearing where they come from and answering their questions.
Akbar: I am mostly motivated by the friendship and being with like-minded people who share similar values.
Stan: I enjoy the comradeship of the team and meeting people from all over the world.
Sue: I have formed a lot of friendships over the years and still keep in contact with some people who have left the Railway.
Thank you to members of the Thursday crew who generously shared their stories. The volunteers featured in this story are part of a wider team that supports Puffing Billy Railway on Thursdays, both on the platform and behind the scenes. Every day of the week, volunteers bring their time, effort and passion to Puffing Billy Railway. They breathe life to our living museum – and so can you!
Ready to join our volunteer crew?
Prior qualifications are not essential to begin your volunteer journey with us. All training is provided along the way. Starting as a Passenger Guide will prepare you for a variety of volunteer roles at Puffing Billy Railway. Once you have gained some experience on the platform, you may choose to progress to other station-based roles or join the onboard crew as a Conductor or Guard. Learn more about volunteering with us today.