The Sydney Park Hotel is a beautiful pub. Sitting above St Peters Train Station overlooking the Illawarra Line, its location and warm, benevolent spirit somehow magically combine to have you holding a cold schooner before you’ve even stepped off the train and past the screens.
As a people, we have found ourselves captivated lately by trains and screens.
In the first week of the year was The Ghan, the ‘slow-tv’ documentary that condensed the 54-hour trip between Adelaide and Darwin into three hours – no voiceovers, no dialogue. Just the train and the land. It was a national hit. We love trains! we cried as one. They are majestic! We would all love nothing more than to be on a train for 54 hours! The website crashed under the weight of so many people rushing to pay thousands of dollars to do so. It was a glorious moment. In fractured times, the nation agreed that trains were the bloody tits.
It wasn’t to last. Two days later, Sydney’s train system finally went to full shit. The transport minister called it an ‘act of God’, which is exactly the kind of ego you’d expect from a Liberal MP.
The rather fair request was made by workers that an entire city’s daily timetable not be 45 per cent dependent on them pulling gruelling, Ghan-esque amounts of overtime, and that they should get to earn the same wage as their cohorts in Brisbane and Melbourne. God refused, so the union won the right to take protected industrial action.
In the end it was all deemed so outrageous, so offensive, so not in the unifying spirit of The Ghan, that that right, for every Australian worker, was tied to the tracks and scattered for miles by a bloke with the last name Hamberger. Eyes were glued to phones and TVs as the shock spread and wide-eyed eulogies were attempted. Massive delays expected, due to a fatality on the line.
I’m containing my grief as best I can, and the calm, sunlit embrace of the Sydney Park Hotel is soothing me better than others could. I’m so angry it’s paralysing, but the staff are lovely and I can’t bring myself not to smile for them. I sit in the window and watch as trains race between the mural wall and the frangipani on the platform below. I resolve to convince everyone I know to join their union.
The One Day International against England plays on the screen to my left, and if that isn’t a metaphor in these Ashes/Big Bash-dichotomy days, then I don’t know what is. I’d love to make some kind of clever joke about a ‘Starc contrast’, but the selectors don’t give a shit about broader narrative devices, and selfishly play Mitchell Starc in all three. There was a streaker in this match, which brings us all together in a chuckle.
We lose, of course. We knew we would in the end, but the extent of just how much we lost still bruises and stings.
The Sunday roast here is close to perfect and they play good songs that, regardless of era, make you feel things from whenever was for you a better time. You can drink some brews from the can if you want, just like in the old days when they first decided to start caring if you died on the job or not.
Heading out, it’s hot – was there ever a time when it wasn’t? – and I’m exhausted. I fall asleep on the train and miss my stop by miles, but it’s fine, I guess. The industrial action was banned, after all. There will be plenty of trains to take me home.
Sydney Park Hotel, corner of King and Lord Street, St Peters. Phone (02) 9557 1188