There is a place I often dream about. Not exactly a place, because it has many forms, but I know its the same dream. It is away from the capital city, sometimes far, sometimes close. There is always a train, and that’s how I know it. The train goes through a quiet landscape. It’s grassy plains or around the river of a bushy national park. It follows the coast or a river or neither. The train itself is never new, never shiny and modern, usually just a rail car of a couple of carriages. It may even be a tram in origin, if not in fact.
It’s the end of a branch line.
The location is Australia. It’s Rockhampton in the mid-eighties, Newcastle when the train ran to the city centre, it’s Yeppoon with its old train line or tiny Keppel Sands which never had one. It’s Kurnell which never was. Or it’s a hidden suburb down a non-existent turnoff a bit further along our road.
Wherever it is, the city has a few characteristics. It’s old, a bit run down and it is quiet. Sandstone buildings along the main street, one of which houses a small department store selling clothes and toys like the old Lima train sets and Star Wars figures. They still sell computers and electronics kits. There’s a university or scientific institution that looks a lot like the campuses where I’ve worked, architecture dating back between the fifties and the seventies.
These places, they come from memories and daydreams from many decades of my life. They do not exist here and now in Australia.
I realise too that they have another source, that being Japan. I think of industrial cities like Toyama, with its tramways and Chiho Railway to Unazuki Onsen, or Kushiro and the line to Nemuro. It’s historic Matsue and riding around Lake Shinji to Izumoshi or Takasaki to Shimonita.
Places that others ask what the point is in visiting them, yet it is their unassuming lack of sights that is their attraction, that offers a blank canvas on which to portray your own stories and dreams.
In isolation, I dream of isolated places.