I got on a train to Newcastle on a whim. When I say a whim, what I really mean is I got on a train to Newcastle after spending years thinking, “wow, it would be amazing to just get on a train and not know where I was going,” and then, one day, finding myself just sad enough and just lonely enough to do it.
There’s no profound reason for why I chose Newcastle. I was just looking for somewhere new and quaint and interesting. If I hadn’t grown up in the Blue Mountains I’m sure I would have (unadvisedly) headed to Lithgow. If I didn’t already know better, I definitely would have headed south to Waterfall, drawn by the image of a train line literally ending at a waterfall. I chose Newcastle because I rarely travel north, and deep down I hoped that on the way there I would look out the train window, see a small town full of friendly strangers and realise I belonged there. (If you can believe it, this did not happen.)
Once I was on the train I realised something: hopping on an old rural train because you’re on a spiritual adventure does not change the train. The air is still, for whatever reason, warm and heavy. There are still normal train people, and there’s still fuck all to do.
At train stations, I would glance out the window and assess if it was “my stop”. Otherwise, I kept myself busy reading a book, writing in my notepad and playing with a miniature deck of cards. I stayed on the train for three hours. On the way, I passed rivers and lakes where people had built tiny homes next to old wooden jetties. Possibly cut off from electricity, definitely cut off from roads. I wondered what their life was like. Probably involved a lot of fish—for food and recreation.
I passed a lot of small towns, hills, ranges, and a few larger towns too—tempting stops, but I decided against them at the time. They probably would have been a lot more stimulating than where I ended up. The thing about not knowing where you’re going or why you’re going there is that you’ll always be wondering if the next stop will feel right. One of the towns the train stopped at (a retroactive Google Maps search leads me to believe it was either Gosford or Woy Woy) probably could have given me everything I was looking for. But I didn’t trust it. I was never inspired enough to pick myself up and get off the train.
When I eventually did disembark, it was because I started to suspect waiting was leading to diminishing returns. The stations were becoming less lavish, the thriving town hubs were becoming nothing more than rows of houses. At one stop, all I could see was highway and bush. I decided I would get off at the next town. I’d forgone using my phone for geographical data at this point, trying to “feel” the adventure, I guess. If I hadn’t, I would have realised just how close I was to arriving at Newcastle.
When the train finally arrived at the next town, I gathered my belongings and hopped off. I was in Morisset. It wasn’t a particularly astonishing town. If you’re from Morisset, I’m sure you know its secrets and its hidden beauty. Or, if you’re anything like me, you’re reading someone write about your hometown in a way that elevates it far above what it deserves. (My hometown is Leura. It has nice gardens and an overpriced lolly shop. It looks nice in autumn and is too far away from everything.)
Now that I think about it, I don’t think I even took my phone, because I distinctly remember getting off the train and writing down when the trains back to Central would be. I don’t remember how I was measuring the time—I think I may have been wearing a calculator watch—but I do remember the trains only came by every hour.
Anyway, I was in Morisset. Strange, enchanting, exceptionally normal Morisset. I walked down the main street, contemplating if maybe the local library was where destiny would take me. Eventually I conceded that it was probably just a small, boring library that was not, in fact, tended to by a manic pixie dream librarian (I was young, OK?) and walked away from the main part of town.
Strolling down wide empty streets, walking on footpaths that often gave way to nothing but grass and dirt, I realised that this could be any Blue Mountains town. If I grew up in Morisset, it’s incredibly likely that I would yearn to be somewhere else and end up on a journey to Leura, complete with its own equally wide, poorly-maintained streets. The difference between walking through Morisset and Leura is that if I had been walking through Leura, I would not have ended up at a cemetery.
It was a small cemetery. Multi-denominational from memory. I guess you can’t be too picky in a small town. There were rows of old and new gravestones. Some names too hard to make out, and others freshly etched. I spent a while inspecting them, pacing back and forth, imagining what these people’s lives were like. Occasionally there would be gravestones that would lend some context: immigrants from the United Kingdom, local town leaders, volunteers.
I spent as long as I could there. On this one sad, lonely day where I would rather catch a train three hours away from my home than just reach out to a friend, the Morisset cemetery provided me solace. I sat there in silence. I watched the sunset. I filled the last page in my notebook, and I haven’t opened it since.
I made it back to the station just in time for the last train I’d written down. It could well have been the last train of the day. When I got back to Sydney I did catch up with a friend. He asked me what I did that day. I lied and said I was just in the city. I could tell he didn’t believe me, but he didn’t probe. We saw a movie.
Later in my life, during a party game, I once told this story to someone who asked me to tell them something I’d never told anyone. In return, they told me they once paid for a taxi ride with a blowjob. I feel like they always win that game. The next time I ever told this story was a year later. I told it to my girlfriend, who had been on so many depression-fuelled escapades herself that my story paled in comparison.
I started to feel like the strange power this secret story gave me was weakened every time I told it. But now, writing it out, I realise that it’s worth letting go of the magic of it all; that Morisset isn’t special; its cemetery isn’t special. It’s only special to me because I went there once on a very sad day and busted a long-held theory of mine that there was some small town, somewhere, where I must belong. I mean, who knows. Maybe there is, but I have a sneaking suspicion that really—if that place does exist—it could be anywhere.