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Saturday, 16 June 2012

Racing a steam train

Race the rattler. Monday 11 June 2012. Gympie, Queensland.
The region around Gympie and the Mary Valley in the sub-tropics of Queensland, is the gateway to the world heritage listed Fraser Island in the Great Sandy National Park. But the national park and the island are just by-attractions of this area. Gympie is known as ‘the town that saved Queensland’ after the Gympie gold rush back in the 19th century rescued the state from bankruptcy. Gold mining has since ceased but Gympie became the regional centre of the beautiful Mary River Valley, a thriving agricultural district. This scenic area around the Mary river has wide open spaces stretching through pasture and farm and state forest and meadow. Every year in August the Mary River Valley hosts the thousands of visitors who come for the week-long National Country Music Muster, but that’s just a by-event. During this early winter time of year, Mary Valley is the home of the historic Valley rattler (and no this rattler is not a snake).

A drive around the valley is a pleasant way to take in the sights, try local cuisine and some good old fashioned country hospitality. This way you can immerse in the amazing views, rolling hills, forests and surprises that unfold with every village as you travel along. Some of the wonderful towns in the Mary valley include Dagun, Amamoor, Kandanga, Imbil and Kenilworth. At these village stops are antiques and art shops, weekend country markets, lookouts and picnic spots, camping and recreation etc. There is a natural history walk at Dagun. Amamoor boasts Muster merchandise, and abundant wildlife and bird life.  Each year Kenilworth hosts a cheese wine and food festival. An international driving rally is held in Imbil in May. The valley also holds rodeos and other festivals every year. But better than a driving tour of the valley, is a relaxing ride on the Valley rattler.

The Valley Rattler C17 967.
I’ve ticked all the above previously except for the rattler. Well, that and the many other activities in Mary valley: horse riding, bush walking, kayaking, bird watching, fishing, camping, watersports, mountain biking etc. There’s enough to do here to last a lifetime. (I did camp out at Amamoor forest a couple of times).


So back to the rattler- the Valley Rattler is a steam train. One can ride this historic iron horse for a unique tour through the valley’s spectacular countryside and view the forested hilltops and see the beautiful Mary River wind her way through the valley.


A ride on the rattler has been on my to-do list for a while, but something better presented by way of a running event - Race the Rattler.



The rattler has the historic C 17 967 locomotive engine built in 1950. After I boarded the train, I found myself in an even older relic - the 1921 carriage Car D No 992. So this was more than a ride on a historic steam train. It was a privileged journey back in time. 


Race the rattler is described as a race between man and machine. Runners get the opportunity to experience a ride on the rattler from Gympie to Dagun, and then race it back all of 18.5km the other way.


Buses transported supporters and relay runners during the race. 


The rattler was building up a head of steam just prior to the start. Its engine was humming, all the nuts and bolts in place. 
Around the bend up ahead my round objects were freezing. My nuts or balls were rattling in the shadows at the start line. 'That's not fair' I steamed up in my head.
I tried looking at a looking glass. It told me I wasn't going to win, and snow white was still the fairest of all.


Well that ole steam train gave us a 1.85km head start, and I was in front of it by a long country mile. However, at the first changeover point (4.5km), it had already gone past me with a lead of about one minute.
I did not give up. I stumbled on the side of a mountain. I walked and I crawled on the Mary Valley Highway. It held all the aces though. It spewed smoke in front of us and ran on flat steel rails. We had to negotiate cross-country roads and byways on bitumen and dirt and gravel and creek, up and down steep hills and gullies. Then a railway line and the Mary River and the Bruce Highway. Lucky there were bridges on them. Still, it was a close run thing. The rattler only beat me by 0.8hour!
The 'race the rattler' this year was held on the queen of england's birthday holiday
Next year I might race the rattler again - on the queen of australia's birthday.

Heading to the race start in Dagun.
All along a southbound odyssey, 
the train rolls out of Gympie,
rattlin' on past houses farms and fields.
(sounds like a country song)
If it sounds country...
It's the city of Gympie.


A by-event to the rattler, the iconic Gympie Music Muster, is held amidst the towering gums of Amamoor Creek State Forest near Gympie each August. More than 50,000 visitors are drawn to this music extravaganza. Some camp at the site for up to many months in advance. 
A tent city goes up almost overnight at the height of the festival. Rome may not have been built in a day, but every year since 1985 a city – a tent city is built in a day, at the Gympie muster. Most of Australia’s finest country and blues artists have the muster on their touring itineraries, and many of them perform on any given day in any of at least 10 venues throughout the 6-day festival. The muster also features a few international artists each year. This year features a gambler http://www.muster.com.au/.


After racing against the rattler, I drove out to Amamoor to set up camp for the muster. Then I realised I did not pack my tent. 
Pick up your tent Martin, you ain't goin' nowhere.
Map of the 18.5km race the rattler route.