Thursday, May 30, 2024

Remembering the day Violet Town changed forever

On a very hot Friday, February 7th, 1969, at 7.02am, the Southern Aurora – the overnight express passenger train between Sydney and Melbourne – collided head-on with an Albury-bound goods train, 174km north of Melbourne.

And so the peaceful town and district of Violet Town became the centre of one of the most violent train crashes in Australia.

As the years rolled by the memory of what had been described as “the fateful day” had almost faded from memory.

Last year, a group of locals headed by Bruce Cumming set about organising a 50th anniversary memorial.

In November, Bruce the driving force behind the Southern Aurora Memorial group (SAM) came to present at a meeting of the Combined Probus Club of Whittlesea.

He invited members to visit SAM and this was arranged by our short tours manager Alessandra Testa. On May 3rd, a busload of members visited Bruce and retired railwayman Charlie Mead to see firsthand the Southern Aurora Memorial Garden.

(Photo: State Library).

The commemoration garden has an overall theme of Helping Hands. It is a way of signifying how people stepped forward to help each other, whether women or men, staff or passengers, whether voluntary or paid, or whether local or from far away.

Following a 50th anniversary opening of the memorial gardens the expansion and
development has been exponential, the club says. People who were on the train, or had family involvement have made contact and visited, to view the historical records that are

One woman whose mother and sister were killed in the crash, makes regular contact with Bruce. She, then aged just five-years-old, was trapped under the wreckage for more than five hours and recalled the name Cumming and “Bill” (Bruce’s father).

Based on those scant memories, she tracked Bruce and has gained valuable insight and become a friend, she says.

The gardens are designed as a mediation place with history lessons displayed and highlighting the human side of a tragic event. People from all over have visited and few leave without gaining some personal or historical information.

After taking in the tranquillity of the garden and discussing issues with Bruce and Charlie, the visitors lunched at the local hotel that had opened especially for the visitors.

Charlie Mead gave graphic details of his involvement at the crash site. His Way and Works gang arrived from Benalla around 8am and worked for 12 hours on that and next 15 days.

They then visited the level crossing where the crash occurred, which is just on 600 meters from the station toward Melbourne.

After goodbyes were exchanged with Bruce, the coach took to the Hume Freeway
and home. The time in transit gave each an opportunity to reflect upon information

Article supplied by Michael Halley of Whittlesea Probus Club.

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