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The end of summer approaches: Cocky Bennett & Train Travel

Image source: Pixabay - geralt

Temperatures are starting to cool (a little) here on the East Coast of Australia as we enter that much looked for transition period between seasons – autumn. We still have a week to go, but everyday. Edges us closer to sunny warm mornings that don’t turn into furnace like conditions by lunchtime. I do love the in-between times of autumn and spring! Especially, autumn I think because it’s still warm enough to go for a swim. Swimming in spring can be a little chilly.

This week, I’ve learned a fair bit about the wine industry in the Albury region of New South Wales, quite the industry forerunner in the mid to late 1800s, the long life of Cocky Bennett, and the Great Southern Train Journey between Sydney and Melbourne. You might wonder what each of these have in common; bear with me.

The train journey from Sydney’s Central Station to Melbourne Spencer Street Station is roughly ten hours. I’ve travelled it a couple of times, many years ago (so it may have sped up by now) and given the choice of a one hour flight, wouldn’t repeat the experience if I didn’t need to. In the 1880s the train journey took around 24 hours, if conditions were good and there were no mishaps along the way. The difference in travel time is down to the extension of the railway line over the Murray river from Albury to Wodonga (1883) and the eventual start of through services in 1962 from NSW to Victoria. Prior to this, the railway line gauges were different sizes so everyone had to disembark at Albury and cross the platform to board the train that would take them into Victoria (and vice versa). There’s been several more improvements since then and no doubt even more since I last whizzed past Albury on the train in the 1990s.

At any rate, in book two of Crossing the Line, the characters traverse regional New South Wales by train and, as it’s pre-bridge over the Murray River, they are required to stop a day or so before they can be transported over the river by the next available horse-drawn coach. What does a person do when stuck in a country town? Well, I’d visit the local vineyards (or at least the pub and partake in the local wines). The main one at the time was the Murray River Valley winery, one of the most well-known wineries in the country.

Cocky Bennett has nothing whatsoever to do with train journeys and country towns. I found out about Cocky through researching local Sydney pubs and the world of theatre. I needed a hotel where characters, some of them actors, might meet. I decided on the Clubhouse Hotel on the corner of Castlereagh and Hunter streets, at the time run by Sarah and Joseph Bowden.

Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 - 1954) Sun 16 Aug 1925 (Page 20)


Mr Bennett was a cockatoo who lived the first 78 years of his live sailing the seas with his ship-captain owner. On his death, the ship-captain, an old friend of the Bowden’s and regular at their hotel, bequeathed his closest friend to the publicans. Cocky apparently regaled the drinkers with his sailor’s wit and colourful language. He moved from the Club House Hotel to the SeaBreeze Hotel (by the George’s river) with Sarah Bennett nee Bowden, and when she retired from publican life, moved in with her nephew, the publican of the Woolpack Hotel. The wise old bird died, featherless but well-liked, in 1916, at the age of 119. The average life span of a white cockatoo is around sixty years.

Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 - 1938) Wed 5 Jul 1916 Page 26 "Cocky Bennett,"

Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 - 1938) Wed 5 Jul 1916 (Page 26)

"Cocky Bennett,"

Funny Cockatoo Talking Compilation - Cockatoo Funny 😂😁

Cocky hasn’t made it into my novel, but the Club House and Woolpack Hotels did – the Woolpack Hotel is in Parramatta not too far from the railway line…. So there is a kind of vague connection after all.

Next week:

  1. Writing Tools: Tip #4 Dropbox

  2. My reading list

  3. Instagram for Authors (and fans of authors)

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