Clackety-clack: train journeys and the Travellers Aid Society

Clackety-clack: train journeys and the Travellers Aid Society
Dr Cheryl Griffin

“Clackety clack – clackety clack. There was a big train”. Some of my favourite childhood stories were about trains. And my absolute favourite was a Little Golden book called The Train from Timbuctoo that began with these words.

I had no idea where this magical-sounding place was, but it took on legendary status as I read about the train that travelled from Timbuctoo to Kalamazoo – “It’s a long way down the track,” I was told.

All those years ago I didn’t think of what such an epic imaginary journey might have meant for those on board. Nor did I think about what might have met them when they reached their destination. I have always been struck by the line by R.L. Stevenson: “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” I’m sure the passengers on board my train from Timbuctoo travelled hopefully, and I am equally sure that for some the journey was a better thing than to arrive.

So, when I started to think about the role of the many groups that have given so much to our community, I thought of that train and its passengers and I thought also of the Travellers’ Aid Society, a group that began its work in 1916 supporting and protecting women and girls arriving in Melbourne to take up work during WWI. It has provided a wide range of services to the travelling public under the banner “A warm and home-like welcome” ever since.

Passengers arriving in Melbourne by train, bus, sea and air have found a friend in the Travellers Aid Society. “No girl need be friendless” was the claim during the Roaring 20s, as young women from rural Victoria flocked to the city to take up employment, often alone and unsupported by family. The Society’s brief expanded during the 1930s Depression when its attention turned to families in crisis, abandoned children, women fleeing domestic abuse.

Ever adaptable, after WWII, staff met boats of evacuees and migrant brides. They were there to provide comfort and practical support to the lonely, the disillusioned and those who had been displaced from their homelands.

The Society has weathered the huge social and economic changes that began in the 1960s and 1970s which has meant constantly adapting to meet new demands.

Travellers’ Aid is still here after 107 years, still provides comfort and practical support. Hopefully it will still be here in another 107 years or more. •

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