Charlie Mead spent every day of his working life on the railways in Victoria, but one day in February 1969 stands out more than any other.
That was the day that the Southern Aurora passenger train collided with a goods train at 7.10 am just outside Violet Town in Victoria, resulting in nine deaths and 117 injuries.
Young Charlie, who had worked for the railways for 12 years at that stage, was one of the first on the scene that morning. He was still slightly emotional all these years later when sharing with Kim Morgan from our team what the scene looked like that morning – the twisted metal, the chaos, the feeling of despair that he overcame to best help those in need.
Despite living in the neighbouring town of Benalla, Charlie leapt at the chance to be involved in creating and maintaining the Violet Town Southern Aurora Memorial Gardens after hearing of its development as part of the 50th anniversary of the tragedy in 2019.
Sitting in pride of place in those picturesque track-side gardens is a bench donated by Charlie. It’s a way he could continue to contribute to what was a defining moment for him and his career.
On Saturday mornings you will still find Charlie at the Memorial Gardens, tending the blooms. He will have woken early to catch the train, brought information and a small lunch pack with him, be ready to talk to the visitors who roll into town, before stepping back on a train to head home again mid-afternoon.
Two years ago Charlie’s view of the memorial gardens changed when two murals by Tim Bowtell* were added.
Violet Town shows respect and pride with this multi-faceted memorial, which won the Best Monument or Memorial in this year’s Australian Street Art Awards. Using art and design to share stories associated with one of Australia’s worst rail disasters, the memorial and its new Tim Bowtell murals showcase positive human traits.
That includes the bravery, respect, kindness and humanity demonstrated by residents that fateful morning. And one resident – a man with an inside understanding of how the crash would affect the railways – embodies all those traits with grace.
Thank goodness for people like Choo Choo Charlie.
* Other creative contributions have been by Lach Cummings (also pictured) and Chris Mann.