Experienced & Written by Tony Wood, Blues Train Patron
For some, a significant Birthday milestone presents a conundrum. For my 60th, I reckon I had the perfect answer. Gather up 50 friends and get them to share in the celebrations on the Bellarine Peninsula, an area familiar and famous to many.
Many of my childhood memories are of beachside holidays in this area, and nowadays, spending lazy days relaxing at great accommodation booked through one of the longest standing local estate agents, Kerley’s Coastal Real Estate. Wonderful people, all locals with a terrific array of properties to choose from.
Some of the party invitees arrive Friday night and settle in for a traditional feed of fish and chips. The Award-Winning Trident Fish Bar in Queenscliff is a popular choice. The second-generation proprietors, true to their Greek heritage, nail it.
Whilst the order is frying, we pop into the Queenscliff Brewhouse next door for a couple of quick schooners and one of their own brews – there’s a wide selection. Fish and chips are then walked across the road to Gellibrand Park where there are suitable tables and chairs. The crunchy and flavoursome delights are accompanied by some refreshing beverages.
The maritime outlook from Gellibrand Park is both soothing and fascinating. Great views of the comings and goings of the Port Phillip Sea Pilots in their orange vessels, they have a fascinating history dating back to 1839. The Queenscliff & Sorrento Ferry make their regular hourly crossings, and not to mention numerous other aquatic craft of all shapes and sizes. Gellibrand Park is also the home of the annual Queenscliff Music Festival. Most of us are regulars, and we know to purchase tickets early as it’s always a sell-out.
Saturday presented a dilemma – what to do prior to the evenings’ main event?
The dilemma – too many choices on the beautiful Bellarine. Walks, Wineries, Golf – maxi and mini, beaches front and back. Talk about something for everyone, or we could simply kick back with a book and a glass.
The Main Event, for my 60th, Queenscliff’s fabulous Blues Train, Rockin’ and Rollin’ since 1994. There are 50 of us, which meant we had the whole carriage to ourselves. Not that there’s anything amiss with sharing. Most of us have been on The Blues Train several times and part of its DNA is the camaraderie which builds throughout the evening. Friendships are forged.
We gather at 6.30pm and after an easy check-in, head to The T Bar, named after an anonymous but scandalous character. There are a wide variety of refreshments available, mixers, local brews, and great local wines. We are then called through for our dinner by the genial proprietor who loves to personally meet as many of his patrons as possible throughout the night.
Dinner was an American style buffet, pulled beef brisket, baked chicken, a variety of snappin’ fresh salads. Not forgetting the Tower of Power, the finest array of BBQ and hot sauces this side of West Texas! Damn fine food and seconds are not only allowed but encouraged! Perhaps a small point, but you are served on china plates with stainless steel cutlery – no plastic here! Dinner may be consumed either seated on the historic Queenscliff Railway Station platform, or in your allocated carriage.
The atmosphere is building, plates are cleared, refreshments replenished, carriage doors secured and we set off on our journey. As we choof away from the platform the live Blues music starts.
We rattle along past Benito’s treasure [let me know if you’re in the know!] and admire the gorgeous sunset over Swan Bay. All a little surreal. The first stop is Suma Park where the facilities have been greatly improved over the years. We mingled, topped up the ice buckets and gazed across the rolling vineyards to the historic Suma Park homestead.
Next up, a different carriage and another fine Blues act as we head to Drysdale. I can only imagine how hard the crew must be working, stoking the fire as the steam train chugs up to a significant incline. The next stop is Drysdale, where snacks, ice creams and coffee are on offer, then back onto the train for our third delightful Blues act.
A great vibe has built throughout the evening and my guests are all having a ripper time. Some were just a touch concerned about the evenings’ musical component, not being familiar with the genre. The Blues is a broad church and the musicians are personally selected by the proprietor who has been involved in the music industry for over 35 years. He’s paid his dues and he knows his Blues.
Third stop, Suma Park again on our return leg and we crack Carriage D – D for Dancing. A stripped out carriage with a big dance floor and a terrific fast-paced band that sees my 60 year old body on its feet, dancin’ and thinking – I reckon I’ve nailed it!
Now back at Queenscliff Station, looking around at the beaming faces of blues-enlightened patrons disembarking the vessel concluding what has been a magical 60th birthday celebration that created memories that will be with me and my closest friends for the rest of our lives.