Hear The Lonesome Train Whistle Blow

Some will ask what has a train whistle to do with football?

Back in the past country towns thrived on their local industries and to them Rugby League was a religion. One such town is Harden Murrumburrah. In the era of the steam trains the main source of employment for the men was the locomotive yards. Harden was a very busy train town.

Harden is situated halfway between Sydney and Albury, on the main railway line south, and acted as a junction for towns such as Young and Boorowa.

Engine drivers were tough and fit. They had to stand in the cabin of a steam engine for 8 hour shifts, shovelling coal by hand. The gangers and fettlers maintained the rail lines by hand as no machinery existed to do the work. It was back breaking work and only the fittest survived the hard labour required.

The rail men provide a stream of income to the town but also provided most of the footballers who played in the local football side. Harden played in Group Nine which was very strong comprising of teams from Harden, Young, Cootamundra, Junee, Temora, Tumut, Gundagai and West Wyalong.

The teams in the competition all had their nemeses. Harden always took great delight in playing the toffee noses from Young and visa versa. The great games of football that were played between them are still talked about today by the older men of the towns.

The highlight for Group 9 was a battered old trophy called the ?Maher Cup?. So many battles took place over the ?old tin mug? as it was lovingly referred to. To hold it was the symbol of power in the Group. The Cup was played for on a weekly basis. The holder of the Cup had to play on the Saturday for the Cup and then play on the Sunday in the Competition proper. However, the two teams that played on the Sunday had to field at least eight players of the team that played the day before which was a brutal task for any team.

Harden managed to hold the Cup for a season and a half before losing it. They also finished high in the competition during that period as well. For many years they were always strong and provided many players for representative honours in various country representative teams.

I grew up in the town and my greatest joy was going to the football on Sundays to watch the Black and Whites with my father. If the truth was known I was gaining my love of the game by playing with the other boys at touch football, tackle football and fights that took place out the back of the kiosk while the main game was on.

Like most teams Harden had its eccentric supporters. One Mother, whose son used to play in the first grade, used to go to the game with an umbrella. Many times she had to be escorted from the ground by attacking an opposition player with the ?brolly? if he hit her son or tackle him too hard. So many of the crowd used to wait with eager anticipation for the ?charge of the brolly? and the roars of laughter could be held for miles.

The introduction of the diesel train slowly but surely ensured that the town started to die. First of all it was the locomotive sheds that were pulled down as fuelling of the new beasts was not required. Trucks took over the freight cartage so the goods yards closed. Track maintenance is now done by machinery and a small team of men so that spelt the end of the rail gangs. The few remaining station staff do not man the station at night.

Branch lines started to be closed and eventually the population dwindled. With it the football team got weaker and eventually died as well. They couldn?t field a team for nearly two year and after reforming are in danger of folding again.

Just recently I paid a visit to Harden. I visited McLean Oval on my walk to catch a train at night and watched the ghosts of days gone by play football. I imagined I heard the crowd roar.

As I sat in the dark of the station I heard a whistle and the roar of a steam train, but it was just a dream and memories. Just like the memories of a long gone football team.