The Speed Of Light (Rail)

Art by Rose Dixon-Campbell.


Runway cleared for takeoff, a clear morning is heralding this service.
Onboard, we will fly though this small universe using highly sophisticated light rail technology. Red backed sentinels will oversee their metal dominion, protective of the finest blue spiral-patterned seating that $675 million of government money can buy.
I give you: The Fare-Evader’s Guide to the Northern Canberra Galaxy.



The air of this tundra blows in icy, colliding with an increasingly humid airlock interior.
Representatives of the Eloura jurisdiction appear in the form of a young couple, deep in terse conversation. They are directly followed by another, shrink-wrapped in black spandex, his neon green socks pulled flush to shivering knees.



Dried grass sprints alongside as we glide into the next dock.
I see the husks of residential halls hovering to the right, old Fenner Hall gone feral, dystopian.
Orange neuron skeletons litter the avenue with roadkill.
They lie supine on their side, with white helmets disjointed. Cranial and skull-like, they reflect the sunlight like bleached plastic bone.



ABC Canberra stands unadorned on the crossroads, traffic swarming before it. Onlooker to many, messenger to some. Inside the station, the radio corps that have been enlisted in service will broadcast to those few willing to listen.
The young couple vacate the shuttle, braving the frost in tandem.
Hotels with hundreds of tiny matchbox rooms have shot up from the earth.



The environs of this planet open up, streets suddenly wide.
A few creatures mill around the forest floor, with glass trees towering above. Cranes swing their metal branches in the breeze.



Here, the glass trees are swiftly cut down to squat brick dwellings. Wire cages encircle asphalt courts, fencing in the inhabitants. They are clothed in matching uniforms, their bodies in a perpetual game. The ground is struck with force, as they run over, around, weaving between one another, up and back again, always focused, rhythmic.



The world has its back turned. The graffitied rears of houses are sheepish, afraid to meet my eye. Any unique terrain is obscured by scrubland, only occasionally peeking out from behind stiff-lipped pines.
I spot a figure zooming across the scenery. A motorised skateboard, weilding a tiny dog on leash. The four-legged beast is frantic, barely keeping pace with the four-wheeled beast that drags it.



An empty expanse, either abandoned, or biding time in wait for harvest. The frozen plateau is packed hard by hooves and tyre tracks. Off-season has silenced the baying of all creatures, their convoys shuffled on. Freedom fighting has long since begrudgingly packed up, migrated, with no trace but memory remaining.
White combat boots and moon-soled sneakers rush up to the doors, eager to be sheltered from the harsh elements outside.



Passing by the light rail stables, the rest of the fleet are standing by. Pilots idle, hands twitching for another stint at the reins.
To the left, a fish bowl is full of runners. They race no one and get nowhere. In ceaseless worship, they toil, Sisyphean, for the Club Lime cause.
Carpet Choices and War Memorial stand side by side, their warehouses occupied, allegedly. There is a lack of life, despite the warning signs.



The Green Shed flashes by. Mecca for share house dwellers – an epicentre of cheap furnishings, wobbly tables and mismatched dining chairs.
We pause at a platform. It is landmarked by a turnoff, suburbs with the names of fathers of friends I only vaguely remember. Mitchell, Franklin, Harrison – I sat at their family dining table eons ago, universes away.
The loudspeaker warns us that the doors are closing. The doors never opened to begin with.



A billboard floats above highrises, boasting “Times Square.”
Maybe if I strained my neck, I could just about spot our Lady Liberty – Telstra Tower.
And as the journey surged forward into cosmopolitan Canberra, I couldn’t help but wonder… If New York City is the Big Apple, what does that make Canberra? Rotten to the core?



The car creaks around the corner, protesting its own weight. The mechanical belly of this beast is suddenly bloated with passengers. A suburban sprawl seeps through the surroundings.
Brown brick McMansions, piles all the colour of syrup, drip from streets and cul-de-sacs.



Apartments huddle together for warmth in lonely paddocks. White sedans roam the fields.
Eight little dollhouses sit forlorn in a blasted heath, webbed like toes and joined at the unfortunate hip.



The end of the line, furthest distance allowed by my public transport safety tether.
Another terminal, mirror image of Alinga, played in reverse – passengers drain out instead of pour in.
A new crowd is exchanged for old as I remain sat on my blue patterned perch, observing a faraway planet.


It is alien to me, although I too am an alien to this land. A blow-in from a distant station, unknown to the crowd now chattering around me. Judging, anonymous, from behind a paper mask and clicking laptop keys. My reflection on the dusty carriage window scowls at an uncaring audience.


The car goes quiet for a moment before jerking backwards, flying again into the concrete beyond.



Originally published in Woroni Vol. 72 Issue 4 ‘Alien’


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We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.