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That bang, 12 kilometres away from his family’s farm, was to put his town on front pages of newspapers across Australia.
The Southern Aurora passenger train from Sydney had smashed into a northbound freight service on the southern side of Violet Town.
“There was a ribbon of smoke going up in the air,” Mr Cumming recalled.
Townsfolk descended on the scene, with the community hall turned into a makeshift hospital with 30 to 40 injured lying on stretchers.
The Southern Aurora’s driver John Bowden, of Wodonga, had died from heart failure before the crash, resulting in his train failing to stop at a loop to allow the wagons to pass.
Front page news: Bruce Cumming with his copy of The Age the day after the Southern Aurora train disaster at Violet Town on February 7, 1969. Picture: MARK JESSER
Another eight people died, including Wodonga’s Lawrence Rosevear, the driver of the goods train, as the locomotives collided at the McDiarmids Road crossing, 900 metres south of the Violet Town station.
As a student at the time, Mr Cumming was fascinated and he has kept newspapers from the day after the crash on February 7, 1969.
But the self-described amateur historian does not believe enough has been done to commemorate the crash and the deeds of rescuers and helpers.
“We did think when the 30th and the 40th anniversaries came about we should do something, but it’s really taken until now for the community to say we really need to do something,” Mr Cumming said.
“There were quite a few people that were heroic on the day and we want to do something while they’re still around.”
Mr Cumming said visitors to Violet Town regularly inquired about the tragedy, but the sole memorial was a plaque on a rock at the crash scene.
“No disrespect, but the only name mentioned on the plaque is a public transport official, there is no names of the people that were killed or the people from the area that received awards for helping,” he said.
To remedy that, there are plans for signage to be erected at the site detailing what occurred and naming the dead and the helpers.
Lone memorial: This plaque on a rock at the site of the crash is the only formal recognition at Violet Town for the collision between trains in 1969.
A path linking the train station and crash site would also be constructed as well as a memorial garden featuring a sculpture likely to depict helping hands .
Mr Cumming expects the tributes to be in place for the 50th anniversary commemoration next year.
A weekend of events are planned for the occasion with hopes the Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove will attend after an invitation to Queen Elizabeth was turned down.
The homage, Mr Cumming said, would reflect how the town rallied when “a disaster appeared on the doorstep”.
This article first appeared on www.bordermail.com.au
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