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On a clear night, the sounds of a steam train and Deep Purple can be heard coming from the old Kalangadoo Railway Station.
It is many years since the station in South Australia's south-east last welcomed a train, but the sounds are not a ghostly echo from the past. They come from a dusty audio system operated by former station master Peter Savage.
"I go to the pub, come back here and just crank it up. Sit down on my bloody chair and let it wash over me," Peter says.
Peter Savage often spends his nights chilling outside the station, just 500m from his house.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)A Kalangadoo boy "born and bred", Peter has an undying commitment to the station, which was built in 1907 and was once a bustling hive of activity.
"Kalangadoo, she was a major point of distribution and receiver for the rail," Peter says.
Timber, potatoes, livestock, passengers travelling to Adelaide, everyone relied on the train to get anywhere or anything.
"This is why the town's here, because of the railway," he says.
"You had two passenger trains a day, the Bluebird up and down. And then the night train every second day.
"We were all the go back in the day, mate."
An old photo of the Bluebird train at Kalangadoo.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)Fond memories travelling the Bluebird with his grandma and watching his father join the railways after World War II prompted a young Peter to seek work at the station.
Starting as a youth porter in 1973, he worked his way up to freight clerk.
It was in 1985, as Kalangadoo station master, that Peter and his beloved station suffered the same fate as many others in Australian railway towns.
"All the country rail networks started to deteriorate. They weren't maintained," Peter says.
"[The government] also made it harder for people to use it, jacking up freight rates and cutting out services.
"So out of all the blokes that were here, I was the last of the Mohicans. I was the last to shut the door, turn the lights out and see ya later.
"I never thought I'd leave the railways, but I haven't I suppose, I'm still here."
Peter Savage boards the last Bluebird train with his children from Kalangadoo to Mount Gambier, 1986, SA.(Supplied: Peter Savage)Fate would bring the station back into Peter's life in the late 1990s, and since then he's tried to keep it in as original a condition as possible — overcoming change of ownership, trespassing kids, and a termite problem.
"I try and do my bit here keeping it nice and tidy … There's not too many of us buggers that are interested in the railways," he says.
As well as being his personal sanctuary and men's shed, Peter opens the door to any passing visitors who may be interested in his town's past existence.
"With Kalangadoo off the beaten track, nobody much knows that I'm here," he says.
"We're the end of the world here."
Kalangadoo station is 31km from Mount Gambier near the Victorian border and 456km from Adelaide.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)Death of the railwayPeter and his staff were told the station would cease operations in 1985, although the train kept running for a while afterwards.
"I refused to go, so they shut the station, and I was here for nine months after the station got closed down," Peter says.
"It was a very funny period. They took all the phones away.
"All the infrastructure got taken out, all the ticket machines."
Peter Savage watches on as infrastructure is removed from Kalangadoo Railway Station in 1985.(Supplied: Peter Savage)Peter didn't see much point in transferring to another station that would likely shut, or move to Adelaide as suggested.
"I thought bugger it, I'll just ride the storm," he says.
When he eventually left in 1986, he took with him all the gear from the station that he could, unwilling to let his town's history slip away.
"I ended up at the mill after that. Walking past the railway station every day to go to the mill," he says.
Kalangadoo Railway Station, 2022.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)The station was vacant until 1999 when the mill Peter worked for, AusPine, took it over as a retail outlet for timber.
The mill allowed Peter to turn one of the rooms into a little museum with some of the gear he had salvaged.
When the adjoining timber yard closed in 2011, the local council allowed him to take over the whole station.
Peter has an extensive collection of platform lanterns.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)Now retired, Peter can be found at the station most days.
"It's just somewhere to chill out and visit memory lane I suppose," he says.
Preserving historyPeter has spent two decades buying back memorabilia from the old railways department.
Peter Savage sits at the desk of the old guard's quarters at Kalangadoo Railway Station.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)When the station closed in the mid-1980s a lot of the material was dispersed and sold in Adelaide.
Peter's managed to track down everything from uniforms, staff logbooks and 1800s maps to old phones, tickets and luggage records.
A 1911 list of parcels and luggage on trains at Kalangadoo Railway Station.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)The most valuable piece in Peter's collection is the Kalangadoo Station seal — he has one from 1953 and the original from 1887, when trains first passed through the tiny town.
An unexpected piece of memorabilia is the artificial leg his father used in the station master's office.
"He actually lost his leg on the main line … poor bugger," Peter says.
This artificial leg is kept under the desk attached to a mannequin that represents his father.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)"He was shunting the train on a wet day, rubber boots ... slipped underneath the wheels. Boom.
"I was here at the time of course as freight clerk … that was a bit of a freak-out."
The memories come quick and fast to Peter.
Old Rajah Red Sealing Wax and Kalangadoo Railway Station brass seals.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)"You'd meet a few characters on the train, especially the night train … You never knew who you were going to sit next to," Peter says.
"It was very popular, the rail at that stage. People weren't in too much of a hurry to go anywhere … Back then time didn't seem to matter.
"People can't be buggered sitting on the train all day to go somewhere [now]. Times have changed."
An old railway poster advertising Mount Gambier's Blue Lake.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)Why Peter's sticking aroundPeter's collection isn't just proof of the station's history, it's evidence of the town's.
"If you haven't got this material, [Kalangadoo] would just disappear," he says.
Cows at a Kalangadoo property, in south-east South Australia.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)He's sad to see other stations — once bustling hives of activity — now rusting away.
He passes them on the little carriage he's put together from old parts.
"I've got all the railway maps and know where things are. I just chill out and go for a drive," Peter says.
"[I] park up at the Penola Railway Station, go to the pub and have a couple of beers and then jump on the 'putt putt' and come home."
Peter Savage on his personal railway cart, parked on the tracks outside his house at Kalangadoo.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)Future plansPeter's got plans for some new interpretive signs around the place and a potential repurposing of the rail.
Realising he won't be around forever, he's also got a succession plan in place.
"I've got my young bloke in Melbourne. I've told him he's going to be the owner of a railway station at some point," Peter says.
A station Peter still isn't prepared to leave.
"I'd like to spend a bit of time fishing but I'm stuck at the bloody railway station waiting for this non-existent train to come through."
There's not much traffic on the Kalangadoo line.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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