TOOT, TOOT: The 5917 en route to Grafton carrying six crates of bananas.
TOOT, TOOT: The 5917 en route to Grafton carrying six crates of bananas. Contributed

Steam train brings back bananas and memories

IF YOU'RE passing by the Grafton Railway Station today don't be alarmed if you notice wooden crates filled with bananas being hauled off a steam train.

Today marks the end of the Coffs Coast Smoke on the Water Festival, and as part of the event Grafton will be getting a special delivery straight from the past.

"The Coffs Harbour economy used to be focused on bananas, so to commemorate that we're sending six crates of bananas to Grafton in specially-made replica wooden containers," Centenary of Rail Committee chairman Neil Manson said.

"Two of the crates will be opened up and the bananas handed out to everyone on the platform, while the other four will be taken to Farmer Lou's in a vintage ute to be sold, just like back in the day."

The Smoke on the Water Festival, a showcase of a range of vintage transport machinery, is the first of its kind in Australia and is a hallmark event for everyone in the region.

"Over 4000 people booked tickets for the event; it's a great day for families and historical enthusiasts who want to get close and personal with the past."

The geographical necessities of the event meant that Coffs Harbour was the only choice for the festival.

"Coffs Harbour is the only city on the East Coast with an operational harbour, railway, road network and airport close enough to each other. The city is very unique in that regard," Mr Manson said.  

The centrepiece of the festival, the 5917 steam train owned by Lachlan Valley Railway, will be ferrying the bounty of yellow goodness to Grafton along with a veritable trainload of Festival goers seeking the rare opportunity to embark on a nostalgic journey along the rails.  

The 5917 took excited passengers up to Coramba and across the Raleigh creeks for the first three days of the festival, while today is devoted to its round trips between Coffs Harbour, Casino and Grafton.

The 5917 locomotive has not been seen on the North Coast since the days of regular New South Wales Government Railways steam operations.

Though an uphill struggle, this year's Smoke on the Water will not be the last. "It's hard enough co-ordinating just one group; for this we had to co-ordinate four," Mr Manson said. "It was difficult organising everyone but it was worth it. "So we will definitely be having another one next year."  

This year's festival marks the centenary of rail for both Grafton and Coffs Harbour, when the towns were connected to the North Coast Railway Line in 1915.  

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