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Things I thought as a child that turned out to be wrong (Part 2)

“Are you ready for the ride of your life!?”

“Yeah,” I sulked. “I s’pose so.”

Gareth grinned. “Then brace yourself, lassie!”

We were briefly in Sydney last year to visit my little brother and sister. Our schedule was crazy, but we squeezed in a detour to the Blue Mountains. After all, no introductory trip to Oz would be complete without a peep at the Three Sisters through the famous eucalyptus haze.

We were sitting in a carriage on the Scenic Railway, beneath the gum trees and cockatoos, about to take a terrifying plunge into the valley below. Or so I had mistakenly believed, for approximately twenty years prior to that day.

cockatoos of doom

According to the Guinness Book, the Scenic Railway is the steepest railway in the world. It was originally part of the Katoomba mining tramways constructed in the 1800s. The funicular line descends through sandstone cliffs, ferrying tourists past spectacular views and lush rainforest. All this happens at a gentle 4 metres per second.

But somehow, for the past two decades I had got it into my head that the Scenic Railway was not a harmless trundle suitable for the most feeble-hearted pensioner, but in fact a hair-raising hell ride.

My first visit to the Scenic Railway was when I was about ten years old. We’d been learning about the famous explorers in Social Studies class, and how we owed our cosy rural central-west New South Welshman lives to the poor convicts who’d slashed the perilous path across the Blue Mountains from Sydney. But I had my own perilous path to worry about. Our teacher had bought tickets for the Scenic Railway. He explained about the rainforest and the miners, but all I heard was “415 metres” and “descent”.

My stomach churned with panic as we queued up. I pictured the flesh of my face being flung backward by the G-forces as the carriage plunged down. My internal organs would combust. My eyeballs would pop out and ping onto the rainforest floor, where they would be devoured by carnivorous possums. I wanted to cry.

Oh yes, I was a big baby. But The Mothership happened to teach at my school back then, so there was no way I could let anyone see me being a big baby. I had no credibility as it was! But it was The Mothership who saved my bacon in the end. She was taking a bunch of students on the Scenic Skyway, so I just scooted over to her queue. Instead of going south, this ride was a cable car suspended 270 metres above ravines and waterfalls. Strangely, I had no problem with horizontal heights.

About six years later I returned to the Mountains on a high school excursion. Time had not diminished my fears. But I managed to worm out of it again. When my friends lined up for the ride, I elected to stay in the souvenir shop. “You guys go ahead,” I said breezily. “I’ll just stay here. Oh look, kangaroo teaspoons! And five dollars for a dozen clip-on koalas in a tube, what a bargain!”

Fast forward to last October. We were back in Australia and having morning tea at Chez Grandmothership. She was endearing herself to her new grandson-in-law by plying him with Tim Tams and lamingtons and generally being very charming.

“So what’s next on the newlyweds itinerary?” she asked.

Gareth looked confused, as he’d done for much of the trip. “Ummm…”

“Sydney next,” I piped up, in my capacity as Tour Manager. “With a brief stop in the Blue Mountains.”

“Oh, so will you be going on the Scenic Railway?”

“I think so,” said Gareth.

“I’m not going on that thing,” I snapped. “No way in hell.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s a rickety old death trap, that’s why!”

There was a long, baffled pause. Then the Mothership started to laugh. Then the Grandmothership joined in. And she laughed quite bloody heartily too.

I was miffed. Grandmothers are not supposed to laugh at their grandchildren! Their role is to smother you with kindness and cake, and then produce a large Nescafe tin full of spare change that they’ve been saving up for years and insist that you have it.

“What’s so funny?” I demanded.

“You’re not afraid of the Scenic Railway are you?”

“No!”

“You are! Why!?”

“Because! I don’t fancy a high-speed ninety-degree dive on some rusty old cart, that’s why!”

“What are you talking about? It’s not scary! It’s just a little choo-choo train ride down a hill!”

“What? It’s the Steepest Incline Railway In The World!”

“Well it is quite steep, but it’s a very gentle pace,” said the Mothership.

“It’s not fast?”

“No!” my grandmother chortled, “It’s scenic!”

“And it doesn’t just go straight down?”

“No! What kind of a railway goes down at ninety degrees?”

“I don’t know!” I huffed, “But I was positive that’s what it did!”

The laughs changed into all-out guffaws. My grandmother dabbed at tears with a tissue. Gareth almost choked on his lamington. Bastards.

I only recently figured out the reason for this ridiculous fear. The confusion arose from a trip to SeaWorld on Australia’s Gold Coast in 1986. I’m not sure if The Mothership will verify this version of events, but my evil parents forced me go on a ride called The Viking’s Revenge. The SeaWorld website describes it as, “a favourite for all ages… a 460-metre floating ride before a conveyor takes the Viking’s boats to the battlements of the Castle for a fun-filled splash down.”

To the wee wimpy Shauna standing there in the queue for an hour, the “fun-filled splash down” looked like an Extreme Suicide Plunge Into Darkest Hell. I knew nothing about geometry back then but it was a ninety-degree drop, I tell you.

I watched boat after boat of screaming patrons, convinced their glee was actually terror. I wasn’t a religious child, but I prayed for the ride to break down, or for the Queensland sun to overcome me with a fainting spell, or some projectile vomiting. Anything to get out of that ride. But no amount of whining convinced my parents to leave me behind. The Mothership probably told me it was character building.

I remember sitting in that stupid faux Viking boat, my heart thumping as it rattled past the stupid faux rainforest scenery. But most of all I remember that horrible pause right at the end, the mocking hiss of the artificial waterfalls; then my stomach flying into my throat as the boat plummeted down.

When I was in pre-school, sometimes my grandfather would drive by on his way into town. He’d stop if he saw me in the playground and come up to the fence to say hello. I’d peer up at him through the wire mesh, thinking that the barrier was as tall and impenetrable as the Berlin Wall. But when I saw the fence again decades later, I laughed at how low and tiny it really was. I’m sure I’d feel the same if I saw the Vikings Revenge today.

But your old childhood perceptions can linger if they’re never challenged. I’m convinced that the Viking Ride trauma got muddled in my head and transferred itself to that bloody Scenic Railway, the fear multiplying and mutating as the years went by. Either that, or I am simply chicken shit.

The only way to overcome old fears is to boldly confront them. So I got into that railway carriage, the cockatoos cackling above my head. As the descent began, Gareth valiantly threw his arm across my chest.

“Whoa! WHOA!” he cried as we inched past ferns and trees, “OH MY GOD! HOLD ON TIGHT BABY!”

Somehow I survived to tell you this tale, but Gareth is pretty lucky that he did!

(see also: Things I Thought As A Child That Turned Out To Be Wrong Part I)

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About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m an author, copywriter and old school blogger. I love telling stories about life and helping my clients to tell theirs. Find out more about me and how we can work together.


22 thoughts on “Things I thought as a child that turned out to be wrong (Part 2)

  1. Did you ever experience the sheer terror of Wet’n’Wild’s Calypso Creek? 360 DEGREES of heart-stopping ACTION! (Drifting in a big loop on a floaty rubber ring to the sound of steel drums.)

  2. That’s awesome!

    Reminds me of everytime I tell my girlfriend about some fantastic place I’ve lived in or visited, only to be sorely disappointed when we re-visit it.

    Also makes me wish I had back that fertile child’s imagination…

  3. I too have been sorely disappointed by the Katoomba Scenic Railway. I was expecting a heart-pumping ride not a wade in the kiddies pool. By the way – thank you Shauny/Dr G for your lovely comment on my blog, I now have that crappy Michael Jackson song stuck in my head.
    Here is one that is guaranteed to make you go mad…
    “I believe in a thing called love
    Just listen to the rhythm of my heart
    There’s a chance we could make it now
    We’ll be rocking ’til the sun goes down
    I believe in a thing called loooovvvvvvvve
    Oooooooooooooooh! Guitar!!”

  4. At least it wasn’t actually a cruel conspiracy to mislead you as to the scariness of the ride. Wouldn’t it have been awful if it had turned out to be a Stomach-Churning Ride of Terror after all?

    I’d probably have been just as much of a wuss as you…

  5. Everything you thought the Katoomba Scenic Railway would be, became a nightmare for me at the tender age of 6 when my mother, being only 26 herself at the time, fancied a bit of fun and took me on The Big Dipper at Blackpool.

    I spent the whole terrifying, 2 day ride (she says two minutes but it couldn’t possibly have been!) with my arse out of the seat as I wasn’t heavy enough to sit down once the full force of the ride took over. Mother admits to it being a white knuckle ride, having to hold on to the bar with one hand and me with the other to prevent me being flung off.

    Back in January this year, I managed to conquer my fear and climbed aboard the Corkscrew Coaster here in Auckland… with a bunch of 7, 8 and 9 yr olds!

    What I can’t get over, is the fact you swapped places to go on the Scenic Skyway!!!!! Oooh… think I’m going to faint.

  6. Shauny, I don’t know where the origins of my misunderstanding are from but I avoided the ‘scenic railway’ for very similar reasons. I’ve never been on it… Last year, however, I went on one at Niagara Falls.. It was so lame but at least I got a laugh… the funniest part was that the roof was so low and opaque that unless you sat in the front row, you couldn’t see anything as you went up! I think I queued for 20 minutes to get on it. The things you do when you’re travelling

  7. Oh I went on the scenic railway only a few weeks ago. In the mist so I couldn’t see anything…so expensive, so boring, so many school children. On my list of things not to do if I go back to Oz.

  8. gotta agree with your there ab… it’s shite 🙂 ‘a wade in a swimming pool’ as pete put it!

    chukki… i am glad you commented coz it’s nice to know i wasn’t alone, hehe!

    hello groovers and thanks for commenting… you all rule!

  9. didnt he say that on yer honeymoon …

    or was it the sequel honeymoon II or maybe honeymoon III…

    then again ..maybe he says it every night *grins*

    sends hugs to you and Dr G

  10. You are not alone, Shauny! Age 12 I went on the “scenic railway” and have no memories of it being scenic. Instead, my face was morphed into a rictus, while clutching the hand of my FIVE-year-old cousin Shane. I soothed “Don’t be scared, you’ll be ok!” while he shouted “WHOAH!!! GNARLY, DUDE!”, and let go of my clammy death-grip to throw devil’s ROCK! horns at the kookaburras.

  11. Ok, the ending (to illustrate my own chicken-shit stance) was totally unbelievable. What he really said was something like “Wheeeeee!”. But in a totally Pepsi Max kind of way.

  12. Thanks (also to Gareth) for the belly laugh at the end.

    I too baulked at going on the scenic railway, but it was the cost that put me off. Scottish, you know.

    This is my first visit to your blog in nearly a year. I like this life-story stuff.

  13. This is naughty I know, but re your (closed) 50-50 post – as a Scot exiled to Sydney I have the same problem in reverse.

    Channel 9 has been losing the ratings war and they haven’t a clue what to do about it, so they try anything.

  14. I’m a ride wimp too. I haven’t lived down my screamfest after i went on some rather, er, tame rides at Dreamworld. Not saying which ones but suffice to say there were little kids who didn’t even make a murmur.

  15. LOL great read! The railway had an opposite effect on me … I thought I was in for a trailblazing ride … until we were overtaken by a couple of bushwalking grannies halfway down the slope.

  16. mwahahaa momo! i think it is tops that you ctually hve a cousin clled shane!

    bob, get yer mind out of the gutter 😛

    rachel, hehe, there is just this odd little subspecies of old lady that seem to hve superhumn fitness… i used to walk up Mt Ainslie in canberra and they’d alwys overtake me… while RUNNING!!!

    hiya rob! it really is bizarre to me to think of chnnel nine not dominting the ratings anymore… never thought i;d see the day 🙂

    btw people, the A key on my iBook is barely functioning, on when it feels like it, or when i hit it really hrd. does anyone know anything bout fixing dodgy keys?

  17. I remember taking the Viking’s Revenge when I was nine, back in ’91. It was a bit of a scary drop at the end, but not a patch on Lasseter’s Lost Mine! I felt my meagre nine years flash before my eyes a number of times on that ride!

    Ahh, the joys that come from family holidays at over-priced theme parks. There really is nothing like it!

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