It has been my privilege at times to have sat in the Chief Commissioner of Railways in three States to discuss a number of things, one was industrial chaplaincy, another was executive ministry and others as a guest as the Australian cricket team chaplain. None, sadly as an author of 16 railway books.
On that count it appeared as though my knowledge as a locomotive engineman (train driver) for 10 years was counted as of no value in expressing an opinion on anything railway although it was obvious to all on the ground (as it were) that the official view on this or that, was to say the least, out of touch.
On another occasion I was the guest speaker at a church men's breakfast and a retired railway chief executives was in attendance and one of the organisers. This gave me the opportunity to tell a railway story of his early years on the railway al-be-it apocryphal to him personally (why spoil a good story).
This story can be found in my second book "Tales of the Footplate" and it was in the era of steam where there were long distance sections of line between stops in the bush and each of these sections had a time allowance that driver's needed to adhere too.
This train arrived 20 minutes late as there had been an animal on the line and it would not move off between the tracks. The crew had a terrible job trying to get this beast to yes, actually find, grass that was greener on the other side (of the line). As sure as night follows day the railway letter arrived some weeks later enquiring of the driver his 20 minute delay (these are called 'bungs') and the assumption is that you are guilty, you as the driver must prove yourself innocent of the charge.
Train Driver's Stories
The driver explained the situation and mentioned the farmer's gate was left open. The farmer denied this and back and forth it went. Finally the railways department insisted on an itemised account of time lost. To comply, the driver wrote: "20 minutes lost. 10 minutes Fireman chase Bull. 10 minutes Bull chase Fireman."
In recent months the railway magazines in both New Zealand and Australia have been replete with the drama that the new fleets of diesels purchased from China, although written and signed documents were exacting and without reproach by the decision makers, were later found to have asbestos right the way around the engine sound proofing and in the paint.
The cost it seems will need to be borne by the respective railway purchasers. Indeed, 'after the event' can be heart breaking.
There are a litany of railway deaths that could have been avoided which I have detailed in this column previously. Yes, after the event can be heartbreaking. I have noted that a number of Australia's civilian and military honours some of which are 'posthumous', or after the event of death.
More often or not an artist's fame was only gained after he or she has been dead for a lengthy period of time.
I also have a story of an after-death gong (OAM). The late Denise Smith was a remarkable woman. Denise was an inspiration in the way she gave of her expertise to those less fortunate, and was enthusiastic about being involved in new ideas in my ministries. Lectured at the University of Newcastle (NSW) in Special Education, and her 'leisure' life revolved around sports. Her award came after her death and one wonders why!
The reality is that these Australian Community Awards are just that: they go to ordinary people who do the most extraordinary things without song or dance. It is usually 'assumed' that the person - himself or herself - privately and humbly acknowledge their respective community group's love and support.
Many are like these beautiful leaves
However, life is ephemeral, and in the unfortunate circumstance where death comes prematurely, or the community did not 'think' to make a nomination earlier, or that forces were at play that prevented such an honour, for the esteemed person's life, then a 'posthumous' award (after death) is at least of some comfort to the family and friends.
Each time I read of a person receiving an after death (posthumous) award I get a strange sense that the honoured person was somehow cheated. Consider military awards. Where were those who delayed such award when the bullets were flying? Similarly, civilian 'after death' honours.
My first question is to ask, what held back such an award to wait for so long and what were the circumstances or the people involved who delayed such a nomination. Call it frustration, call it what you will, but it's a disgrace and it might not be such a bad idea for the Government set up a running Commission to look into it. At least this one might do some good.
Moreover, what of those fabulous Australians in Christian Mission engaged in their sacrificial ministries over a life time, (many of whom I've written of), achieving the most astonishing outcomes, and never acknowledged by the nation, saying thankyou.
The Australasian Religious Press Association last year awarded the fabulous Ramon Williams a citation for 50 years of meritorious service to Christian media. What he's achieved has been phenomenal. There are many denominational characters who have achieved a whole lot less and got national honours. It is not as if the powers that be didn't know of his astonishing service.
Yes, I'm aware there is a higher crown awaiting, but the Scriptures also acknowledge achievement – just one example, Lydia was known far and wide in her community for her professionalism and expertise in purple.
One of my ministry duties over a life time is taking Christian funerals. My wife Delma recently attended for the very first occasion a funeral run by a celebrant. Delma came home so sad that no hymn was sung, no prayer was offered, no bible reading of comfort given.
As a Christian where eternal destiny is paramount 'after the event can indeed be heart breaking'.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html