There once was a German railway signal station. That sounds impressive, but all it was, was a little wooden booth in the railways yards.
A railway worker would stay in there, sheltered from the weather, and signal to trains which way to go, and use big leavers to change the tracks when trains went by.
From 1910 until 1940 not much happened in that little wooden booth. No humour, no joy. A worker would get bored and cold and wait for trains to arrive.
(Worker huddled, woollen hat on, scarf over most of face, by little potbelly fire in signal station)
In summer it was cramped and hot. In winter it shielded from the snow.
When the second World War broke out in Europe, in 1939, the signal station was very busy, lots of different workers used it to signal all sorts of trains.
By 1945 the war was almost over, but this lead to a different type of cargo coming through the railway yards.
Hungarian refugees (crammed into cattle carriages).
Meet Yanush. That’s Hungarian for John. He and his mother and younger brother and sister are fleeing the battle destroying their town. Their train has travelled very far.
At times they were peppered by machine gun fire (Allied airplane spraying side of train with machine gun bullets).
Whenever the train stopped, the men would go out looking for work or food. Sometimes the train would take off again without them!
There was no other way to get through Europe in winter, let alone during a war! It often took the fathers weeks to find their families again.
That’s what happened to Yanush’s Popa.
During this time the mothers had to fend for themselves and their children. Yanush’s Moma sung them old songs, and told them tales from her home, up in the mountains of Transylvania, where the wolves would howl.
For now, though, the signal station was empty, and Yanush was very, very cold.
“Moma, come, look!” he cried.
(Yanush poking head out from door, happy, calling)
(Moma brother and sister, followed by another mother and two children, come running)
“Shelter!” Moma sighed.
“And dry wood!” her friend exclaimed.
Yanush was too young to know why his mother was so happy, but there she was, smiling, laughing, as she cut the only food both families had, four potatoes, into the thinnest slices, while her friend lit the potbelly fire.
It had been the hardest time for little Yanush, now everyone was huddled, safe from the snow, warm. He did a little dance of joy.
(While his brother and sister watched, as the mothers cooked.)
Four potatoes were not a lot, but Yanush didn’t care. It was food! And it was WARM!
“Moma,” he said, in Hungarian. “These are the greatest chips in the history of all time!”
Soon, the Hungarians heard their train leaving again. They ran through the snow to cram back onto it before it was gone.
Only Yanush took the seconds to look back at the signal station. “Kesunam sapan,” he whispered to it, which was “Thank you,” in Hungarian.
Yanush and his family ended up on an Italian fishing friggat, bound for Australia. Europeans from all over came to this new country to start again. It was called the Post War Boom.
They built hydro water systems, railways, roads, worked sugarcane farms. They brought colour, food, and cultures from all over the world!
Yanush went to school, worked hard, even learned how to play Aussie Rules! But in quiet moments, despite all he’d been through, he’d wonder about the signal station. If it still existed now?
Eventually, Yanush has children of his own. They grew up saying “Mum and Dad”, and “G’day” and “Cheers, mate!” He loved them very much.
As a family tradition, every Friday night he would make them the thinnest chips he ALWAYS cooked outside, on the barbie (sheltered by a homemade shack that looks just like the signal station)
Even when it snowed!
(Family inside, looking through the window at Dad, standing under his ‘signal station’, barbie in the snow, big grin on his face)