Beyond the sprawling city streets of Brisbane, at the end of a 320 mile train journey, an outback town called Roma awaited the arrival of newlyweds, William and Cis Lyons in October 1902. William had already taken up a post there as a drill instructor with the Queensland Mounted Infantry. Cis was about to discover her role of a soldier’s wife.
Cis’ tiny lace up boots echoed on the timber platform floor as she disembarked from the train with the help of William’s hand. She straightened the crushed gathers of her cotton skirt and petticoats with her gloved hands ensuring they covered her ankles before taking a look at the station.
She noted that it was similar to most country stations with its weatherboard walls and bull-nosed awning supported by a chorus of fanciful timber posts. Much smaller and less ornate than the Brisbane station where they began their journey, it was much more welcoming, she thought.
“Cis, you stay here and I’ll fetch our luggage.” William announced, before heading down to the luggage car.
Cis walked a few feet across the platform and stood against the station wall, beneath the shade of the iron awning. She listened to the clunking of disembarking boots upon the platform floor; the opening and shutting of carriage doors; the voices of people meeting and greeting; and felt the swish of ladies frocks as they passed through the picket gates, next to where she stood. Once the excitement of the arrivals had subsided, the whistle sounded and the train began to spit and hiss huge white clouds of steam back through its carriages, sweeping anyone in its path with searing heat. After much huffing and puffing it summonsed the energy to continue its journey.
As the chugging brown trail of steam and smoke faded into the distance, Cis drew a deep breath of fresh air and leaned her head against the wall, glad to stretch her legs. The station noise had lulled to little more than the pitiful cries of crows, intermittent neighing of horses and murmurs of conversation coming from a group of people standing further down the platform. At last she had time to herself, a quiet moment to reflect on the rush of weeks that has been her life of late.
This latest arrival has been just another in a series of departures and arrivals, all orchestrated by church bells and train whistles. “And here I am waiting for yet another departure!” she thought, when she saw William walking towards her with a port in each hand and boxed wedding gifts under each arm.
Station Street that afternoon was rumbling with sulky wheels and the rhythmic clip clopping of horses’ hooves. That was normal with the arrival of Brisbane Trains which carried goods as well as passengers to this outback town. On their carriage ride to their new marital home in Albert Street, Cis took in the sights of her new town.
They passed several large shops as well as smaller ones, sprinkled in between the dozen or so Public Houses that guarded over the wide dirt streets with architectural superiority. She was particularly impressed at seeing a sign reading “Library” on the front wall of the School of Arts Building and another advertising a “Reading Room”.
“Cis, you will never be want of something to do,” William reassured his new wife. “And you will be pleased to know that we have a mail service that runs four days a week, as well as a telegraph office.”
“I’m impressed,” Cis replied.
Further down the street, a column of men on horseback were walking in their direction. As they neared, Cis felt a twinge of pride when she noticed the khaki uniforms, slouch hats and emu feathers fluttering in the breeze. The rider leading the group nodded and acknowledged William with a curt “Good Afternoon, Sergeant,” and kept riding past.
In a split second, her feelings of pride turned into something she could not explain. Cis leaned against William’s shoulder, looped her arm firmly around his and looked straight ahead. What was it? The uniforms? Or perhaps the salute? Her future had seemed so clear, but now it seems so uncertain. She felt numb by the realization that her husband’s life was neither for he nor she to decide. The future that she had planned for was now the present and she was left wondering what her new future would bring.