In the 1967 novel “Picnic at Hanging Rock” by the Australian author Joan Lindsay, a group of school girls and a teacher mysteriously vanished after an excursion to Hanging Rock, located 70 km northwest of Melbourne, near Mount Macedon. The residents and friends of Altona had organized a special picnic a few days ago on the 16th of June 2011, not to country Victoria, but to Parliament House, smack in the centre of Melbourne and the epicentre of Victorian policy-making.

On the steps of Parliament House, not less than 100 people congregated in solidarity to show their disapproval of the worsening interpeak train services in Altona resulting from the timetable change introduced in May. There were elderly people, students, people in wheelchairs and people with prams – the segments of the Altona population most vulnerable to train service cuts.

Picnic @ Parliament 01

Red is the colour of the day. It has been decided that the group would wear red wigs, in honour of Julia Gillard, the most eminent resident of Altona. This must be a rare and spectacular sight as you will not often see so many people donning red hairs in front of Parliament House. Daniel Bowen, the President of the PTUA (Public Transport User Association) lamented that while many journalists were nearby, most of them were preoccupied with the announcement of Simon Overland’s resignation from his position as the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police and hence, unfortunately did not cover this mass rally.

Picnic @ Parliament 03

Why did I start the post with the “Picnic at Hanging Rock”? Like the “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, something were also missing from the plot. Make a guess.

Well, there is actually more than one thing missing. First, the trains had mysteriously “disappeared”. A signalling problem had occurred at Seaholme in the early morning, resulting in suspension of train services from the Altona Loop until midday. This had however not thwarted the determination of the Altona protesters in making their presence felt at Parliament House. They overcame all hurdles, made their journey on bus and other transport and eventually arrived at Parliament House punctually. I learnt from one Altona commuter that no replacement buses were arranged at Seaholme (second thing that was missing) and there was no announcement whatsoever (third thing missing). Another Altona resident recounted her trying journey experience – she had to return home to drive to Williamstown to catch a train from there as she found that was no parking lot at Newport or Spotswood.

Picnic @ Parliament 04

A room at Parliament House was booked for the Picnic. All Members of Parliament for the western region and the Transport Minister were invited to this meeting. However, only 3 MPs had turned up – Colleen Hartland, Jill Hennessy and Wade Noonan. For the other MPs, the Altona Community can only be contented with the empty name-tagged chairs that were reserved for them (the last but most important missing parts). There were touching speeches from those who lived through the experience of the first month. Regrettably the story ended on an incomplete note with the key characters missing in action. But life is such. I had a bite on the sandwich before I left the venue (just in case the readers may be interested in knowing whether this is a real picnic or not………)

PS. My wife is helping her friend to sell hair extensions on eBay. On hindsight, I should have told her to order more red.