The EMRC was approached in 2009 by Araluen (Lower Templestowe), a training centre for adults with an intellectual disability, to see if there was interest in helping the staff and clients of Araluen to construct a small working layout. Some EMTC members met with Araluen staff, and a small group of EMRC members volunteered to be part of the project. Over the next few weeks, EMRC members drew up a number of possible designs. Part of the challenge was the restricted space available (the layout size was to be 8ft X 5ft), and meeting the needs of the clients, which were different to those of the members of EMRC. Club members are interested in finely detailed models that would pass exhibition standards, all the aspects of creating a working layout, challenging projects, stimulating operations, and a layout that would stand the rigours of travelling to exhibitions. Such a layout would be built to suit and please members of EMRC themselves. Ther Araluen clients have different intrests.
Discussion between Araluen staff and EMRC members led to the realisation that Araluen clients were interested more in doing their own scenery, and mainline running. Tunnels were a must !! Consideration also had to be given to some Araluen clients having limited physical limitations as well. The layout would need to be robust enough to cope with some rough handling. Part of the challenge for the EMRC would be to come up with a layout that would suit the needs of others with different aims. Over the ensuing weeks, club members compared various plans and ideas, with eventually a compromise between a more elaborate plan by Doug Willett, and a simpler plan by Charles Koning. It consists of two independent circuits, a lower outer oval with a passing track, and an inner higher folded loop (providing an excuse for two tunnels !!), also with a passing track.
With the project ready to get underway, apart from the human resources of EMRC, and of Araluen clients (6) & staff (2 - one of whom - Ally - has great artistic skills), and the encouragement of the head of Araluen, there was a small permanent room, a sturdy table (5 X 8), funds raised by Araluen, two train sets purchased from "The Buffer Stop" in Preston, plus some excited enthusiasm - by staff & clients. Also, members of EMRC who were not directly involved were assisting, usually unknowingly, when the writer would ask about some issue, and usually get the advise needed.
Beginning the Build
Every Friday morning was devoted to work on the layout. Over time, as the project became known, other items were donated, including rolling stock and a small non scenic layout of 4 interlocking ovals. Construction started, and proceeded slowly but steadily (with the occasional holiday, plus an outing to Puffing Billy). Towards the end of 2009, trains were being run, and assistance came from an electrical expert, a retired electrical transformer manufacturer. There was also a small article plus a great picture in the local paper about the project. As of the beginning of 2010, scenery was beginning to be applied. Also as time passed, some clients changed interests, and while the numbers are the same, there are new clients. There has also been a change in the Araluen staff, with new staff member Mark bringing great practical skills.
Looking back, it has been a great project to be involved with. Primarily, the chance to get to know the staff and clients of Araluen has alone made the effort worthwhile. To see the sheer delight of some clients realising they are controlling the trains, others getting excited over scenery, and actually making the trees, & applying grass scenery over the board (and on the track !) brought a smile to one's face. Of course, the mistakes are there, and lessons learnt, with the rueful thought of "If I had my time again ...). Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. The writer has also found himself challenged, as over the years he has attempted about three layouts at home, which never got further than laying track and basic scenery. Already the Araluen project has him attempting tasks often read about but never accomplished. He now tries to keep pace at home with his latest project to be at the same stage as the Araluen project.
There is still much to do. Scenery construction has only just begun, although there is hope it will be "finished" in the first half of this year. The donated small layout needs much work to be used. It has great possibilities, as the major layout only has the capabilities to run two trains, while there are usually six clients in attendance. Having a second layout operating will increase the variety, plus give opportunities for involvement by the clients in attendance. At this stage the scenery is somewhat generic, but Araluen staff & EMRC members are considering how, within the restraints we have to deal with, it can be "more Australian".
Future of Model Railways at Araluen
The future of course is the great unknown. How long interest will be maintained by staff & clients at Araluen is yet to be seen. Probably at some stage the writer will need to sit down with the Araluen staff to discuss the pros & cons of the project, what was learnt, what was achieved, how such a project fits in with the overall training ideals and aims of Araluen, how effective was it as a use of resources etc. There may even be a possibility of another larger room in the medium term. The writer has had some preliminary discussions with Araluen staff over how the clients are to be involved with the community, and how the community can be involved with Araluen.
EMRC and Community Projects
From the perspective of EMRC, consideration & discussion will need to be had about the level of involvement with such community projects, the level at which resources of time and energy are directed to the aims and interests of the members of the EMRC, and for the club takes an altruistic role in "the common good". No man (& no club) is an island. How to balance the internal, and the external projects, is yet to be determined. And this balancing act itself will change if & as the circumstances of the club change (eg if the EMRC finds its own permanent headquarters).
Finally, it is with a note of sadness to add that Charles Koning was there at the start of the EMRC involvement with Araluen, and was keen to be a part of it. However, failing health prevented participation after the initial planning stages. Unfortunately he did not live long enough to see the project take shape. His skills, enthusiasm and concern for those who needed a hand is sorely missed.
Douglas A Willett, EMRC