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Behind The Experience Puffing Billy

This week on our ‘Behind the Experience’ series we are taken on a journey through the Dandenong Ranges with Puffing Billy. Many adults will have nostalgic memories riding Victoria’s heritage locomotive steam train near Melbourne during their childhood. The Puffing Billy steam train ride is a fan favourite with international tourists too.

No matter your age, a ride on the Puffing Billy is an exciting activity with breathtaking views and an iconic piece of Victorian railway history.

Passenger Operations Manager, Jean Clowes kindly takes us behind the scenes sharing with us her love of the Dandenong Ranges and why Australians need to add the Puffing Billy Railway journey to their Australian bucket list right now.

Behind the Experience Puffing Billy Dandenong Melbourne Victoria Australia Experience Oz

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself?

I have been involved with Puffing Billy Railway for 31 years, initially as a volunteer and then as staff. I would bring my young son David down to Lakeside to watch Puffing Billy. I noticed the Lakeside kiosk was often closed so I enrolled as a volunteer and once a week I operated the kiosk.

My love and interest in the railway rapidly grew and I took tentative steps to become involved operationally, which was not a common direction for a woman at the time. I qualified as a locomotive fireman 24 years ago. This is the role I still do when I can. I have had proud days as a volunteer fireman, the first, being my son David’s fireman when he qualified as a driver on Mother’s Day 2015 and last year as Belinda’s fireman, our first female driver.

My first job on the railway was a host in the dining cars on our original lunchtime dining experience. I then moved into other areas and currently am in Passenger Operations Manager. I enjoy the variety in the role, working with wonderfully dedicated volunteers who are station masters, booking officers and conductors. I have great teams in the Customer Service Centre and Cleaners.

2. What do you love most about your job at Puffing Billy?

The very best part of the job is seeing the happy smiling faces of our passengers who travel on the train and the look of wonder, particularly when children get close to the steam locomotive. Being part of such a unique piece of our history, that has bought enjoyment to endless Melbournians and other visitors over the decades is a pleasure and honour.

Behind the Experience Puffing Billy Dandenong Melbourne Victoria Australia Experience Oz

3. What can visitors expect when they take a scenic ride on the Puffing Billy?

When visitors take a ride on Puffing Billy, they will have a unique experience that goes beyond the scenic beauty of the journey. They are travelling behind original locomotives that have been lovingly restored and maintained and riding in carriages that have been carrying passengers for over 120 years.

They are experiencing living history. Most of the Puffing Billy people they will interact with are volunteers who give their time freely so visitors can have this unique experience. The train journey travels over a National Trust listed heritage wooden trestle bridge, and slowly climbs through the hills, past fern gullies and tall gums.

A special part of the experience is the interaction with the locals along the line, everyone waves to Puffing Billy either from cars at the crossing to families walking beside the railway. A journey on Puffing Billy is a trip in time that brings a smile to our faces.

4. When you aren’t busy welcoming visitors on the Puffing Billy, what is your favourite place to holiday in Australia and why?

When I holiday, I like the combination of forest and sea, so Wilson’s Promontory, Lorne and other locations on the Great Ocean Road are areas I love to visit.

Behind the Experience Puffing Billy Dandenong Melbourne Victoria Australia Experience Oz

5. What is your favourite hidden gem in the Dandenong Ranges?

I have lived in the Dandenong Ranges all my life, so it is very hard to identify a favourite place, there are so many. My theme is constant though, the peace and tranquillity walking in our forested areas like Sherbrooke Forest, Olinda Falls and parts of the Meander Trail that goes from Emerald to Sassafras.

Perhaps one gem that I have recently discovered is the Dandenong Ranges Botanical Garden in Olinda, formally the National Rhododendron Gardens. This extensive acreage is really an amazing mixture of formal garden sections, mass planting and blending within a natural forested setting, well worth a visit.

6. Why must Australian’s come along and take a ride on the Puffing Billy at least once in their lifetime?

I think every Australian should take a ride on Puffing Billy at least once in their lifetime because no matter what your age it is an experience you can connect with in your own unique way. As a child the wide-eyed wonder of being up close to a steam locomotive, the sounds, the smells, it seems to be a living thing.

For many a ride on Puffing Billy will bring back memories of a time gone, an experience of the past, a happy place, an innocent time. For many just being in the moment, a slow journey enjoying the scenery, a world away from normal life. Puffing Billy is a ride that makes happy memories.

Melbourne’s Puffing Billy steam train rides depart from Belgrave or Lakeside taking passengers on a journey through the lush rainforest and rugged landscapes of Australia’s Dandenong Ranges. This experience is one of Melbourne’s top things to do and is in high demand, particularly, on weekends so we recommend that you book your Puffing Billy tickets in advance.

Book your Puffing Billy Railway tickets online here to join Jean and her friendly team on a ride through the Dandenong Ranges.

Explore Puffing Billy Experiences