I spent the last weekend in September in Sydney at the AMRA Liverpool exhibition helping to man the Aus7 Modellers Group stand. I enjoyed catching up with friends and seeing Smugglers Cove, the new layout by  Geoff Nott and Michael Flack, definitely made the trip worthwhile. However the highlight for me was without a doubt seeing Arakoola in its “final” form, with its relatively new backdrop and with the scenery pretty much complete.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m not biased: Arakoola represents the same prototype as I model in and, probably more important for me, it was built by a group of people who I’m proud to call friends. Without exception the men in this group reflect the best things about this hobby and the people in it. I am better for knowing them and watching trains run on their wonderful layout. It’s a credit it to you guys. Well done!

I’ve been involved in the history of Arakoola, and its predecessor Stringbark Creek, as both direct participant and interested friend: I’ve heard most of the participant’s opinions and views about the layout and each other over the years and I think there are many things to be learnt from this layout and the people who built it. However I make no claims that the opinions that follow are anything but exclusively mine.

At approximately 56’x 20′ Arakoola is a big layout: no let’s be honest, it’s bloody enormous, and Stringybark Creek was about the same size. One of the recurring themes in the conversations I’ve had about the size of the layout with modellers, both inside and outside the group, over the years revolves around whether its sheer size actually intimidates people and scares them away from the scale. I had a version of this  very conversation with a couple of modellers over the weekend with Arakoola not 3 meters from where I was standing. After many years of flogging this particular dead horse I’ve gradually come to the conclusion that what modellers in other scales think of O-scale really doesn’t matter all that much: anyone who believes O-scale is too big for the space they have available is probably right. If someone is determined to believe something, trying to convince them otherwise is a pretty pointless exercise. Having agreed to this proposition, can we stop apologising for taking up so much space and get on with enjoying our big trains with clear consciences? We’re blokes afterall: we need a bit of space and we also need to have control of the TV remote! Like the guys in the Arakoola group, I build my layouts to fit the space I have available, but this would be true no matter what scale I worked in. It was nice to see O-scale trains running where they had a bit of elbow room 🙂

Paul Chisholm, one of the group of modellers responsible for Arakoola, had asked me to take some photos of the layout over the weekend and I spent time on Saturday afternoon making a general pain of myself as I asked them to stop and pose the trains. I downloaded these photos from my camera today and did some work on them before I sent them to Paul. While I make no claims that the layout is perfect – you’ve really got to do something about the lighting guys – the thing that struck me about the photos is how stunningly the layout captures the look and feel of the Australian landscape, both natural and built. It looks so bloody Australian, mate! 🙂 Ok, to be more precise it looks like a NSW slice of Australia, but if an important aim of any prototype layout is to capture the look and feel of the place it depicts, then Arakoola does this in spades. It well deserves to have won the best Australian layout award it received over the weekend.

A very good friend of mine once told me, during a discussion about a number of famous Australian layouts, that he felt that 3-4 modellers working on a project together was just about perfect. If you had too many more than this then you were bound to have problems as factions formed over directions and workload. The people involved in Stringybark Creek would all have their own take on this issue, but it’s pretty clear that with small numbers also comes smaller outcomes. A layout the size of Arakoola needs lots of hands and, on the whole, the people who built it seem to get along well and the results speak for themselves. However this layout comes as the result of some hard lessons learned about the hobby and the people in it: no layout was ever built without lots of hard work and the expenditure of resources and to think otherwise would be naive in the extreme.

The people who have been involved in both the Stringbark Creek and Arakoola projects have my highest admiration: both layouts constitute significant milestones in our hobby, and perhaps more importanly, in the development of Austraolian O-scale modelling. I hope you enjoy seeing a couple of the photos I took, they really don’t do the layout justice.

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