Station Master's hobby keeps Puffing Billy on track

It’s a little known fact that Australia’s famous steam train Puffing Billy continues to chug along because of the efforts of around 900 dedicated volunteers.

In fact a majority of staff at the tourist railway are volunteers, including station master John Tunks.

For the past 14 years the Greensborough retiree has been making the two-hour round trip from home to Puffing Billy, where he works up to 10-hour days at least once a week.

John has always been fascinated with steam train engines, has an old family connection with the Victorian railways and an appreciation of the 'magnificent' icon. So when his wife signed him up as a Puffing Billy Preservation Society member when he first retired, the logical next step was becoming a volunteer.

In 1988 he became a volunteer conductor, a role he had for four years before becoming station master.

The station master role involves ensuring the driver, fireman and guard are ready for duty, there are enough carriages for the amount of tickets sold and that trains run on time.

‘Essentially my role is to make sure the train is safe, secure, and staffed – but my primary objective is to make people’s day enjoyable,’ John says.

‘I enjoy making a contribution to the running of the railway. I don’t treat it as work but as a hobby that I like to do.’

Being a volunteer has its perks too, with John and his wife experiencing a part of history in 2000 when the Olympic flame made its way to Sydney aboard Puffing Billy.

John has always been someone who has given up their time to help out, with long stints on the committee of his local bowls and golf clubs.

Though he admits that his contribution at Puffing Billy is a ‘fair commitment’, he has no intention of giving it up any time soon.

There are many types of volunteer roles that will suit people’s different interests including locomotive cleaners / trainee firemen, refreshment room staff, building maintenance and environmental revegetation / gardening, train conductors and booking clerks and workshop engineering and works crews. 

Go to to become a volunteer or a member of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society.