HUGO Armstrong loved old trains so much, he went one better, SARAH HUDSON writes. What is it about the allure and romance of steam trains?
HUGO Armstrong loved old trains so much, he went one better, SARAH HUDSON writes
What is it about the allure and romance of steam trains?
Hugo Armstrong loved the chug and puff of old trains so much, he went one better, investing in one and adding music and dinner to the experience to create Queenscliff's Blues Train.
"There's something about planes, trains and automobiles," says Hugo, who grew up in Point Lonsdale and has been at the forefront of the music industry for three decades.
"As a child at kindergarten, I would always wave to the train as it went past. I remember picking up grandma from the station when she came from Caulfield.
"The train follows the old Geelong line to Drysdale and is not just a journey but a complete experience with the music, scenery and historic engine.
"Established 17 years ago, today the Blues Train is, according to Hugo, the only one of its kind in the world.
It runs from August to May, holds 44 performances with dinner each season, totalling roughly 10,000 passengers annually or 200 each night - aged anywhere from 18 to 80 - and has 30 bands in its stable.
Hugo has never failed to appear at a performance and says the concept captures the essence of vintage train travel.
"Old musicians used to travel on freight trains hoboing, or 'riding the blinds' it was called. They'd jump on a carriage with canvas sides and catch a ride from town to town. To me that has synergy with the blues genre of music.
"The idea for the train came when he and his original business partners thought Queenscliff needed something unique: "the town was devoid of music". Since then, it has been an organic process.
"We never had a business model and there's nothing been done like this before. So we invented as we went
along. There's been times when I walked away. After September 11 we
couldn't get any insurance so I went to Lloyds of London to get
"Don't for one moment, however, assume the Blues Train is Hugo's only project.
A simple summation of his interests and business pursuits is impossible.
Aside from running the train, he is the chair of Bellarine tourism and still runs a PBS FM radio show, Now Dig This, which was launched in 1987.
In his colourful career, he has been a party DJ, including for the likes of Elle Macpherson and Joe Cocker, has been artistic director for the Queenscliff Music Festival and along the way even managed to run a kite shop in Point Lonsdale and take out the Australian stunt kite championship in 1990.
Hugo says he is genetically programmed to make eclectic choices.
His father, Eric, was a West Australian racing champion, competing at Albert Park at the original Grand Prix; his uncle was awarded the Victoria Cross after fighting at Gallipoli, while his grandfather too was a car fanatic.
He says that he suspects he was an "attention deficit disorder" child, and he was never any good at spelling or maths.
His motto is: "If you want a job done, then give it to a busy person.
"Pressed to pinpoint the secret to his successes, Hugo says "do what you love".
"I have followed my heart rather than a career path," he says.
"I go and talk to schools all the time and I tell them to only do what you want to do. If not, you will be a pain to work with.
"Because I love what I do, it's infectious.
"If you hate your job, why do it?"