It was a lonely sort of life. Rod Malone used to sit and drink at Valley Heights railway station and watch the trains go by. An alcoholic living in a rundown shack in the small village, it was an escape from the every day watching the trains come and go — sometimes with his faithful dog Buster, but always with his green supermarket recycling bag, filled with bottles of cheap beer and his old brown leather hat on his head. The Valley Heights bus stop was another popular haunt, named “Rod’s beer garden” by the locals.
Last Thursday night, September 26, Mr Malone wandered over to the train station from his home nearby. Some time before 6pm while he sat on the station, a gust of wind blew that beloved hat onto the tracks. The 61-year-old then made the fatal decision to climb onto the tracks to retrieve it. He was seen on security footage standing on the tracks when the 4.53pm from Central hit him. He ended up trapped under the train’s back wheels suffering from a broken leg, broken arm and deep lacerations and died on arrival at Westmead Hospital.
A neighbour, who asked not to be named, said “everybody knew and liked Rod”, a long-term resident of the area.
“He was a quiet sort of man, polite ... one of the community’s more eccentric characters.” Asked why he might have chased his old hat, she replied: “I have no doubt he was drinking [but] he loved his hat and he always wore it, he
wouldn’t have just left it on the track, he may have even slept in it.”
Friend and former neighbour, Phil French, said Rod had been “a bit of an old loner” but was also a kindhearted man who had helped out in the Christmas Day bushfires of 2001. “He manned the hose and ended up drinking me out of beer,” he said laughing.
Neighbours and police are keeping an eye on his home. They’ve emptied the fridge, put out the garbage and are collecting mail for his younger sister Donna, who lives on the northern beaches. One couple has even offered to take Buster, who was given a good wash by police and a local dog cleaning service, after he was found in the shack after the incident.
“It’s awful, you wouldn’t want to go inside it, it’s terrible but it’s just the way he lived,” Mr French said.
Mr French said his friend had previously worked as a steward for Qantas eight years ago and had been a prefect at Sydney’s prestigious Barker College on the north shore, representing the school in rugby and cricket.
“He moved into that place with some young lady and she left and that caused all his problems,” Mr French said.
“He was a very bright fella. He could talk on any subject. He just had this problem with alcohol. In the early hours he would go out walking with Buster. He always had a hat and his bag and it was always full of Reschs Real.”
When Mr Malone’s mother died of mesothelioma earlier this year his health went downhill, the neighbour said.
“We all looked out for him, fed Buster when he was away. He was limping last week and he had had a couple of falls since his mother died. I do hope he is in a better place,” she said.
His sister said she has “had so much support from the community there it has been wonderful and I greatly appreciate everyone’s thoughts”.
“I’d like to apologise to the driver. Rod would be devastated to know that he’s upset someone like that. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
She said her brother’s early years were blissful ones spent with mates “Jonno and Phil, boarders from Narromine and Brewarrina”.
“He spent many school holidays with them on their properties helping to muster cattle, dipping sheep and mending broken fences. This continued into Rod’s adult life as he loved the country and was thinking of becoming a jackaroo and living his life on the land.
“A childhood bout with rheumatic fever ruled him out of going to Vietnam — he was a member of the school cadets which he loved, hence his disappointment at not being conscripted for Vietnam.”
Mr Malone’s funeral will be held tomorrow (Thursday) at the Northern Suburbs Crematorium at 9am. His hat and Buster will make an appearance. A report has been prepared for the coroner.
A NSW Trains spokeswoman said the driver and train crew had all been offered counselling following the death on the network.
Valley Heights was in the news twice last week in two separate tragedies — a Valley Heights man was bashed to death in Parramatta and police have charged a teenager in relation to that incident.