28 September 2020: Two highly-credentialed para-athletes qualified for next year's Paralympic Games launched the Mary Valley Rattler's new 'all access' carriage today, providing special facilities for wheelchair and other assisted-access passengers.
Steven Elliott and Hannah Dodd were meant to have been returning from the Tokyo Paralympics at this time, after representing Australia in the Rollers and Gliders wheelchair basketball teams, but Covid-19 resulted in the postponement of the Paralympics to August 2021.
For Hannah, Tokyo will be her second Paralympic Games, having represented Australia in the Equestrian team in the 2012 London Paralympics.
Currently based at the University of Sunshine Coast, Steven was raised in Gympie and his family still lives there. He said that it was important for the city's highest profile attraction to champion accessibility with the introduction of the all-access carriage.
The railway carriage dates back to 1924 and required extensive renovation and upgrading to make it rail-worthy for the Mary Valley Rattler steam train.
Expert Gympie crafts-people brought the carriage back to life with its most comprehensive restoration since its original construction in the Ipswich workshops 96 years ago.
Internal and external panelling has been replaced, while windows, frames, doors and floors have been repaired, sanded, painted and varnished. The sympathetic restoration has been designed to preserve the changes throughout its history, while adding new access ramps to ensure an even wider cross section of people can experience the historic steam train's journey through the Mary Valley.
While built originally to house up to 90 passengers on cross bench seats in nine compartments, the new configuration is a far more spacious 56 seats, with four dedicated and fully-equipped wheelchairs spaces. The restoration was undertaken in the Old Gympie Workshops by a local carpenter, with the assistance from a wide range of volunteers.
The introduction of the new all-access carriage has attracted local sponsorship from the Gympie Motor Group, a long-term supporter of the Mary Valley Rattler and the Gympie community.
General Manager of the Mary Valley Rattler, Micheal Green, said the realisation of the project was testament to the passion, skills and community spirit of the restoration team, and it was fitting that two inspirational Paralympians should launch the carriage.
"Making the Mary Valley Rattler accessible to a wider cross-section of the community and visitors has always been a priority of the team," said Mr Green.
"Having Steven and Hannah – who must be amongst the most dedicated and inspirational athletes in Australia – ride the Rattler for the launch of the all-access carriage makes the inauguration even more rewarding.
"Both have overcome enormous personal obstacles to achieve their success in the sporting world, and of course with Steven being raised in Gympie, we hope their involvement will highlight even further the importance of accessibility in major tourism attractions and community assets.
"I'd also like to thank Duncan Cooper of the Gympie Motor Group for coming on-board with sponsorship of the all-access carriage. The Rattler is a unique heritage attraction for Gympie, and the support of local business is vital to ensure we can maintain the service and add extra facilities such as the All Access carriage."
Paralympian Hannah Dodd and Steven Elliott get onboard the Mary valley Rattler's new all access carriage
Hannah Dodd, The Gliders – Australia's national wheelchair basketball team
At 28, Hannah Dodd's life has been an example of overcoming adversity and a battle with odds.
Born with the rare congenital condition Sacral Agenesis and with markers of Spina Bifida, Hannah's fight for life started at her first breath. Major medical setbacks throughout her early years and teens meant numerous major operations and months at a time in hospital. Her various illnesses eventually led her to become a wheelchair-user almost a decade ago, but not before she was able to represent Australia in equestrian in the London Paralympic Games in 2012. Upon returning to Australia, she transferred her passion for horses into wheelchair basketball where she quickly made her name in the Women's National league (WNWBL) for the Sydney Uni Flames, before being invited to be part of the Australian National Women's squad, 'The Gliders. Hannah was a member of the Silver medal Australian team at the U25 Women's Wheelchair Basketball World Championships. She moved from Sydney to the Sunshine Coast in 2017 after winning a sporting scholarship from the University of Sunshine Coast. Combining her passion for speed on the basketball court, she has been able to complete her degree at USC, allowing her to dedicate the next year to winning gold in Tokyo.
Steven Elliott, The Rollers – Australia's national wheelchair basketball team
Gympie local, Steven Elliott, realised his dreams of representing the Australian Rollers at the 2018 World Championships in Hamburg, Germany, the result of many years of hard work and dedication to his craft. After developing Transverse Myelitis when he was 13, Steven took up wheelchair basketball with a passion from the age of 14, firstly representing his state and then appearing on the national radar as he showcased his strengths at the offensive end and on the boards. In 2016, he played for his country at the Champions Cup in Japan and went on to represent the Australian Under-23 Spinners while also captaining the Queensland Rolling Thunder. He was part of the bronze medal-winning Australian Rollers World Championship team in 2018, and would have been wheeling for gold in Tokyo over the past month, if Covid-19 hadn't intervened. Steven, like Hannah, has been part of the University of the Sunshine Coast Sports Elite and Education Dual Stream (SEEDS) program, which is the first of its kind in an Australian university. The program was created to help para-athletes successfully combine sport with study.