Jane Wilson takes an epic train journey
Smouldering on the track before my eyes was a huge hunk of metal, 731 metres long, with 31 carriages. Its weight, a mere 1390 tonnes. Puffs of smoke and early morning mist enveloped its solid shape but it remained still for now, humming and spluttering in readiness for the venture ahead. A wistful picture postcard scene but there would be many more.
This adventure, on the other side of the world, had always been high up on my bucket list of trips. And it was actually happening. I could hardly contain my excitement. Would we meet an Aboriginal elder or a crocodile wrangler? Would we catch sight of hopping kangaroos or other natives flying, crawling or making guest appearances along the way?
Symbolising this transcontinental journey from one massive ocean to the other were two-meter wing-span emblems emblazoned on its metal casing, all shiny and proud. These would escort us over the next four days, and 4352km traversing the unrelenting outback of ancient landscapes, cattle stations and Blue Mountains. We would be travelling on the world’s longest straight stretch of railway track and would witness colour palettes and shadows as dawn rolled into dusk, highlighting images carved in aboriginal history. Vast, expansive and dramatic.
It all started from a platform of Perth rail station on an Aussie morning, surrounded by trolleys laden with luggage precariously balanced and attendants fashioning bush hats. A jazz duo serenading my fellow voyages with Slim Dusty’s 70’s song “Indian Pacific” – fitting lyrics for our embarkation…“From coast to coast by night and day, hear the clickin’ of the wheels, the hummin of the diesel on her ribbons of steel, carryin’ the memories of a nation built by hand”
On board, the lounge and restaurant cars were interspersed among the follow-the-leader line of silvery carriages. They were the social hub for sharing life stories, making new acquaintances and competing to be the first to spot, a kangaroo or other inhabitants along the way. Our fellow passengers included a couple from New Zealand, checking out their neighbouring country, a lone German exploring the world, a mother and son from the US visiting relatives among many enjoying the journey as one of those must-do expeditions. Together we watched the landscapes of Western Australia transform from the wheat belt to the Avon Valley revealing winding streams weaving through rolling hills uncovering townships turning to areas of pure nothingness but land – wide, expansive and sparse.
After the first eleven hours, late in the evening, our aluminium picture house screeched to a halt in Kalgoorlie for our first off-train excursion to visit the 3.6km Super Pit. Even in the darkness the world’s largest single open-cut mining operation was an awesome site with miners working through the night and huge dump trucks overflowing with the earth’s soil, all in search of those precious nuggets of gold.
A small ghost town called Cook was another break to our journey. Once a thriving outpost, it was closed after the privatisation of the railways in 1997.
On our first morning, breakfast was served trackside outside an old disused post office at Rawlinna, a deserted town close to Australia’s largest sheep station stocking some 70,000 sheep scattered across a vast area.
Meals on board were a treat, not only as distraction from the passing scenery but a chance to dine with new-found friends. We enjoyed local dishes, good portions and with an unlimited supply of alcohol and other beverages. Service was delivered with smiles and warm hospitality from the crew, known by first name only.
Our cabins were small with seats doubling as bunk beds which filled all available space. Thankfully, there were ensuite facilities complete with amenities and towels and in the evening the turndown service was sweetened with a goodnight chocolate. But sleep didn’t come easily. It was interrupted with bumps, brakes and clatter but weirdly there was a sense of cosiness and security lying in the confines of a snug cabin.
Entertainment came in the form of a resident duo who performed each day. In the cabins a radio provided an educational commentary or background music to accompany the unfolding landscape in its various versions.
We rolled into Adelaide for a walkabout choosing one of the guided tours around the city’s parklands which span 760 hectares, twice the area of New York City’s Central Park. Back on board we headed next to a place named Broken Hill, known as the longest-lived mining city, having the world’s richest lead-zinc ore deposit and today, home to a base of the highly respected Royal Flying Doctor service. Our final excursion deposited us in the heart of the Blue Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Area, to explore the area’s natural, scenic beauty.
With glimpses of the first British colony in Australia, our rail journey terminated in Sydney with its iconic opera house, bridge and numerous attractions all awaiting our visit.
This epic trek had started on the coastline of the Indian Ocean, where the sands are powder white, soft and silky under-foot, the sea is a colour chart of turquoise shades. Scarborough is one of 19 beaches edging Australia’s remotest city, Perth which is located on the banks of the Swan River. From here we ventured to Fremantle to visit its infamous jail, where dark tales and secrets were dramatically revealed of the convicts and criminals who first laid the colony’s foundations. Perth was our starting point for the Indian Pacific railroad experience.
I had been cocooned within a steel embrace, tracking across Australia. This was a journey of authentic discovery, traversing a route forged from past gold hopefuls over tracks far from city limits where other forms of transports would struggle to access. We had succeeded in our quest to spot those hopping kangaroos but failed to find that nugget of gold but the lyrics we originally heard had come to life as we chugged from the Indian to the Pacific Ocean ….….“From coast to coast by night and day, hear the clickin’ of the wheels, the hummin of the diesel on her ribbons of steel, carryin’ the memories of a nation built by hand”
Take the train
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