Three-Day Train Journey through the Heartland of Australia – Australia
View from Window
From my window, I could see the orange sun gently rise in the distance and brighten the red desert ground. My eyes began to catch the peculiar images of dark red bushes sprinkled across the barren earth. The Australian outback was coming alive on this Monday morning and the Indian Pacific train was inching its way through the spectacular landscape of the Nullarbor Plain. I was waking up for my second day on this great train journey that spans the entire length of Australia between Sydney and Perth.
Train Journey Begins
The journey began in the beautiful city of Sydney. We departed from Central Station at 2:30 on a warm Saturday afternoon in September, began the trek west with the final destination 4,352 kilometers (2,704 miles) away in Perth. I boarded the train with my backpack and found my sleeper seat, which was to become my home for the next three days. Within five minutes, I met my neighbor who would sit next to me for three days. His name was John, he was from the Isle of Wight. John and I became quick friends, shared many stories throughout the journey.
Within two hours, the suburban buildings of Sydney disappeared into a thick brush of eucalyptus trees. We had entered into the Blue Mountains, which receives its colorful name from the seemingly endless blue reflection of the sun off the tops of the eucalyptus trees. The blue vegetation stretched for miles among valleys and hills, the sunset made the image even more spectacular. As the sun set in the distance, the glow of the trees faded away and the land became a deep black. By 10:00, the lights were out in the passenger car. The majority of people were trying to find sleep in their seats, while others decided to test the comfort of the carpeted floor. Sleep came quickly for me in my seat as the Indian Pacific inched its way through New South Wales.
My Sunday morning began at 5:30 as the sun rose over the red land. We had traveled continually through the night, the train was now in the western portion of New South Wales. The scene was dramatically different from the previous night. The Blue Mountains had given way to endless outback. Eucalyptus trees were now replaced by sporadic salt bushes, the land was divided every few miles by wooden posts that separated the farms.
The long silver coated train grinded to a halt about an hour later. We had entered the town of Broken Hill. This old town has a rich silver mining history and numerous silver mines are still in operation. It is a vibrant location, but like any town, 6:30 in the morning was very quiet. After about an hour of wandering around the small town center, I headed back to the train. Next stop – Adelaide.
Quiet and Serene Adelaide
As the train left New South Wales and entered South Australia, I noticed the red ground began to change into green fields. South Australia is famous for its wine, you could spot the many vineyards throughout the landscape. Adelaide is the capital of South Australia. It’s a quiet and serene city noted for its many churches. It has none of the flamboyance of Sydney or Melbourne, but has its own distinct mellow charm. I spent the four-hour respite from the train wandering around the small capital city. While I was checking the churches and other nuances of the city, the train was cleaned and prepared for the remaining day and a half of travel.
I arrived back to the train station about an hour before the Indian Pacific returned from the train yard. It was a hot evening, I was looking forward to the air conditioning. I noticed John sitting on the bench, we spent the remaining time chatting and watching the train workers prepare the train. I was anxious to begin the next step of the journey. While sitting on the bench, I thought about the excitement travelers experienced years earlier, when train travel was the preferred and only possible way to travel across Australia.
As we left Adelaide, it seemed as if every seat was now taken. People of all ages were sitting in the passenger car. The train rumbled once again through the green fields of South Australia. It was eerily dark as the train entered into a black abyss. We traveled north through the night and headed east after passing through the southern town of Port Augusta. In the upcoming day, I would get a true sense of the expansiveness and desolation of Australia.
Is This the Sahara?
I awoke again at 5:30 and peered out the window. It seemed as if the train were entering the Sahara, for the endless desert encompassed the entire landscape. Red sand was seen in the distance for miles as the sun rose. The train was on the one track that ran through the Nullarbor Plain – the 200,000 square kilometer area of land above the Southern Ocean. The journey included 478 kilometers (297 miles) of continuous straight track, the longest stretch of straight track in the world. For all I knew, the track could have been running on the surface of Mars. The train began to slow down around 9:00, I spotted a white pickup truck in the distance. Six aborigines were standing around the truck waiting for the train. As the train came to a stop, the aborigines stepped into my car and walked to their seats. Their driver in the truck casually jumped back into his vehicle and drove away into the distance. Dust encircled the vehicle as it sped off.
Plight of the Aborgines
As we continued through the barren land, a number of telephone poles appeared in the distance. At first, I thought that maybe we had entered an inhabited area in the middle of the desert. However, a train announcement told us otherwise. Those telephone poles marked a road that was used by the British in the 1950s. The road leads to a nuclear testing area known as the Maralinga Site. Sadly, the original settlers, the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal peoples were forced to move from this land in order for the British to test their weapons. The site is still full of radioactivity, no one can enter the area. This story is one of thousands that portrays the plight of the native people of Australia.
Cook – Smallest Town in the World
In the late morning, the train entered the town of Cook, which has the distinction of being the smallest town in the world with a staggering population of two. Both inhabitants run the souvenir shop in the “center” of town. As I jumped off the train, tumbleweed blew by my feet, the heat of the day burned through my clothes. I felt as if I were the Lone Ranger entering a town in the Wild West. It looked as though the inhabitants decided one day to pack up and leave. I later learned that the town served as a railway stop for many of the workers, it was eventually closed down.
Traces of the town still stand, including the athletic facilities that consist of a basketball court with splintered backboards, the dilapidated remains of a tennis court and an abandoned golf clubhouse. As I stared at the former athletic complex, my eyes caught an amusing sign that read, “Cook Country Club". After spending a few minutes imagining athletes competing in the brutal heat of this desert country club, it was time to escape into the air conditioned train.
For the next twelve hours, the Indian Pacific rumbled west. I sat in the lounge car, read and became mesmerized by the desert landscape. High above, the sky was turning overcast, the white puffy clouds slowly drifted above. By 3:30 we had entered Western Australia – time changed one and a half hours back (we had already gained a half hour the day before when the train entered South Australia). The train moved past a stretch of land that once held Italian Prisoners of War from World War II. No prisoner ever escaped from this camp, safe to believe no prisoner wanted to try.
The land began to change as we headed further and further west. By the time the six aborigines got off the train, we had entered an area full of green bush. I watched the aborigines jump off the train and walk into the distance. I was amazed that people still lived in these rugged conditions. As evening turned into night, we approached the gold mining town of Kalgoorlie. The train pulled into the station and a tour bus was waiting to show Indian Pacific passengers the ways of life in this dynamic town. Because of the gold, the town is extremely wealthy, caters to hard working and hard living people. The bus drove past the numerous brothels along the infamous Hay Street, I couldn’t help but notice the working girls waving toward the bus. The town was relatively quiet because it was Monday night, but I definitely sensed the underlying rowdiness.
Famous Super Pit
The tour concluded with a stop at the famous Super Pit. The flood lights streamed down on this tremendous gold pit that is currently 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) long, 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) wide and 360 meters (1,181 feet) deep. As my eyes gazed into the pit, I watched the machines moving around, sorting out the minerals. The pit will continue to grow as more gold is mined. The local roads have actually been moved in order to accommodate the ever expanding hole in the ground.
The last night on the train was the same as the previous two nights – sleeping sitting upright. The train’s car door was left open, the sound of the steel wheels on the steel tracks created an adventurous feel. Six hours later, I awoke to lush green fields with streams traversing the countryside. The Martian landscape had been transformed to a scene that was similar to an English countryside. It was obvious we were heading closer to the coast. I spent the final two hours in conversation with John. We couldn’t believe how quickly the journey had gone. The three days flew. We had covered the entire length of Australia. At 9:30 on a sunny Tuesday morning, the Indian Pacific Express pulled into East Perth station.
In a span of three days, I experienced the beauty and wonder of Australia. The train had rumbled through the eucalyptus trees of the Blue Mountains, the New South Wales outback, the vineyards of South Australia, the expansive Nullarbor Plain and finally, the quaint countryside east of Perth. The journey also brought me into contact with the native people of Australia and portrayed the trials and tribulations these people have faced throughout the years. Sitting in my seat, staring out the window and experiencing this journey brought me closer to the heart of the enchanted land of Australia.
The author can be contacted at BootsnAll.com.