Seven Hundred of Them Gums, By Gum!

It’s an easy walk from my hotel in Sydney to the train station. Checkout time was noon and the Indian Pacific won’t depart until 2:55, so there’s plenty of time to meander my way there and even more time to soak up the atmosphere of the busy station.

I’m not sure why, but railroad stations have a completely different atmosphere about them compared to airports. There’s a lot of the expected hustle and bustle, but everyone – employees and passengers alike – are just more relaxed.

I buy a cold soft drink and wander over to the platform where the Indian Pacific is already standing. I am not alone. A dozen or so other people are already here – the women chatting together while their husbands pace up and down the platform, pausing every so often to peer through the windows into the silent cars. (Train travel may be about the journey, but clearly, it’s also about the anticipation of the journey.)

Crew members come down the platform, heading forward to the crew car to deposit their gear, then work they way back through the train to their respective cars. Thirty minutes before our departure time, doors to the cars are opened, we file past a “hospitality attendant” who checks us off a manifest, and we disappear into our assigned sleeping cars in search of our individual accommodations.

At 2:55 on the dot, the Indian Pacific eases forward, slowly gathering speed and clattering through a number of switches before sliding out onto the main line and the start of its 4,352-kilometer journey across the Australian continent to Perth.

After passing through to suburbs of this sprawling city for 30 minutes or so, the big city feel is behind us and the train slows a bit, clearly climbing. Before long, houses are smaller and fewer, and we’ve begun to cross the Blue Mountains. Many of the passengers have gravitated to the lounge car and we are all admiring lovely vistas passing on both sides of the train. These are not rugged, spectacular mountains like the Rockies, but there is a special beauty and serenity to them that reminds me of the Blue Ridge Mountains in West Virginia.

The unusual feature here is the mist that hangs over many of the valleys, adding to the peaceful appearance of these hills. It comes, I am told by a farmer from Queensland sitting next to me, from the gum trees which are growing in profusion all around us.

Turning to me, he barks, “And do you know how many varieties of gum trees there are?” I affect a sheepish expression and confess I do not. “Some seven hundred varieties,” he announces triumphantly. Then he claps me on the shoulder. “Yeah, this is an amazing country, mate. C’mon, let’s have a beer!