Crossing Australia by Train.
Let me ask a rhetorical question right up front:
Have you ever had an interesting airplane ride?”
I didn’t think so. Most passengers aren’t sitting near a window and with cloud cover, there may not be anything to see anyway. Another complaint: the airline seats are too small and fixed so they won’t recline. On most domestic flights, you don’t get anything to eat, and the odds are 8 to 1 that the person sitting next to you will be a jerk who hogs the arm rest. For those of us living in Hawaii, that flight and those conditions will last for a minimum of five hours.
By contrast, every long distance train ride is very likely to be an interesting, enjoyable and worthwhile experience, as long as you are open and friendly and enjoy meeting people.
That’s especially true of excursion trains which carry tourists and rail enthusiasts to any number of destinations around the world.
Consider, for instance, the wonderful Indian-Pacific train. It crosses the Australian continent between the city of Perth on the Indian Ocean and Sydney on the Pacific Ocean, which, of course, is how the train got its name.
Several years ago, I took this wonderful train from east to west . . . from Sydney to Perth. About noon on the second day, there is a stop of several hours at the town of Cook. The population of Cook on that particular morning was just two ladies. “Not to worry, dear,” said one. “Our husbands are off fishing, but they’ll be back in a few days.”
The locomotive is fueled and serviced by our operating crew at Cook, and we’re off again, heading directly into the Outback on the longest straight-as-a-string stretch of railroad track in the world– just a few hundred yards less than 300 miles.
The vegetation here consists of scrubby trees—just large bushes, really— under a blazing sun for mile after mile.
Yet you just never know when the monotony is broken by something that appears to be quite unusual. When I crossed the Australian continent on the Indian Pacific some years ago, we spotted a herd of wild camels.
The camels were at least a mile away—you can barely make them out in the over-enlarged photograph’s distortion (above). These animals are the descendants of the beasts originally brought to Australia from Afghanistan to carry men and supplies into the Outback when the railroad was being constructed.
On one occasion, while relaxing in the lounge car with other passengers, I asked an Aussie farmer if there were any boundaries, unofficial or otherwise, that established the location of the Outback.
“Well, mate,” he said, affecting a serious expression as though we were getting into quite an important discussion, “I’d say the Outback” — he paused here for dramatic effect — “is everything west of the East Coast and everything east of the West coast” . . . and he roared with laughter.
Then he bought me a Fosters, which appears to be the preferred brand of beer in Australia. About 20 minutes later, I reciprocated.
(To be continued)