Taking the Indian Pacific

 

The Indian Pacific, which runs the length of Australia, is known as one of the world's great rail journeys, and since I wanted to see a bit of the land while I was down under, I had decided to travel by train even though it is cheaper to fly. I had a one-way ticket on the Indian Pacific from Perth to Sydney, after having flown into Perth from my home city of Taipei. There are three kinds of passage on the Indian Pacific: Coach, Red Kangaroo and Gold Kangaroo. Going coach was out of the question as the trip takes over three days, but Gold Kangaroo class was extravagantly expensive, so I settled for a Red Kangaroo-class ticket.

I arrived at the station in Perth just before the 10 a.m. departure, and the shiny silver cars, each marked with the Indian Pacific logo of a bird with its wings spread, stretched out of sight in both directions. Carts of goods and luggage were being loaded up, but I was surprised that the platform had so few people waiting to board. I had never been on such a long train journey before. The only time I had ever done anything of the sort was when I was about seven years old, when my mother and I took the train from Houston, Texas to Oklahoma, where my grandparents lived. To this day I have no idea why we took the train, but since it probably involved some sort of family intrigue, I didn't dare question the decision at the time. I liked trains back then, simply because Americans don't tend to take trains, and the pure novelty was exciting enough. We had had a cabin to ourselves then, an old-fashioned cabin with folding seats covered in ratty red fabric, a cabin like the ones you see in movies about the Orient Express, but the journey only took less than a day so we didn't really need it.

Soon enough boarding for the Indian-Pacific was announced, and I joined the queue of only a handful of people at the door to Car N, and was soon on the train. Inside a passageway curved through the center of the car in a wavy zigzag pattern. I located the cabin that held berths 7 and 8 and opened the door to find not only a surprisingly small compartment, but also another person, a young man in his 20's, sitting in one of the chairs. The mix of astonishment and disappointment on his face must have been echoed on my own, for he nodded in solemn agreement as he introduced himself. His name was James and he was from England, he explained as I put my bag on the floor and squeezed into the remaining chair. He had gotten a job as an electrician in Adelaide and the company was paying for his passage on the train since the air tickets were all sold out. Otherwise, he indicated, he would never have elected to travel such a vast distance by train.

Within minutes the train began to edge along the platform. I commented on the sheer size of the train. "Aye, 60 cars," James noted, still shaking his head at his misfortune to be stuck in a tiny compartment for days on end. An announcer began introducing some of the train's features over the intercom system, and I noted that there was a lounge and a dining car to explore. After the announcements were finished, bad music, the kind of music that is just old enough to be intolerable without being old enough to be classic, began to blare out of the speakers. I tried to turn down the volume or switch it to another channel, but the controls were useless.

"Here, let me," James said, hauling out a large green duffel bag that jangled when moved. He opened it up and rummaged through a plethora of tools revealed within, including all sorts of wrenches and hacksaws.

"Surely you didn't take that with you on the airplane?" I asked, incredulous, but he shook his head.

"No, a relative of mine gave me these after I got here. I'll be needing them in Adelaide for my new job." He found the proper-sized screwdriver and began to unscrew the control panel of the radio, and the sound went dead within a few seconds. Problem solved. James then showed me a fake ID he had gotten for next to nothing in Thailand, and I began to wonder just what other slightly shady situations he had been involved in.

Deciding I didn't really want to know, I excused myself to have a look around. I didn't relish the idea of spending three days cooped up listening to James' complaints, no matter how handy he might be around the house, and I wanted to familiarize myself with any public places I could utilize for escape purposes.

The car behind us was the Red Kangaroo dining car, and it looked much like a 50's diner, with blue vinyl seats, Formica table tops and art-deco lighting. Beyond the dining area were the kitchen, which was closed, and a small snack stand. Beyond that was the lounge car, which featured a few bench seats, tables, a couple of glass partitions, a TV set and a couple of video games from the late 80's.

I peeked through to the car beyond the lounge car, and umpteen rows of faces stared languidly back at me from coach class. They were packed in like sardines, and I wondered what compelled people to travel coach class for three days straight when a cheap flight didn't cost any more. Perhaps they, like the unfortunate James, couldn't find plane tickets to get them to their destinations in time for some important event.

On the way back to my cabin I encountered our conductor, a balding middle-aged man built who looked like he might have a rack of dusty rugby trophies on his shelf at home. His name was Lou, and seemed quite nice in a gruff sort of way. I commented on the lack of people on the train, and he confided in me that the car in front of us, which was all Gold Kangaroo-class cabins, had been completely locked down because it was empty. Lou showed me the hot-water machine in his cabin and pointed out the two small shower compartments at either end of the car.

I had nowhere else to go at that point but back to my berth, and James, whom I discovered could have used the shower a bit more often, was still there, reading a book. His complaining resumed upon my return as if I had never left.

"You know that the next car is empty?" I told him.

"Really?"

"Yeah, the conductor told me just now. The whole car's locked down."

This really rankled James. He felt that everyone should get their own cabin if the space was available. He chewed on this for a few minutes before looking up at me with a conspiratorial gleam in his eyes.

"Suppose one of us were to pick the lock on one of those empty cabins and stay in there?" He got out his bag of tools and pulled out a kind of wrench with a square hole in the middle and opened our cabin door. After making sure that nobody was in the corridor, he tried several different-sized wrenches he finally found the right tool to pick the lock on our door.

"But the whole car's locked down," I said, not liking where this was going.

"Maybe, maybe not," he replied, and he was gone. I looked out the window and was surprised to find that within the short time since we had pulled out of the station at Perth we had cleared virtually all signs of civilization except for an occasional farm. We were traveling through rocky, hilly bush land, scraggly gray vegetation scattered sparsely on what looked like red clay. As we traveled further from Perth, the brightly colored imported vegetation was replaced more and more by native vegetation of more muted and somber hues, dominated by grays, browns, the occasional purple and dark green.

I was enjoying watching the scenery go by when James returned, a look of triumph on his face. "It works like a charm," he said, brandishing his wrench. "Ok, I think we should flip a coin to see who goes to live in the other car."

"What?" I wasn't expecting this. If James wanted to go pick the lock of a first-class cabin and live in the style and solitude he was accustomed to, that was his business, but I wasn't ready to go quite that far. I live in Taiwan, after all. I can deal with cramped quarters. Too much space would likely go straight to my head.

"Listen," I told James. "If you want to go stay in the other car, I have no problem with it, but isn't it kind of risky? They probably have the same situation all the time. Have you seen those people in coach? This train runs twice a week; I'm sure they get people trying to stay in empty cabins all the time. Don't you think they have ways of making sure that doesn't happen?"

"Yeah," he replied, "but this is Australia. Everyone believes in rules, and everyone thinks that everyone else follows the rules. You've seen how you can just get on trains here without a ticket and not get caught. Besides, how many people routinely carry this-" he held up the Wonder Wrench "-with them?"

I didn't want to argue, but I let him know that if he wanted to go through with it, he was going to have to be the one living in the stolen cabin. "And if you get caught, I don't know anything about it, ok?"

"Right." He packed up his things, opened the door to see if anyone was looking, and then darted off.

The cabin seemed quiet, almost luxuriously so, after James' departure. I wondered how long it would take Lou to figure out that something was amiss. I wasn't going to squeal, of course, but it still seemed inevitable that the crew had some established way of dealing with cabin squatters. Then again, James was right that Australians did indeed seem to take it for granted that everyone would follow the rules, a somewhat unfamiliar outlook for someone like myself who lives in Taiwan, where rules are all but ignored. In any case, the deed was done, and there wasn't anything I could do about it. I sat back and continued to watch the scenery. We were passing through a small town called Northam, full of agriculture machinery and trucks. Northam only lasted maybe a minute before we were back in the middle of farmland scenes that looked straight out of "Little House on the Prairie". The train didn't seem to be traveling as fast as I had expected, but the ride was smooth enough. Every so often we would grind to a stop and wait for another train to pass. Most often it was a freight train with what seemed like hundreds of cars. A water pipeline ran along the tracks, no doubt to bring valuable water out to the farms. The umbrella-like eucalyptus trees, looking similar to those so common in Singapore, began to thin out as we traveled, separated by larger and larger tracts of barren land.

An hour or two later we were welcomed to Kellerberrin, established 1912, by an official-looking sign that read "A man, his dog, and a dead kangaroo -A written history of Kellerberrin." The town itself consisted of a few stores and a Holden dealer that apparently only sold trucks, and an identical sign was posted at the other end to welcome everyone approaching from the other direction. The horizon flattened out; one could see for miles and miles out here, but there was less and less to see as we progressed. I was glad that I had had the foresight to bring an MP3-CD player with me, as music would at least make the monotony a bit less monotonous. I put on some music and let my mind wander as I stared at the passing landscape, noting the occasional kangaroo carcass flash in the reflected light of the speeding silver cars.

Dinner was scheduled for 6 p.m. I wasn't sure about the food situation on board, so I had visited a supermarket and bought a couple of boxes of Tim-tams, which are chocolate-covered cookies you can drink milk through like a straw, and several packages of instant noodles, just in case.

I needn't have worried. Although meals aren't free in Red Kangaroo class as they are in Gold Kangaroo class, there's still plenty eat, and while the food isn't cheap, they do accept credit cards. All you had to do was place your order and they would give you a number to be called when your meal was ready. The portions weren't particularly large, but then again one doesn't exactly work up an appetite sitting on a train all day. One does get dehydrated easily on the train, just as one does pretty much everywhere else in the southern part of Australia, so I brought a supply of bottled water that turned out to be woefully insufficient, and being from Taiwan I didn't entirely trust the tap water on the train. Thankfully bottled water was on sale in the dining car as well. I sat in the 50's diner-style booth and watched a spectacular sunset, the red glow fading slowly across the vast bush lands.

James showed up rather later for dinner, but he just bought a snack. He tried to sit down in the diner but was informed that snacks weren't allowed to be consumed in the dining car due to a lack of space. This news resulted in more grumbling from James, and he quickly retired to the lounge to smoke. In spite of his victory over the locked door and acquirement of a first-class cabin to himself, he didn't seem very happy.

Arrival in Kalgoorlie, the first of our five stops during the three-day trip, was scheduled for some time after 8 p.m., and the train would be leaving just before midnight, so we had a few hours to get out and stretch our legs. A bus tour of the frontier town was offered for an added fee, but I felt more like walking around by myself.

Despite the darkness in which we arrived, the fact that Kalgoorlie is surrounded by miles and miles of desert was brought home by the fact that any substantial breeze had the annoying propensity to throw sand in one's eyes. There were remarkably few people about, none that I could see in the immediate vicinity of the train station that hadn't actually come from the train itself. Groups of passengers trickled down the main road towards the main drag of Hannan Street. I was joined by James and another passenger, an older Australian fellow who seemed to possess a tendency, not unlike that of James himself, towards complaint. He reminded me somehow of Marvin the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. A depressing fellow, but the two of them loved to get together to commiserate and complain. We passed a Red Rooster, which is a fast-food chicken chain found all over Australia, but besides that it seemed that everything else was closed.

Walking down Hannan Street felt like walking down the stereotypical main street in every Western I've ever seen. The only businesses open were the bars, which were large, garish two-storied affairs with saloon doors and gussed up in neon, the sounds of happy drunks pouring out onto the quiet street. The pickup truck was apparently the vehicle of choice, and the only people on the street aside from various train passengers were groups of drunk young men in sleeveless shirts and baseball caps strutting from bar to bar, and the occasional prostitute.

James and his new friend found a saloon worthy of their attention, but I walked on alone towards the end of the street, after which there seemed to be nothing but emptiness. Indeed, on my limited map of the town, there was literally nothing there. I could only imagine a sheer drop or some other geographical feature that caused this abrupt terminus.

I wondered as I walked back along the darkened storefronts on the other side of the street whether there were any precedents of tourists being accosted by drunken mobs. The tour bus rumbled by slowly as I stared at the facade of an old church, elderly faces peering out at the old building fronts. I was acutely aware of being surrounded by long miles of emptiness; the lack of any highway noise, perhaps, or wind that somehow resounded of having not met any resistance at all for days at a time before rushing in on this little town on the edge of the emptiness that dominates central Australia.

I was hungry after my walk and stopped in the Red Rooster on my way back to the train. There was, interestingly enough, a Chinese restaurant, the Fu-hua, but it was closed. I took my chicken sandwich with me back through the silent neighborhoods, the kind of place where a sudden dog barking seems particularly chilling, to the train station, where I sat down on the platform to eat, earning not a few glances of disapproval from the first-class passengers.

If I was the target of any such feelings, much stronger feelings were directed at the young fellow in a filthy blue jumpsuit who climbed underneath the train and up onto the platform. He stumbled along, cheerily greeting everyone he passed, but was studiously ignored. He saw me on the ground, leaning against the wall as I ate my sandwich, and promptly plopped down right next to me. He reeked of alcohol.

"'Allo, mate," he said, shaking my hand, and immediately launching into a detailed account of how the security guards had tried to stop him from entering the train station on the other side of the tracks ("The nerve!"). His name was Simon, and apparently he had just been walking along on his way to the pub and saw this huge train at the station, so he decided to come over and see what was going on. The guards bought his completely honest reasoning that he was just on his way to the pub and had let him through.

"You got a ticket on that train?" He asked me. I said yes. "I don't," he replied. He worked on engines and boasted of making over $100,000 a year. He was thinking of joining the army so that he could go fix engines in Afghanistan. We got to talking about various types of cars, and we agreed that the Toyota Land Cruiser is an excellent, reliable vehicle. He had rolled his several times out in the bush without serious injury, although the car was "still in the shop getting new panels." At one point he pulled out a small Nokia mobile phone and checked his messages, reminding me that "We're not all ignorant fucks out here."

The train began making departure noises, and Simon left for his date with a pub. I walked up the platform and gazed out at the dark houses of the town, wondering what it would be like to live in such a town, day after day, year after year. The night sky was full of stars, and the only sounds were the occasional hot rods peeling out and carousing noises coming from the pubs. Otherwise it was completely and utterly still.

We left Kalgoorlie shortly before midnight, although by then we had switched to "Train Time" for our trip across the formidable Nullarbor Plain. Both of the beds in my cabin had been pulled down when I returned, so I took a shower in one of the small shower compartments, a novel experience due to the swaying motion of the train, and turned out the lights in my cabin before laying down for sleep, the dark blues and grays of the moonlit landscape rushing by just outside the window. The gentle rocking of the train was actually soothing, and even in the rather narrow bed it didn't take long before I was fast asleep.

The breakfast announcement and the sun peeking over the far horizon conspired to wake me up the next morning. The horizon seemed far indeed, for there were no trees or anything else to block it, just long empty miles of nothing but a scrubby kind of grass. I had expected the Nullarbor to be desert in the classic sense, with long Arabesque dunes and camels. Well, there are camels here, descendents of the creatures used to build the railway, but otherwise the Nullarbor is truly just one giant, featureless void. Even the telegraph line that once followed the tracks is gone, now that the Trans-Australian fiber-optic cable has been laid, its presence betrayed by the occasional heap of stones and dirt. The only other sign of previous human endeavor there was the slightest of trails running alongside the train tracks, but it looked as if it had been years since anyone had used it.

I mussed up the bedding on the second bed, just in case anyone had any suspicions that James wasn't sleeping in his assigned berth, and went to breakfast, which consisted of something in between scrambled eggs and an omelet. Then I settled down and listened to some MP3s, as it was obvious that the scenery wasn't going to change anytime soon. Occasionally I would look up and be surprised anew at the almost shockingly far horizon. It was like being on another, larger planet.

At around noon, not long after we had passed into South Australia, the mighty train stopped at a place called Cook for water and supplies. The process took a few hours so we were allowed to get out and stretch our legs again. In a matter of minutes the tiny hamlet was full of wandering tourists from the train. It felt good to get off and walk around on solid ground again. James and Marvin walked by, ignoring me, so I took off to explore the town on my own.

Cook apparently serves one purpose: to serve the Indian Pacific. The town consisted of less than 20 yellowish, almost identical pre-fabricated houses lined up facing the railway like troops at a parade ground, plus one or two more traditional "Queenslanders", or square dwellings with gabled roofs made of corrugated tin and screened-in porches on all four sides. The tourists all seemed to be heading in one direction, so I took another of the small dirt roads that led through the houses to the emptiness on the other side.

There was no one there. Other than tourists, the only signs of movement came from half-glimpsed figures hidden well inside dark doorways. It was as if the town's people had been forewarned of some scourge in the form of tourists, and were hiding. We could have been an outlaw gang riding into some little town in the American Wild West, except I don't think the denizens of any American town would have left signs dripping with such rich sarcasm, which Australians do seem to doll out quite liberally, for the benefit of feared invaders from outside. The walls of an apparent rectangular sandpit bore, in giant graffiti-style lettering, "The Pool of F'n Dirt", and above some rudimentary cricket equipment, i.e. a bat and a glove, "The Cook Cricket Club". Another, more refreshingly honest artisan had decided to vent a bit of frustration with the present prime minister in the face of upcoming elections by scrawling "Jonny is a wanker" on one of the houses. "Jonny" Howard did manage to overcome this onslaught and was re-elected a couple of weeks later.
I kept walking to other edge of the town, where a "road closed" sign graced a dirt track leading off into the desert. Another track bore a "curve ahead" sign, although I couldn't really see the point. The only movement came from the ubiquitous flies, and I wondered if anyone ever truly got used to them. The aborigines who once inhabited other parts of the plain probably had, as they were amazingly the only people to ever etch a living off the Nullarbor, and without the benefits of any sort of technology.

Life in Cook seemed like a bitter existence. The dry, dusty breeze did little to dissipate the heat but rather served to chap the lips. There was one signpost in the town, which indicated in which directions lay Perth, Sydney, the school and the toilet. The school was closed down, and many of the yellow houses' windows were boarded up. Some had even been haphazardly torn down, or were in the process of falling down by themselves. Someone told me that, although incentives had drawn a considerable amount of people to Cook originally to live there, nothing could make them stay, and now only four people, all members of the same family, remained.

Finally the train was restocked and we set off again across the empty plain. The buildings of Cook, huddled almost precariously in the middle of the desert, soon dwindled out of sight and I settled in for an afternoon of more unchanging scenery. Our next stop was going to be a brief stop at Port Augusta, on the other side of the Nullarbor, at midnight. We were only a third of the way to Sydney.

Later that day the land began rising into red dunes covered sparsely by dark green bushes and occasional gullies, mostly filled with sand. Unfamiliar sideways motion alerted me to the fact that we had just finished traveling the world's longest stretch of straight track, which had lasted for hundreds of miles while we crossed the Nullarbor.

I watched another spectacular sunset from the dining car. The land was getting more colorful now, filling up with rich reds and yellows, combining nicely with the deep blue sky. As we were lined up for the buffet the car lurched suddenly. The woman at the serving counter smiled and commented wryly, "There goes another cow."

We were due in Adelaide, where James was getting off and where the rest of us could get out and walk around for an hour or so, early the next morning, so I planned to turn in early, again relishing the fact that I had a cabin all to myself. I wondered if anyone would be assigned to the other berth after Adelaide. Lou had told me that we might or might not be able to get off the train at Port Augusta, and in any case it would be 1 or 2 in the morning by then, so I decided not to bother. Due to another time change we would be arriving in Adelaide at what to us was 4:30am, but was in fact something more like 6am. Some of the time changes involved half-hour increments, which I found quite strange. There does seem to be a bit of controversy concerning which parts of Australia belong to which time zone, one of many arguments held between the various contentious states, I was told. One thing I did notice was that most Australians didn't seem to wear watches; people were always asking me the time.

It was almost midnight when a knock at my door woke me up. I opened it and saw James standing there with his bag looking guilty. Immediately behind him was Lou, looking rather stern. I didn't have to try very hard to feign sleepy surprise, and in any case Lou didn't seem to harbor any suspicions of my complicity. James, however, told me that he was being thrown off the train at Port Augusta. Marvin had also appropriated a first-class cabin in the empty car and was being thrown off as well. That fit in with my experience so far in Australia, mainly that, while there were few physical barriers to breaking the rules, the punishment for doing so was rather severe. Confidence in the enforcement of the law was the main thing stopping people from breaking it, rather the opposite of Taiwan.
James and Lou went off somewhere for a chat, and I suspected that James was bringing all of his considerable charm to bear on convincing Lou to let him stay until Adelaide. Port Augusta came and went, and some time later James reappeared, radiating success as climbed up to the upper berth and fell asleep.

It was still dark when we arrived at Adelaide. Again I chose to forego the coach tour and decided to strike out on foot. On my way I saw James and Marvin walking together to the buses. Soon enough it appeared that I had misjudged the distance from the train station to downtown Adelaide. However, I had already walked a ways down an empty street full of warehouses and dilapidated homes before I realized my mistake. It was cold enough that I could see my breath in the air, and the crunching sound of my footsteps on the dirty sidewalks seemed inordinately loud in the stillness. I circled back towards the train station, passing a cemetery and a large park on the way. A surprising variety of birds began to wake up as the sky lightened. Adelaide might have been a very nice place, but I wasn't going to get to see much of it on this trip.

When I got back to my cabin, the other seat was occupied by a clean-cut young man who introduced himself as Shane. He seemed a lot cheerier than James and smelled a lot better as well. He was from Vermont, although during his month's stay in Australia he had apparently picked up a bit of the accent. He promptly climbed up into the upper berth and fell asleep. Ah, I thought, this is more my kind of roommate.

We were heading north now, passing through sheep farms, green fields not unlike those of the American Midwest. At about nine o'clock I spotted my first mountain in the distance. We were passing through the Adelaide Valley, home of gently rolling hills and lush farmland dotted with yellow and bright purple wildflowers. Lou and the old crew had disembarked at Adelaide, and our new crew was apparently still learning how to work the PA system. Bits of old rock music would occasionally escape the speaker, only to be replaced eventually by someone puffing air into the microphone. At lunch, we found that the new crew also used names instead of numbers to announce the arrival of our meals.

As we traveled inland the land became more sparse and rocky. We were returning to the outback. By the time we reached the old mining town of Broken Hill at noon, the landscape was rather bleak, although not nearly as harsh it had been in the Nullarbor. This was Mad Max country, where the movies had actually been filmed. We had a couple of hours to kill in Broken Hill, and since the town was right there, Shane and I decided to just walk around ourselves.

There is only one mine left in operation in the vicinity, and it is supposed to be mined out within only a few years, so the future of that little community seems to be in some doubt. I fear that they will have to switch entirely to a completely tourist-driven economy, or else the town will just fade away.

In fact it seemed quite faded already. There was hardly anybody about, and once again tourists seemed to constitute the only living beings there. We walked around admiring the old frontier-style shops and houses, reading the convenient signs on which the history of a particular area was written, along with photographs of the town in its livelier days. The pictures, taken in the early part of the 1900's, conveyed a town packed rather densely with stern-looking people in rough clothing. One envisioned constant brawls in the saloons and wild carriages racing madly out of control through the muddy streets, across which women in petticoats stepped gingerly as they swatted at the flies. Now the town seemed like a meticulously kempt ghost town. The flies, however, are still around.

Shane recognized one of the hotels as the one from the Australian film Pricilla, Queen of the Desert, so we ducked in for a look. There seemed to be no one inside, so we browsed the murals painted on the wall. Most of them conveyed natural scenes and were really quite well done. In the back of the hotel the roof was two stories high and was capped with a skylight. Suddenly we heard the unmistakable sound of Star Wars music coming from the bar, and when we returned we found the barkeeper there, having just popped in a videotape of The Empire Strikes Back.

He told us that the aborigine fellow who painted the murals, Gordon Waye, came in from time to time over a period of year and would paint a bit for some beer before disappearing for a stretch. "Where did he go?" I asked, but the barkeeper just shook his head.
"Walkabout," he told us. I guess he didn't know, and it seemed as if he didn't care much, either.

The stretch of track from Broken Hill to Sydney felt a lot rougher than any we had traveled on previously. I asked the conductor about the particularly boisterous bouncing we were experiencing, and he told me that this was because the tracks on which we were now traveling were laid earlier and had deteriorating wooden ties, while the tracks laid out west were more recent and used concrete ties, which are much more stable. Eating became a bit of a hit-or-miss affair, and I thought they should dull down the prongs of the forks on this route due to the high probability of inadvertently stabbing one's face during a meal.

Shane joined me for dinner, and we sat with one of the many elderly couples on the train. They were British and lived in Sydney, but had lived in Adelaide for decades. The woman was nice, but the man was one of those people who doesn't talk so much as mumble softly, although Shane seemed to understand everything he said. I learned to nod earnestly at everything he said, although there were a few instances where judging from his reaction I was apparently supposed to shake my head and frown, but I think I came out all right. Shane was having the kangaroo steak, which turned out to be much like cow steak. I had a bite and it tasted only vaguely different from a normal steak, not gamy at all.

As we ate, however, we began to see kangaroos hopping leisurely along next to the train, which was traveling at a good clip through what appeared to be wide open grasslands. Perhaps they somehow knew what it was we were eating. We also spotted Emus and other native Australian animals as the sun began its descent, seemingly setting the red ground on fire as we entered our final evening aboard the Indian Pacific.

After dinner I ventured into the first-class section of the train, which was all wood paneling and gold plated highlights with soft gray carpeting. The larger berths were arranged to one side of the cars rather than on both sides with the corridor swerving in between. It was much like the old Orient Express one sees in movies. When I returned to the cabin I saw that I had eaten none of my instant noodles, so just to avoid wasting them I had a bowl, using boiled train water to cook it.

That night I lay on my bed and again watched the passing landscape. The moon, almost directly overhead, looked like someone had poked a hole in the top of the immense night sky and was shining a light down through it. The trees and bushes floated by like ghosts.
@@@
I awoke to unpleasant stomach cramps at about 5:30am. The instant noodles boiled with train water had, predictably, not entirely agreed with my digestive system. Unlike Taiwan, Australia has only a few brands of instant noodles, and it seems they have some ways to go in that department.

Unable to sleep, I watched the sunrise over the hills we were passing through. The beauty of the scenery was a bit shocking, even though I had heard about the attraction of the Blue Mountains before. Isolated farmhouses and the dark, huddled shapes of sleeping cows flicked by. I laid on my bunk in my underwear and watched until I realized that I was probably fully visible to the outside world, whereupon I hastily put some clothes on.

The hills began to rise up into mountains, with lush forests and craggy outcroppings of dark, wet stone. We passed by a nuclear plant, the reactor looming ominously in the pre-dawn light. More and more the Blue Mountains reminded me of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Soon the sun began to shine on the tops of the trees and then onto the silver skin of the train as it thundered through tunnels and across bridges.

Then we were past the mountains and well into the suburbs of Sydney, which look just like the suburbs of every other large city, except perhaps for the propensity of tin roofs and verandas. As we approached the city, graffiti began to become almost omnipresent, and the dilapidated condition of the neighborhoods we passed elicited a comment from Shane about neighborhoods being too close to the railroad tracks.

It was about 9am when we finally pulled in to the old, cavernous Central Station in downtown Sydney. We disembarked with our heavy packs along with what seemed like thousands of commuters on their way to work from their homes in the suburbs, and Shane went one way while I went another. I passed the elderly British couple, who were arguing about something or another, as I walked out of the station and into the city. Our journey was over.

BACK

 

 

 

 

It looks bigger than it is.

Our cozy cabin, from the top bunk

 

 

 

 

 

Rocking, winding halls. And I'm not even drunk yet.

The winding corridors in between cabins.

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, that's the only one.

The bush.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They call it 'Kal' for short. I don't know; I didn't stick around long enough to find out.

Kalgoorlie at night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yep, that about sums it up.

A pretty descriptive sign in Cook.

 

 

Lovely.

Is Jonny a wanker? Someone in Cook thinks so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He did let me listen to some good tunes, though.

My bunkmate Shane's tired of the scenery already.

 

 

 

 

Gordon Waye painted the murals, then went walkabout.

The Victoria Hotel in Broken Hill, where "Priscella, Queen of the Desert" was filmed.