CONTINUED FROM…….WESTWARD HO!
Chatting to fellow passengers and gazing at the passing landscape takes up a good deal of time aboard the Indian Pacific. I always thought the scenery across the Nullarbor would be a bit monotonous, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The train stops awhile in the tiny South Australian ghost town of Cook. It’s nearly 40 degrees, but a dry heat which is not too bad. I was fascinated by this little place.
My associate Editor Des found himself in the clink long enough to give him a bit of a fright. It was the penalty for being caught smoking in the dining car.
In 1982 volunteers planted 600 saplings around Cook, an attempt to provide some shade and greenery. Some of the trees are still doing pretty well.
There was once a school and a hospital, both long since closed. The proud claim ‘If you’re crook, come to Cook’, only stands thanks to a well stocked medical chest. Cures for over-indulgence would be handy for most of us. I’m still recovering from the steak I demolished on a side trip to Hahndorf, not to mention all the delights served in the dining car.
When it’s time to leave the fire siren sounds a long blast, and we all amble back to the Indian Pacific. Portable stairs are placed along the tracks so we can climb back on. Every passenger has to be checked in……. you wouldn’t want to be left behind way out here.
Our next stop is at another very remote location; Rawlinna. Dinner is served by the train’s crew under the stars. Just perfect. There is dancing later, as the Indian Pacific’s young musician sings and plays guitar.
Rawlinna is just a Railway siding, but surrounding it is Australia’s largest sheep station, all 2.5 million acres of it.
I must say there is little time for reading on board the Indian Pacific. Passengers are too busy eating, drinking, chatting, and gazing out the windows. Nevertheless, I feel an opportunity was missed in the lounge car’s tiny library. Where were Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, and 4.50 From Paddington. And what about Girl on a Train?
The acerbic Mr Warden (who reported on the Indian Pacific for the Canberra Times in 1985) appears to have spent most of his time reading. I can only imagine this was because in those days the food was too bad to eat and that he disliked his fellow travellers. He managed to get through the following on his return trip across the Nullarbor;
‘Two big Thomas Hardy novels, two small Evelyn Waugh ones, a Nadine Gordimer novel, Roman Polanski’s chunky autobiography, The Book of Job (the Gideons even secrete bibles on board the Indian Pacific), a thick treatise on banksias and a fair chunk of Evelyn Waugh’s collected reviews and article.’ Good grief.
I should also point out that the giant Indian Pacific does not always glide effortlessly along its rails. It sways and jolts and shudders, just as any self-respecting train should. Mr Warden described it as behaving like a frog with sprained ankles, which is sometimes pretty close to the truth.
END OF THE LINE
The moment we leave the train in Perth, a gang of cleaners arrive to prepare it for a return to the East Coast. And my word, there will be a lot to replenish in the bars and kitchens!
Farewell Indian Pacific and your wonderful crew. We enjoyed every minute and every mile. Oh yes, and every meal. As we wander around Perth and Fremantle next day we keep bumping into people we met on-board. There are smiles of recognition as we stop for another brief chat about our shared, three day experience.
We are already looking forward to our next long-haul trip. I think it will be on the Ghan, from Darwin to Adelaide.