Nullarbor, from Latin meaning ‘no trees’, but that’s a bit of a misnomer.


Pauline Conolly at Cook in the Nullabor
Betwixt and between

Chatting to fellow passengers and gazing at the passing landscape  takes up a good deal of time aboard the Indian Pacific.   I always imagined the scenery  across the Nullarbor would be a bit monotonous, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Nullarbor Landscape
Salt pans on the Nullarbor

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.

Pauline Conolly and Editor Des at Cook, South Australia
Drum roll……here we are in Cook!

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 train’s dining car.

Editor Des in trouble while crossing the Nullarbor on the Indian Pacific.


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.

A eucalypt survives in the heat of the Nullarbor.
A hardy gum tree survives the heat.

There was once a school and a hospital, both long since closed. The proud claim ‘If you’re crook, come to Cook’, only stands now 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.

A great steak in Hahndorf before we cross the Nullarbor.
Interesting stop as we cross the Nullarbor on the Indian Pacific.

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.

The Indian Pacific at Rawlinna
Bring on the roast lamb and lemon myrtle trifle.

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.


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!

The Indian Pacific is given a clean and polish ready for a return journey to Sydney.
Sprucing up the train after its arrival in Perth.

Farewell Indian Pacific and your  wonderful crew. We enjoyed every minute and every mile across the Nullarbor. 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.


  1. That was a fascinating account of your Indian pacific train ride. I haven’t seen enough of Australia as I tended to stay in my home state of Queensland and go to overseas destinations from there. I loved the photos. The scenery did surprise me too.

    • Pauline

      We are only just starting to explore Australia properly ourselves,Heather.

  2. Enjoyed your adventures, especially as I’ll probably never get to do the trip myself.
    And why would you go on a train trip, just to read books (as much as I love reading).

  3. Happy Christmas to the two of you in Perth? Loved your Indian Pacific posts, reminded me of the car trip with Tony back from WA last year. A bit envious of your stop in Rawlinna as I believe from better birders that is where you can see the Naretha Blubonnet.

    • Pauline

      And a very Merry Christmas to you and all the family, Margie. Have been to the cricket today. A bit chilly, but worth it to see us win the Ashes. Sydney Smith has to return the NADOW trophy to me…. Haha. I haven’t really seen many birds here, except lorikeets in the beautiful flowering gums.

  4. I have a voracious appetite for good reads, but not even I could get through 9 books in 3 days. Mr Warden must have been on the advanced speed reading course, even taking bad food and disliking fellow travellers into account!

    • Pauline

      Well Mr Warden did the return journey, but that was still a lot of reading!

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