Every little train station we slowed for had signs that warned “don’t get off the train; there won’t be another for 24 hours.” Of course, I got off the train at one isolated stop; the train started up, and the GQ writer who was with me, yelled, “Run.” So I ran and the train went faster; so I ran faster. Caught the train, but I didn’t get off again for several stops. The next morning, I had my tea and biscuit by 6:15 (and this is my ‘holiday’?); by 7 I’d seen my first real true kangaroo then a second one, then a third one. The red soil through which they hop is very shallow and crowned with gray bushes. One can see why one needs a million-acre ranch to run sheep or cattle. (This was in mid-March, the end of the summer down under.)
Water and hills encase Adelaide, the capital of South Australia; it is called the City of Churches, and is considered a well-planned city. If you like cricket, surfing, fishing, and wine—the area is known for its German immigrant wine-making knowledge: red, port, and white wines—this is the city for you. The stop here was long enough for an hour tour of the city. It cost $6 Aus. From here, the Ghan, another train route, runs north to Alice Springs, a 24-hour ride through the red heart of this country….called, appropriately, its Red Centre. (Yes, they spell a few words differently than we do.) (On another trip to this country, I took a bus trip to Alice Springs, where I rode a camel…okay, for 10 minutes…but that’s another story.)
By the way, Australians love Americans; they know we saved “their bacon” in WWII; the Japanese were breathing down their necks, and we came to help. There are amazing war memorials in Sydney and other large cities; take a tissue. Or two. (We still have some military installations in Australia, I think.)
The trip across Australia offers beautiful sunrises. When the steward is bringing tea in the middle of the night (well, almost), and the land is so flat, one gets to see amazing sunrises with a bouquet of colors—rose, salmon, yellow, gold, cream, blood-red….created by some combinations of the atmosphere in this wonderful country.
(By now, you’re wondering how I can recall so much detail….easy, I wrote a paperback book, ‘Round the World Without Reservations, which included this trip; you may be able to find a copy on re-sale places online. (I spoke—and sold copies—at every retirement home in Southern Oregon after the book was finished; I’ve kept one copy….and, no, I don’t get any money from that book.)
Back to Australia. Have you ever had champagne jam? I hadn’t, so this was a breakfast treat. We made a stop at a town…well, not a city…called Cook, where the train station sign said, “If you’re Crook, come to Cook” on one side; on the other side it said, “Get sick, our hospital needs money.” “Crook,” by the way, means “ill or sick.” From here The Royal Flying Doctor Service provides emergency aid across the Nullarbor Plain. Flies are everywhere out here, so one gives the “Australian salute”: a habitual brushing of one’s hand across one’s face. The closest town is 500 miles away, so the 200 people who live here were glad to see us, because the train brought necessities for them, and once a year, it’s a rolling “sleigh” for Father Christmas.
There’s no denying the Aussies love their beer—but it wasn’t beer that caused the delay problem….our train hit a cow. But these folks are quick to handle problems well. A couple of hours later we continued the trip to Perth. Beef was on the evening menu, but since it had been printed up days earlier, we cleared the kitchen staff of deliberate bovine homicide…and people made all the expected jokes at dinner. At least we hadn’t hit one of the many kangaroos who sometimes raced alongside of the train. Bouncing and jumping, they were fun to watch.
Our next major stop was at Kalgoorlie, but we were late (the cow) so the planned tour was shortened. I chose instead to walk through the town, in rain and darkness, worrying about the young Japanese student who was venturing too far from the train. Kalgoorlie is big time in Western Australia. It is called the “Queen of the Golden Mile,” sitting on the richest square mile of land in the world…gold mines.
There were two very much older women in the compartment across the aisle from mine. The steward, who’d noticed my interest in them, told this story. About twice a year, their family puts “the grannies” on the train from Sydney to Perth, where they stay for a time, then they take the train back to Sydney. And repeat the trip in five or six months. Hmmm.
It’s 4,348 kilometers from Sydney to Perth. Since I’m speaking of numbers, traveler’s checks (or cheques here) are not too welcome in small towns, as we found out when we had a few minutes to shop in the places we stopped. Exchange what you estimate you might need from Sydney to Perth…not too much unless you are an inveterate shopper….and wait until Perth. Everything on the train is paid for, except for a final tip to the steward. It takes some time to get the cars (autos) off the train, where people had stashed them in storage.
But Perth is worth the trip.