East to West, and North to South by train in Australia

Discussion in 'Travelogues / Trip Reports' started by mcropod, May 6, 2019.

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  1. May 6, 2019 #1

    mcropod

    mcropod

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    This time tomorrow, on Tuesday evening, I will be aboard my first overnight train to start a journey which will see me cross Australia from the Pacific Ocean in the east to the Indian Ocean to the west, and then from the Timor Sea in the north to the Spencer Gulf in the south, an arm of the Southern Ocean.

    I'll be starting the train trip in my home city of Ballarat on Tuesday afternoon, to travel about 120km east to the Victorian capital city of Melbourne, then jumping into the overnight sleeper which departs just before 2000h and heads to Sydney, the capital city of New South Wales. It arrives around 0800h on Wednesday.

    After a quick trip to a Sydney beach, where I'll see if I can dip my toes into the Pacific, I'll board the cross-continental Indian-Pacific train for a 1530h departure. Three days later, at mid-afternoon on Saturday, the train will arrive in Perth, Western Australia's capital.

    I have a couple of days to find my way to an Indian Ocean beach to do my toe-dip there before flying to the Northern Territory capital city of Darwin on Monday morning in readiness for a departure on The Ghan mid-morning on Wednesday for the three-night trip south to Adelaide, South Australia's capital, arriving around mid-day on Saturday.

    That day is election day for the national parliament, so my main task is to get to the polling place which accepts interstate voters such as me. I'm a keen follower of politics, so I'll be closely watching the returns that evening.

    Sunday is a free day, and I suspect a joyful one for me given the likely election result, and I'll also be looking to catch the A-League Grand Final later that day in a game I'm hoping my team - Melbourne Victory - will be contesting.

    The following day I complete my journey home, most of it on rails on a train departing Adelaide for Melbourne, but which I will disembark at its penultimate stop where I will be met by my non-travelling partner for the 90km drive home to Ballarat.

    The Indian-Pacific and The Ghan are a bit more than LD trains: they are event trains - fully-catered cruises on steel wheels - and priced accordingly. Their clientele is not the ordinary traveller, but the event traveller, in the older demographic most of whom I suspect are retirees. Both trains run included off-train excursions.

    The same company runs the Adelaide-Melbourne service as a day-time trip a couple of times a week each way. It is subsidised by the Victorian state government. It has a two-class all-seater system. Its service replaces government-run trains between these two state capitals and is more of an excursion train - there are cheaper and faster ways to travel between the two cities, and the drive is manageable on good highways easily under ten hours, eight if you avoid stopping and under usual driving conditions.

    The Melbourne-Sydney overnighter is regular public transport, with a day-time and night-time service running each way, each day. It's a twelve hour journey with a sleeper carriage and a few seat carriages. I think it is a joint-venture between the NSW and Victorian state governments, but I suspect the service is supplied by NSW equipment. It competes with one of the most-flown routes on the planet or a ten- to twelve-hour road trip.

    The Ballarat-Melbourne train is a regular inter-city service, run by the Victorian state government, operating at a rate of about one an hour, with greater frequency for the morning and evening commute.

    So if you'd like to come along for the ride - almost 12,000kms of it, including about 9,300kms on steel wheels - I'd welcome your company!
     
  2. May 7, 2019 #2

    mcropod

    mcropod

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    9630ACD1-5ADF-4045-97AD-89DB5061A2CF.jpeg 4C94B93A-EB3D-4F01-8E8B-929F78042BBD.jpeg 82ECF5F2-7D74-4CC8-BED8-2BB9B6EC523F.jpeg F3F53684-626F-4C0A-9ABA-08B7524F991A.jpeg 4CB5C66F-FF4F-4774-8634-C9C949358CD4.jpeg 50E11973-91DA-47E8-89D4-C5C24889114C.jpeg First leg accomplished!

    I caught the 1518h Ballarat to Melbourne service arriving on time at 1638h.

    The train is a standard intra-State city sprinter service, single-class, toilet and water equipped, but nothing else. The seats are set out in two sets of pairs and fours separated by a central walkway, some pairs oriented forwards, the others backwards.

    Although it's a smart-card ticketing system, the trains have an on-board conductor who checks tickets on a reader. Additionally, at Melbourne's terminal station officially known as Southern Cross, but locally known as Spencer Street, you can't escape the platforms except by going through gates which operate only with your ticket.

    The train was a six-carriage Bombadier diesel, with the driver's position at either end. My train is was to be quickly heading back to Ballarat as part of the afternoon transport rush from the city.

    I checked in at the overnight train service counter and passed over what I thought was my travel docket for the overnight service to Sydney only to see a puzzled look on the face of the CSO behind the counter. She told me I'd given her details of the flight from Perth to Darwin which she couldn't help me with, but we soon sorted out the right bit of paper and I was sorted.

    I have a little bit of spare time, so I'll drop in to one of the many cafes in the vicinity and chill there until near boarding time for the 1950h departure.

    Pics:

    1 Ballarat Station

    2 The train after arriving in Melbourne being cleaned before its return

    3 Another service already at the platform to go after the Ballarat train, along the same line, but only to Bacchus Marsh

    4 Spencer Street western platforms servicing Melbourne's suburban lines

    5 Spencer Street eastern platforms servicing country and regional city lines

    6 Spencer Street Departures board
     
  3. May 7, 2019 #3

    caravanman

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    Currently on a rail free cheapo two weeks in Turkey, I will be following your trip with interest, and also rooting for Labour in your elections. :)
    I had hopes of riding The Ghan from Alice Springs to Darwin some years ago, but it was sold out and I had to hire a car to drive up, instead :) Probably better to plan ahead sometimes...

    Ed.
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2019
  4. May 8, 2019 #4

    mcropod

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    4EF055FB-F231-4B86-9478-5107BABDA462.jpeg It's now approaching mid-morning and I'm overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Bondi Beach in Sydney.

    The train arrived about 40 minutes behind schedule, but when you are not in a hurry, you can never be late. Apparently there was signal problems around Albury just over the border into NSW from Victoria. I didn't sleep much, but I was happy to be still and in a dark cabin. It was obvious the train was progressing slowly at times.

    As it approaches Sydney from the west, it gets tangled up with Sydney commuter trains in the morning peak, so it wasn't able to make up time on the run in.

    But that's no problem. I ditched my bags at the Sydney Central station's left luggage, and found my way north about a kilometre to the closest bus stop for the #333 to Bondi and its famous beach.

    I got there about 0845h and watched some surfers come in at the southern end of the beach.

    Bondi Beach runs directly off the Pacific, so the next bit of land east is the top of the north island of New Zealand. A little farther up the coast from Sydney, if you look out east, the next bit of land you'd hit would be Chile. The southern hemisphere is mostly sea.

    I was in a two-berth sleeper, the last carriage in the train, with only the rear locomotive behind. Ahead of me were two first-class seating carriages, one of which also had the buffet area, and two economy-class seating carriages. When it was motoring, the train hit about 130kph, but it was often less than tis - especially in Victoria - because of the condition of the track.

    It looks as if the booking service assigns solo sleeper passengers to rooms by themselves, then doubles up as more bookings arrive. I discovered two passengers obviously travelling together were assigned one to my room, the other to the other of the rooms with which it shares a bathroom. One was an elderly man (in my room) the other a younger man. Both looked east Asian, and the elderly of the two had as much English as I had his language.

    When it was obvious the other solo passenger in the other room was an old anglo-Aussie a bit like me, we got together and offered to swap rooms so the pair could travel together in the same room. Easily done, I swapped and took the upper bunk in a room occupied by Greg, a businessman returning to his western Sydney home from his Melbourne factory.

    Greg told me he prefers taking the train to flying. His home is west of Sydney on the train line, and he can easily jump on that in the evening, have a sleep, and be in the heart of Melbourne's CBD, not far from his factory refreshed and ready to go. No need to take the long journey from home to Sydney airport, then the long journey into the city from Melbourne airport, and all the dead time involved in air-travel.

    He de-trained about 90mins before Central, so I had the cabin solo for the last section as the train ran through the Sydney south-western suburbs.

    The sleeper passengers are supplied with an amenities kit, a fresh towel, a train guide, an evening snack pack, and access to meals from the buffet. There is no diner, so meals are in-cabin.

    The car-attendant takes breakfast orders of toasts and teas/coffees to be delivered to you room. A boxed breakfast of cornflakes, 200ml milk, and 200mls fruit juice is also supplied.

    There is a bathroom with pull-down sink, and pull-down toilet which is between each mirror pair of cabins. With both the sink and the toilet in their closed positions, the room as also a shower. The bunks are located on the opposite, rather than adjoining, wall to the bathroom, and run across the rails, rather than along them as in an Amtrak roomette.

    There are just nine rooms, so just 18 sleeper berths.

    The rooms are a little larger than the roomettes on Amtrak and cabin-for-one on ViaRail, with a bit more storage space. The corridor is to one side of the train, rather than down the middle, as you'd expect because of the bed orientation.

    Everything worked as it should, the staff were friendly and efficient, the station worked well, and it was good to have a leg-stretch and take in some sea-air.


    Pics:

    1 The Sydney train

    2 The cabin in day-configuration

    3 The amenities pack (not shown: the earplugs)

    4 Bondi Beach on a weekday morning
     

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  5. May 8, 2019 #5

    mcropod

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    Feet in Pacific Ocean
     

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  6. May 8, 2019 #6

    mcropod

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    49E70BC3-F6CA-4536-99E2-6B70A4BF4CEB.jpeg A place where people sing a bit
     
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  7. May 8, 2019 #7

    mcropod

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    60666202-E8E1-4F61-A2B0-73AC8CD45BA5.jpeg The most northerly of Sydney's CBD suburban rail circuit stations is at Circular Quay. All trains departing from that station go to Sydney Central station.

    The CBD circuit is underground, but oddly enough, Circular Quay station is not. Neither is it at ground level.

    It is one level up, and has a magnificent view of the adjacent ferry terminal and the coathanger.

    This pic is from ground level showing one of the harbour ferries and the coathanger in the background.
     
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  8. May 8, 2019 #8

    mcropod

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    Getting around Sydney by public transport, which comprises bus, train, and harbour ferry, is very inexpensive, but requires the passenger to have an Opal smartcard which is then loaded with money.

    It's not difficult to get, but factor that in to your travel plans if you intend to have a squizz at Sydney.

    The very best run to make if you are pressed for time only have half a day is to take the ferry from Circular Quay across the harbour to Manly. From the dock, it's a short walk through Manly's shopping area to Manly beach, also on the Pacific. That commuter ferry, running a regular passenger service, gives a spectacular view of Sydney, the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, various WWI fortifications in the harbour, as well as the waterside mansions of the well off.
     
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  9. May 8, 2019 #9

    mcropod

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    I'm glad you'll be joining me for the trek caravanman!

    I'd not lightly use the expression "root" or "rooting" around Aussies - it usually makes us laugh, because it has an entirely different meaning in the local argot. :)

    Turkey is a top place - I really enjoyed the friendly people, and the relaxed feeling I got all over the place, deep into the night included. I reckon it's partly because alcohol use is not widespread, even in the youth. I felt safer on the streets late at night in Istanbul than I do in the Melbourne CBD.
     
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  10. May 8, 2019 #10

    trainman74

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    I took the overnight train from Sydney to Melbourne in 2009. Sounds like not much has changed. (When I did it, it was winter, and there were few enough sleeper passengers that I got the room to myself.)
     
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  11. May 8, 2019 #11

    oregon pioneer

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    I am along for the ride, as well, through your wonderful photos!
    Thanks so much for posting. I have a young(er) friend running as an independent in Warringah. I met her as a tyke, so following along on the election as well.
     
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  12. May 9, 2019 #12

    mcropod

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    Getting into the Pacific was a toss-up between Bondi in the electorate of Wentworth, or Manly in the electorate of Warringah. Both will be interesting to watch on election night, for similar reasons.

    I opted for Bondi because it was going to be easier to manage for time, but otherwise I'd have been in Warringah like a shot :)

    There's a major Independent in Warringah, Zali Steggall, as well as one other who has not had the same public profile as Steggall, Susan Moylan-Coombs. She is listed on the ballot-paper as Susan Moylan.

    https://www.aec.gov.au/election/voting.htm#candidates

    I reckon the two who'll be fighting it out at the end of the night will be Steggall against the incumbent and previously Liberal Party PM Tony Abbott. I knew Moylan-Coombs was an Indigenous woman who was the first to step up to challenge Abbott, but until checking her out again just a minute ago, I was unaware that her grandfather was "Nugget" Coombs, a key person in Australia's post-WWII economic reconstruction and who was still an intellectual force well into my time as a young adult. I was pleased to be able to meet him when he must have been well into his 70s, and he was still advocating for progressive causes.

    Were I in that electorate, I think I'd vote her at #1, and Steggall at #2. I think those who vote for her will eventually end up electing Steggall.

    How did you meet up with her (presuming you are referring to Moylan-Coombs rather than Steggall)? Unless you are referring to Steggall who has a major representative winter sports background.
     
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  13. May 9, 2019 #13

    mcropod

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    It was a bumpy night last night on the rails - the section Sydney to Adelaide is said to be the roughest ride on the run.


    But boarding was easy, and they'd split the train into two parts so's no-one had to schlep too far before finding their carriage. I was in carriage A, but that turned out to be a few carriages from the locos. There are two hooked up for this part, as there is a decent climb out of Sydney through the part of Australia's Great Dividing Range which runs down the nation's eastern coastline locally known as The Blue Mountains.


    In the early days of European settlement, those mountains were seen as a significant barrier against access to the vast hinterland. Like millions of secondry students across the country, I learnt it was three explorers in the 1800s who finally found a route through. Of course, it likely never dawned on them to ask the Indigenous inhabitants, here for what's now thought to be 60,000 years beforehand, and who surely knew not one, but many ways through.


    This was later to be a bit of a theme, as the next day, upon wakening early for a tour around the mining town of Broken Hill in far west NSW, the commentry from the bus driver when describing Broken Hill's history began " In 1873, two explorers......"


    I thought we'd become a little more aware.


    I subsequently asked one of the locals who was part of the Trades Hall welcoming party if he knew anything about the Indigenous peoples' explanations about the area. He said he wasn't exactly the full bottle, but he recalled being told that the Indigenous legend which explained the geography is because a large bird caused the topography though its droppings as it flew high overhead. There are fascinating explanations for all different parts of Australia deeply embedded in local history for thousands of years, and - subject to "secret business" - we should all know more.


    Anyway, the train made its way through the central NSW cities of Parkes (site of the Australian connection to the 1969 moon landing), Bathurst, and Orange before I went horizontal. I'd earlier met up with three women travelling together, elderly mother, daughter a little younger than I, and and her English cousin. We had an interesting conversation about UK and Oz politics, and our respective migration histories which took us happily right through our three-course meal.


    There was time to use the shower room - a little larger than its Amrak equivalent and better appointed - before putting an end to a very full Wednesday.


    The following morning was a rise before sun-up for the tour of Broken Hill.


    Although Broken Hill is in the state of NSW, it locally-observes South Australia time - a 30 minute later time-zone. Broken Hill looks to Adelaide rather than Sydney for access to capital city services because Adelaide is significantly closer and easier to get to. We were told that we'd be observing local time when there, and not to rely on what our various geographically-aligned devices told us was the time. It also meant that we had a further 30 minutes sleep before the early start.


    Broken Hill is where the mining and energy behemoth BHP began, with the first two letters of the BHP acronym referring to Broken Hill. I took the option of learning a little more of its labour and union history with a visit to Trades Hall.


    In an earlier period of my life I had been a union organiser and industrial officer, and through various trade union training courses had become aware of how the Broken Hill union movement had formed what they termed the Barrier Industrial Council to unite the various unions on matters which crossed trade lines, and to maximise industrial and political strength. Even today, four times a year, workers in Broken Hill have "badge day" - the day they show their union membership by wearing a Barrier Industrial Council badge, which shows their union and shift.


    Next scheduled was a trip to the Miners' Memorial, high on the side of the mine edge, where all the workers who died are commemorated. But the gate was shut and locked - we were unable to enter, and the driver had no-one to contact.


    I was sitting next to a Kiwi I'd met the previous evening and remarked how ironic it was that we were prevented from entering the site by a barrier.


    We were back on the train for breakfast.


    I was seated with a mother and daughter travelling together with the daughter's grandfather on his bucket-list trip. He was wheelchair-bound and scarcely left his room, but they were determined to ride The Indian-Pacific and The Ghan.


    The family was from Mildura, in Victoria's far north-west. Mildura is an irrigation city on the Murray River, and grows oranges as well as other fruit including melons and grapes. The family was in the fruit-services industry.


    The fourth member of the breakfast quartet was a soon-to-be-retired Sydney metropolitan train driver. She had been moved from conductor/guard to driver around the time of the Sydney Olympics but had decided it was now about time to call it a day. She was a little trepidacious about how she would occupy herself after the obligations of shift-work and weekend rosters, and when she asked me if I was retired - she suspected as much - she then asked how do I fill in my day.


    I let her know she should not worry. There's a million ways to live an interesting and productive life beyond working for the man.


    We were to arrive in Adelaide mid-afternoon for a series of visits which would keep us off-train until close to our 2100h departure west. An added issue for those in our carriage was that the carriage was going to be replaced in Adelaide for routine servicing, and we were asked to have our belongings packed to allow the crew to make the change and have us set up in our substitute upon our return.


    We'll see how that goes next report.
     
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  14. May 9, 2019 #14

    Jean

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    As I drove home yesterday afternoon I actually followed along in real life with your train as it travelled through Blaxland in the Blue Mountains. The train line and highway are in close proximity most of the way over the Mountains. So I look forward to following along online.
     
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  15. May 9, 2019 #15

    mcropod

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    How fab! We are a very long train, I suspect we are more than 20 carriages. I'd be glad of your virtual company for the trip.
     
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  16. May 9, 2019 #16

    oregon pioneer

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    It is Steggall I am rooting for. I met her entire family when I was skiing in the French Alps, late '70s, and visited with them again in summer several years later. I reconnected with her a few years back. I recently read an article about Australia's growing awareness of climate change in the New York Times, and there she was! I have checked out her positions, and followed her facebook page, and I like her combination of sensible fiscal policy and awareness of climate change. Glad to see the changing climate awareness in Australia, and I only wish it would happen faster here in the US. I live in a wildfire zone in eastern Oregon, and believe me, wildfire resilience and defensibility is one of our main concerns for our land.
     
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  17. May 9, 2019 #17

    mcropod

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    Hah! You underplayed her significance, so I presumed you were speaking of the other independent.

    Vali Steggall is one of *the* major stories of this election, and an example as to why the climate-change obfuscators - prime amongst them ex-PM Tony Abbott - are being called out by an electorate which is so far ahead of them. Old tribal loyalties are being shattered as the community realises that they will never see effective action by electing the same troglodytes.

    That seat was never going to elect a Labor or Greens candidate, but give them a credible socially-liberal fiscally-conservative candidate like Steggall, it is now up for grabs.

    As an added incentive for the electorate, which voted something like 70% in favour of marriage equality, Abbott - who was totally opposed to the notion - left the chamber, rather than voted as his electorate wanted him to, when the vote was taken on the issue in the House of Representatives.

    It is all pointing to an ignominious end to the political career of Abbott, who in addition to being the PM for a time within the last six years, has been a senior minister in a host of previous Liberal governments.

    Say G'day to Vali from me please next time you have a chat and thank her for her good work, regardless of the outcome.
     
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  18. May 10, 2019 #18

    mcropod

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    It's now early morning on Friday, the day we begin our Nullabor crossing from far west South Australia into the east of Western Australia. One of the features of the geography is that the railway surveyors did not need to create a curve or deviation in the track for more than 470kms (almost 300 miles), so they didn't bother.


    We will enter that bit of track a bit later in the journey, but it is indicative of the breadth and topography of the Nullabor that the surveyors could draw a straight line on their maps for that 470 74B8D512-9C23-44E2-8273-DAF5C2277C18.jpeg kms safe in the knowledge that they would encounter no topographic obstruction, no settlement, no other infrastructure, around which they would need to deviate.


    At the moment the train is still in South Australia where we will be for some time yet. But the train is operating on WA time as far as the passengers are concerned - ninety minutes earlier than what our devices are telling us.


    Hence, although I awoke at around 0700h on the train, it was still around 0530h for the helicopter pilot I saw rounding up livestock in the scrub to the north. There was plenty of time to get sorted before breakfast.


    Which was also good because our meal in a German restaurant in the small town of Handorf in the Adelaide Hills the previous evening had been an ample one indeed. Hamdorf was settled by German immigrants in the late 1800s and has retained its identity since, with understandable short periods being more anodyne during the Great War and WWII.


    It's about 35kms east of Adelaide, a distance sufficient to make it an entirely separate place from the SA capital back in the day, but it is pretty much part of greater Adelaide nowadays with commuter buses taking residents into their CBD jobs and schools.


    But it trades off its German origins, as the restaurant, its cuisine, and the evening's entertainment illustrated. A Bavarian-themed quintet comprising two young women bell-ringers and dancers, one male accordian player, and two male thigh- and foot-slapping dancers put on a show for us as the strudel course appeared.


    The train's passengers had dispersed into three separate excursion groups. One had left the train early to explore the great wineries of the Barossa Valley, another area which benefitted from its early German influences.


    And another was to spend a number of hours touring the Art Gallery of SA.


    I was in a group that further splintered. Both were to visit Handorf and the restaurant, but one group had gone cheese-tasting beforehand, the other chocolate-tasting.


    Meal, bells, yodelling, and strudel over, we reboarded the buses for the half-hour return to the train ready for its 2100h departure.


    True to promise, my two bags had been put back in my cabin after the carriage swap, and my carriage was now amongst the last in the train.


    But I discovered my Circular Quay bought sun-hat was not with my bags. Mindful of the "missing" GPS incident leaving Chicago on the Empire Builder scarcely a year ago, I made an exhaustive search of every hidey-hole in the cabin I could identify in order to assure myself it was not there. Mindful that I eventually discovered my GPS on the Empire Builder under my hat which had been resting all along on the step to my roomette's upper-bunk, I thought to look under my GPS this time in case karma had placed it there.


    It hadn't, so I went in search of a member of the train passenger-service crew to report my missing hat. As the on-train crew had been replaced at the train company's Adelaide hub, she could only take down some details and promised to get back to me.


    Then it was shower and horizontal time, watch turned back by ninety minutes, and the end to Thursday.


    I awoke around sunrise the next day to the flat South Australian plains, and the beginning of the red sand interior. The scrub comprised low bushy trees, gnarled despite their shortness, and with thin dry foliage. Some decent tain had recently fallen and small puddles glinted in the morning light.


    Not long afterwards I spotted a helicopter low in the sky, and manoevering in the way that indicated it was part of a stock round-up. The scrub was too thick, and the distance too great to see if that were the case, and if so, whether it was cattle or sheep, but if the flight-pattern was not about livestock wrangling, the pilot was in a badly performing aircraft and should land it as quickly as possible.



    On the previous day's run from Broken Hill, I had seen some sheep on a property who would have been doing it hard because of how inhospitable their grazing was in the drought currently affecting large parts of Australia. I suspect the area I was now in was cattle, rather than sheep country. Even these larger beasts would be difficult to round up on bikes or horseback in the scrub, and so are best seen from the air.


    Within a short distance yesterday I also managed to bag a Coat of Arms - first a few emus, then not long afterwards a kangaroo or two.


    It'll be interesting to do wildlife spotting across the Nullabor, other than birds. A pair of cockatoos were in a nearby tree, one upside down, as I wrote this, their white feathers very bright in the morning sun.


    The train was keeping an average speed in the 90-100kph range for much of the distance today, but has now slowed to a more sedate 70. There's evidence out my window (I am on the north side of the train) of substantial trackwork either being done or about to be. Large stacks of concrete sleepers and piles of discarded wooden ones can be seen, as can ribbons of racked rail.


    Working outside doing physical labour here would not be much fun.


    My watch says it's 0730h, but it's 0900h for the fettlers. It's time to emerge from my cabin and start my Friday.


    Will my hat be relocated? When will on-train and off-train time align again? Will I be able to complete important banking business currently being prevented because it seems the bank portal is wary of giving me access from my roaming profile?
     
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  19. May 10, 2019 #19

    mcropod

    mcropod

    mcropod

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    I managed to insert the chopper-in-the-sky pic much earlier in the story than is sensible, so my apologies about that.

    I'll get the hang of this eventually :)
     
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  20. May 10, 2019 #20

    chakk

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    chakk

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    On one of my several foreign trips from California to Sydney while employed in California about 30 years ago, I took the train overnight to Melbourne and worked in my employer's Australian office there (with good internet access) instead of marking time in a Sydney library. The roundtrip train fare was substantially less than two nights lodging in my probable Sydney hotel.
     
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  21. May 10, 2019 #21

    mcropod

    mcropod

    mcropod

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    2FBDB2D1-B678-437D-AC47-DC2C27274A09.jpeg 6261D78C-FF09-4B57-80C4-55A7BFF74772.jpeg 1C358EB8-C29E-4F6B-B962-11113DB16C7C.jpeg We've just had a stop at Cook, the thriving hub of the railway in distant decades, but now a mostly deserted place. There are still a few staff present as it's a refuelling stop, but nowhere near the numbers of years past.

    Anyway, it gave me the opportunity to check out what comprises our train. There are 23 in the consist which now has a single loco #N86 in the lead, and a car-carrier at the rear.

    We added the car-carrier in Adelaide and dropped loco #N99.

    The loco numbers were easy to remember for an old "Get Smart" fan like me.

    The train is 545m long, according to the train manager, and the time we spent off-train at Cook was plenty enough to do a full train-walk and back, as well as time to take some pics.


    2FBDB2D1-B678-437D-AC47-DC2C27274A09.jpeg
     

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  22. May 10, 2019 #22

    mcropod

    mcropod

    mcropod

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    My hat turned up in time for me to take my walk in the fresh air at Cook. I forgot to mention that in my previous missive. It was delivered by one of the train staff after they put together the puzzle of a hat without an owner, and an owner without a hat. Apparently, it had been mis-allocated to another cabin, probably didn't fit that cabin's occupant, and so was reported as not belonging there.


    After our Cook leg-stretch it was time for our mid-day meal. The early advice circulating amongst the awaiting diners was that the camel curry on the menu was the go-to item.


    And so it proved.


    I was seated with pineapple-farming couple Christine and Gordon from the Sunshine Coast hinterland in Queensland, not far from where one of my sisters lives, and who I visited relatively recently. I happily learnt about pineapple varieties and that it's best to go for the top-lopped variety rather than the top-remaining variety in the shops. By pineapple-grower convention, the lopped-top variety is the sweeter one.


    To obtain some more detailed specialist advice, I opted for the fruit platter at meal's end as it had pineapple as a constituent along with blueberries and pear. Gordon identified the size and variety of the pinapple from how it looked on the plate, and forecast it was a young example of the variety grown mainly for canning, with a lower sugar content. When I taste a really sweet pineapple it is remarkably different from the more common variety I encounter in fruit platters such as the example served.


    Gordon explained that was because the variety we get in the south of the country is picked earlier to factor in a week's additional handling from farm to table, as well as it likely being the less-epxensive canning variety anyway.


    Now more educated in the pineapple-selection business, I will see if I can make better choices in future.


    Gordon was a beer-drinker, and our waitress, Vanessah, returned with another stubbie after Gordon had requested a re-fill. When Vanessa reached the table and was about to deliver the bottle, we all realised it was only about two-thirds full - clearly there had been a leakage in the bottling plant or in delivery. We all razzed Vanessah in the gentle and friendly way that's common between Aussies, and told her she could have her next swig more overtly, and that there was no need to do it on the sly on the way to the table.


    Vanessa was of SE Asian background, and her accent indicated she was a relatively recent arrival, but she was sufficiently acclimatised to understand we were having a lend of her and so played along. That is an aspect of Australian-ness I really enjoy. There's a different dynamic here between customer and wait-staff which is more equal and egalitarian than I sometimes see in other countries.


    Long may it remain that way.


    Upon exiting the diner I saw Glinda, an Oz-resident of South African origin I had previously met. She was sitting by herself in the lounge. We, together with Glinda's friend and travelling companion Penny, had been an accidental dining trio a day earlier. Glinda and I had a spirited conversation then, but were both unsuccessful at having an engagement with Penny, who then left the table before we'd finished our meal.


    Glinda was upset by this as she thought it rude, but wanted to preserve the relationship she had with Penny which had been in existence for many years. I let her know I was not upset or offended by this and we continued our conversation for quite a time.


    In Cook, I had seen Glinda by herself and asked if things had settled as I didn't want to put her in a difficult position for the remainder of the trip, and she said that I should not make their double a triple, despite how much she would like our conversations to continue.


    As it was clear Glinda was by herself in the lounge, I asked if it was OK to have a chat. She happily agreed, and we had a good discussion about our respective backgrounds for a solid half-hour. We are clearly and openly on different parts of the Oz political spectrum, but share many values. She was excellent company, and if opportunity presents itself again later on the trip, I'm sure we'll have another chinwag.


    We entered WA, and the time was now the same on both sides of the window.


    For the previous eight or so hours, the Nullabor landscape has barely altered. The horizons are flat in all directions, the vegetation is predominantly knee-high bushy scrub. The soil is red and sandy and dotted wth large grey rocks.

    It's a vast space. We are insigificant within it.


    Later this evening, there is a campfire sit-down schedule in the desert at Rawlinna. It's a cloudy sky, so the magnificence of a desert super-starry sky unfortunatelty may not be on view, but the desert stillness and quiet should still be there.


    Tonight's evening meal will be served aboard, and I'm on the 2030h late shift, a good thing given the camel curry which was as tasty as it was sizeable.
     
  23. May 11, 2019 #23

    mcropod

    mcropod

    mcropod

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    5CBB75CB-1726-474C-B12E-056DF0A438C9.jpeg This morning, upon awakening, I saw for the first time a species of eucalypt I had not previously known of.

    It was a glorious thing, seeing it shortly after sunrise as we crossed into the start of the wheat country west of the gold-mining city of Kalgoorlie. I thought initially it was a trick of the light which gave the tree its sparkling copper coloured trunk and branches, shiny and smooth in the day's early rays. But it truly was a tree with a copper-coloured bark, clearly a eucalypt, but entirely new to me.

    I checked it out once I had connectivity to discover there are two species with copper or salmon pink bark. One is commonly known as the Salmon Gum, the other as the Gimlet, but with a more suitable official name of Eucalyptus Salubris.

    The Salmon Gum (E Salmonophloia) was likely the species I spotted, and is widespread in this part of WA. It is a spectacular tree.
     
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  24. May 11, 2019 #24

    mcropod

    mcropod

    mcropod

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    This is my final day on the Indian-Pacific. It arrives in Perth in about four hours or so.

    Last night's meal was with Gordon and Christine again and we continued our discussion about the pressures of farming. They have begun to travel, initially in Australia, as their children have now all moved into adulthood. Their youngest, a daughter, had just turned 19 and was working in hospitality, a public-contact job Christine said she was perfectly-suited to given her personality.

    But running a farm is a seven-day-a-week obligation, so their ability to get away is limited to relatively short periods, and at quiet times of the production season.

    Jesse, one of the dining-car's wait staff, suggested I add lime juice to my requested post-meal Frangelico. I took up his recommendation and discovered it took the drink into the Grand Marnier place in the flavour spectrum.

    After retiring for the night, I awoke around 0300h to discover the train was stationary at Koolgardie, a town famous for its gold mining and situated at the western end of the Nullabor, and 600kms to the east of Perth.

    A little later I awoke again, just before sunrise, with the train at a standstill. The passage of a goods train shortly afterwards was the explanation for that halt.

    We moved into grain country, then salt-flats, and past shallow lakes. The ground was beginning to loose its flatness, but could scarcely be called anything other than gently undulating. The horizons were still distant.

    The tree-size increased as did the density of the forests. The sand had lightened from red to light brown and paler yet. Small settlements began to appear, as did a very large grain-handling facility at Merredin where we briefly stopped again.

    I'd breakfasted with Simon and Robyn, a couple from Sydney. Simon worked as a train planner, particularly catering for Sydney special events. Robyn was a nurse and records officer at the same Sydney hospital she herself had been born in.

    I was able to let her know my only claim to fame regarding birth hospital is that I arrived in the same Scottish maternity hospital as did AC/DC's Bon Scott. I couldn't tell if that impressed them.

    Simon was born in Leeds in England, migrating with his family just after he'd finished High School. He was disappointed at Leeds football team's late-season stutter which took them out of the automatic promotion spots into the EPL, and into the cut-throat play-offs currently underway. He'd not checked their progress whilst on the train, but I felt he was pessimistic about Leeds' chances.

    I remembered seeing an old British documentary about train movement planning, and saw the way in which it was done by effectively drawing a graph with a pencil and ruler. Stations or junctions were displayed on the vertical axis, and time on the horizontal. Train movements were therefore drawn with diagonal lines, going horizontal when the train was stopped at a location. The faster the train, the steeper the diagonal, and the more frequently stopped showed a stepped diagonal as opposed to an express which would have an unbroken diagonal.

    I immediately saw how descriptive that was, and how simple it was to illustrate. Simon said that, of course, planning is now computer-based, but the old graph system gave a much more inclusive and instant representation of the wider traffic-movement picture. It was often referred to by the older crew who wanted to see a more holistic picture.

    As we were now in a more settled part of the country again, telecommunications improved, allowing me to catch up on what was going on in the world outside the train.

    Apparently, there had been quite a bit.
     
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  25. May 11, 2019 #25

    mcropod

    mcropod

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    46B0E10E-08B8-4D73-ABE2-C9C64A799532.jpeg

    The wobbly central corridor in the single cabin carriages.
     
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