Perth and Beyond

Our time in Australia was coming to a close. Our month and a half in Perth was far from uneventful: between Lucy’s work we saw and did plenty. We kayaked to Penguin Island (where, while snorkelling, I had a surprise random encounter); revisted Margaret River for some incredible cattle mustering on Horseback at Jester’s Flat; saw the sweet French film ‘Romantics Anonymous’ at the open-air cinema at the Somerville Auditorium at the University of West Australia. We met some of Lucy’s West-Oz relatives, caught up with Lorne on his continuing cycling adventure up past Perth and beyond.

Western Australia is very much underrated, particularly by the Australians themselves. We met many on the east coast that had never been and weren’t really sure why to bother. But others, such as our Rock Tour guide Adam, cited it as their favourite of all. We could see why, but it’s hard to put into words. It’s a feel you get for the place. Although we’ve already decided we’re not going to move to Australia, Lucy and I did agree that should we ever do so, W.A would be the place.

However, the damn flies can go back to the Red Centre.

A Great Train Journey

To finish our grand trip, we needed to return to Sydney to catch our flight home in just a few weeks. We decided to go by the Indian Pacific, a train named for the great oceans at either end of its epic journey. The trip started in Perth with a ceremonious gathering of the staff on the platform which came as a nice surprise. After announcing the train and its destination (one would hope most people getting on would be aware of such prior to this point) we found our seats in the Red Section, which is the reclining seats. Given that the trip is 3 days long, this might sound daunting. But unlike a plane, there was ample leg-room (so much so that I had to stretch forward to reach the seat pocket) and the seats reclined far enough to make a fairly comfy bed; though I was plagued throughout by pain in my knees from where the back of my legs were resting on the seat edge. Also, they were advertised as swivelling and, while I believe they are capable of it (in pairs, mind), we didn’t once see any of them doing so nor hear any explanation of how to swivel them. So; the usual website propwash, then.

The scenery began with the repetitious suburb scenes of Perth but soon gave way to steep winding hillside tracks amidst lush forest. This leg of our journey was accompanied by a thick pair of steel pipes; built in the late 1890s to pump much needed water to the gold miners at Kalgoorlie. Amazingly this pipe continues to do so today. With Kalgoorlie being our first main stop, it followed us the whole way there; by which point the land had become flatter than Suffolk under a steamroller.

We didn’t reach Kalgoorlie until around midnight, whereupon the train waited a few hours. By morning we were making our way into the Nullabor Plain. The Nullabor is known for being one of the flattest, driest, most desolate places on Earth. It is also where we would be travelling along the longest section of straight track in the world: 478 km. From sunrise until noon the scenery continued uninterrupted, as though it was being wound past on a scrolling tapestry. The Nullabor was shrubbier than I expected, though, sprinkled with endless bushes no more than a metre tall.

Finally we crossed the border into South Australia, and so the messing with time zones continued. Australians seem to love messing about with Time. Seriously, heed Doc Brown on this one: don’t do it. I am not a fan of Daylight Savings or particularly of the idea of timezones, but we were subjected to at least 3 time changes (one of which was a half-hour change). A few hours later, we reached Cook, where we were able to disembark for a half hour’s nosy around. The town boasts a population of ‘4 residents, 3 cats, 1 dog and 3 million flies’. Mercifully the flies must have been visiting W.A, because it was pleasantly clear for a stroll around the quiet huddle of buildings.

After getting back on the train we had a long wait before our next stop at Adelaide (until tomorrow in fact), so I took the opportunity to get comfy and get some considerable work done. I had also recently begun to read the Last of the Mohicans, yet again thankful for the unlikely use of a Nintendo DS as a bookreader (and not a bad one, I must say). The following morning we got off at Adelaide for a quick organised excursion to the markets in the city centre. It was nice to get to see Adelaide, even if just for an hour or so, before we returned to the train.

Now here is where we departed from Indian Pacific norm. Due to some tremendous flooding of central New South Wales, we would no longer be going back up to Port Augusta, toward Broken Hill and across. Instead, we would continue south east into Victoria and travel through Melbourne, then on to Sydney. Although missing out Parkes (a town I’d liked to have passed through due to my love of The Dish), it did mean we got to at least pass through Victoria, a state we so far haven’t got around to and ensuring we’ve now been to all the mainland Australian states (apart from ACT but shhh nobody really goes there).

The scenery south of Adelaide and around the Melbourne area was an enjoyable backdrop to more Last of the Mohicans and work on my Book of Azimuth. It was around mid-trip we discovered our accomodation plans with relatives in Sydney, already having gone through some flux, had fallen through. Sad as it was, we set to work sorting out an alternative as we travelled on through eastern Victoria. Eventually the sun began to set, for the third time since we left Perth. I have vivid memories of listening to the clattering tracks in the night, while watching the dim blue-lit carriage sway onward through passing black shadows outside.

The last day seemed to stretch on as we approached Sydney slowly, always seemingly just a few more hours away. We visited the dining car again, as we had been throughout, to sip on tea, write on the laptop (where it’s batteries could be on charge) and get a little more space. Finally the train pulled into Central. We stepped off with a sense of victory, and appreciation for just how great the girth of this country is.*

* - And then, we sat around the station for an hour because they lost the key for the luggage car. True story.

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