An American novelist with the interesting name of Sam Starbuck spoke for countless people from the past 200 years when he wrote: “Trains are beautiful – they have personalities, they have their own mysteries.”
Travel by train, especially over a vast distance, is one of the most indulgent pleasures, one of the greatest soft adventures – a rare opportunity to be lulled into the deepest contentment, an opportunity to do nothing and feel good about doing nothing.
We’re lucky in this fascinating, prosperous country of ours.
There are only four truly great long-distance railway journeys in the world – one in Russia, one in Canada and the other two, the Indian-Pacific between Perth and Sydney and the Ghan between Darwin and Adelaide, in Australia.
Surely there is no better way to cross the Sunburnt Country than by train.
The Indian-Pacific is a three-day odyssey and the Ghan two days, which sounds like a long time to spend on a silver tube – but it’s not. Trust me.
Passengers who get off the Indian- Pacific at the halfway point of Adelaide or the Ghan in Alice Springs regret their impatience and envy those staying onboard.
Making new friends is all part of the journey.
Everybody – and I mean everybody – has a good story to tell. Getting it out of them is the joy.
On our journey from Perth to Sydney there was the bubbly couple – and didn’t they like a glass of bubbly! – who had successfully melded their two three-kid families together, a rare feat that gave them immeasurable joy.
There was the firefighter who had faced the worst of our bushfires and was now dedicated to training young Australians in how to fight them.
And there was the long-retired carpenter who was as sharp as a tack despite cruising towards his 92nd birthday, his only regret that he could no longer fly his Cessna.
Three young Chinese women were surprised – and delighted – at the friendliness of the other passengers.
A couple unashamedly said they were ecstatic that their children had finally flown the coop, because it meant they were free to travel.
And a youngish woman changed into her running gear and went for a quick jog every time the train stopped – she was surely the only person to have jogged through the ghost town of Cook for many a year.
As some of the world’s strangest scenery swept graciously past our carriage windows, the passengers enjoyed not just a good natter but extraordinarily good food.
It’s amazing how the chefs can produce such gourmet meals on a train. And all washed down with a good range of beers, wines, ports and cocktails.
The Indian-Pacific stopped six times between Perth and Sydney – a tour of the Kalgoorlie gold mine, breakfast at Rawlinna, 30 minutes at Cook (the post office long closed, the little swimming pool forlorn, nearly all buildings condemned), a couple of hours in Adelaide for a guided tour of the oval, brunch in the market or a stroll along the river, a drag show or art gallery visit in Broken Hill and a drive along the rim of the Blue Mountains.
A good, affable singer provided the onboard entertainment.
Time raced by on one of the world’s longest train journeys. Before I had time to finish a single book, the 650 metre-long train eased to a standstill. And everyone went on their way, relaxed, enlightened, feeling good about life.
As they say, travel – especially travel by train – is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.