The Nullarbor is a desert I’ve always wanted to cross. The ultimate method would probably be on a Harley but as I don’t have a license for such a beast and I know that Marilyn would not enjoy a re-enactment of Easy Rider, the train seems a very good alternative. So after spending our last day in Adelaide at the Art Gallery enjoying the paintings of the early pioneer painters we find ourselves checking in our bags ready to join the rest of the passengers on this epic train journey.
Imagine my surprise when a young chap ( who I thought I had recognised) comes up to me and asks if I’m ‘ Mr Joyce from Tallis’. And so we meet young Jack Collins, who is an ex-student, and his lovely wife who are also booked on the train. It is a small world. Ten years ago I stepped off a bus in Cusco, Peru, to meet another ex-student with whom I also spent a good few hours chewing the cud and sharing a pint or two. Jack and Cheryl have spent a short time working in Sydney and are now travelling back to the U.K via several exotic countries on the way. We arrange to meet in the bar on the train and catch up on the last few years.
We have a sleeper in ‘Red’ category that turns out to be a tiny little doll’s house of a compartment that neatly folds down into two bunks. Thankfully Marilyn has lost a little weight on this trip otherwise we would not bot be able to manipulate ourselves in and out of the door once the bunks are set up. I draw the top bunk and a vertical climb up a metal ladder. I am already hoping the usual night calls of nature are few and far between because I am a little short of mountain climbing practice.
We pull out of Adelaide late as the sun sets and after a couple of drinks in the bar with Jack and Cheryl we are soon tucked up in our little cell. And it is surprisingly comfortable as the rocking of the train soon sends me off to sleep. Despite the drinks, I am pleased to only have to make the one descent during the night and even more pleased that I found it all quite easy to do.
At first there are trees among the scrub and the scenery is reminiscent of the iconic paintings of the landscape we have spent yesterday studying. Gradually the trees thin out and then they are gone.There is not a lot to say about a day of watching a treeless desert pass by hour after hour as we do after we wake and breakfast. How I love this part of a train journey. Give me mountains or this eternal flat that is a desert. It is the same and totally different second by passing second. We see a couple of herds of wild camels, some emu, a few kangaroos and thousands of birds. The number of raptors surprises me. What do they find to feed on? Mostly it is a huge horizon a wide blue sky and an eternity of scrub. I am surprised how green it is in contrast with the red earth. It is all very mesmeric.
We make a couple of stops during the day. One is at Cook ( population 4) where we take on water and change drivers. This town died when the railways privatised and when their water bores collapsed. They have to import water from Kalgoorlie and it costs more per litre than petrol. We were able to stretch our legs and take a short stroll for half an hour but we made pretty sure that we got back on in time. Cook is not a place to have to spend more time than necessary.
I love the facts and figures that keep being quoted. The temperature outside our air-conditioned coach is 44 degrees and the ambient track temperature is 58 degrees. These are temperatures I don’t really understand but I am glad not to be on my imaginary Harley with a sweaty Marilyn clinging on like a koala.
We get to spend a few hours in Kalgoorlie before night falls. This is a town made rich by mining mostly and Friday night sees hordes of young men racing up and down the wide main road in their sporty utility vehicles. There are security guys outside every bar and I wonder what the temperature gets to after a few more hours of heavy drinking. Money, heat, tetestorone, booze and boredom are a lethal mix.
But we don’t wait to find out. I have an appointment with the steep ladder to my bunk and I’m not sure how easy that will be after a couple of drinks.
The next thing we know we are watching trees and hills pass our window as a fresh day dawns and we follow the river valley into East Perth.
This city is nearer to Singapore than Sydney. We can’t wait to explore on this our last leg.