There’s nothing sleepier than a mining town on a Sunday morning. Kambalda’s empty streets have less to do with full church pews and more to do, I suspect, with folks heading down to Esperance to test the beaches in preparation for summer. What could be a better time for a look around?
A former service station has become the final resting place for a few relics from the Silver Lake nickel mine. It’s a whole new world to me. Those giant wheels that remind me of wagons and Western movies are really a section of a headframe. The orange monster that belongs in a Transformers movie is really a jumbo formerly of the Western Mining Corporation.
Jumbo-sized: A relic from the Western Mining Corporation welcomes visitors to Kambalda, the nickel and gold mining town south of Kalgoorlie
I clamber on board the jumbo to strike up (to my mind, at least) an incredibly artistic and glamorous pose. My deplorably lanky legs dangle on the steps and I’m cringing at the sight of cobwebs. What can I say about the beer bottle that occupies pride of place by the driver’s seat? Words fail me.
Golden Wheels: The headframe from the Silver Lake shaft
A local artist ambles out to meet us. His name is John and the service station is to become the town’s art centre, he tells us. A town like Kambalda is a good place to bring up your kids. There’s windsurfing on the weekends and the nearby reserve is home to some of the regions oldest trees. Have we driven down the main street yet? Yes, there’s even a Woolworths and did we know that the town could be sitting on a very large nickel deposit. Had we driven up the Serpentine road yet and seen the view of Lake Lefroy?
Clearly, there was a lot more to be learnt about Kambalda. Is this the sort of town that inspires books such as Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice? However, the further mysteries of Kambalda we left for another day and turned onto the road towards Coolgardie. Another mining town and a story for another day.
The woman in the seat before me is not happy. The buffet in the TransWA Prospector service takes cash only. There’s no wi-fi (“But,” she says crossly, “the website says you do”). Meanwhile, the train slows down beside a farm in the Swan Valley. Sheep look up from their grazing – I’m positive they can hear Ms. Grouch. The rising sun silvers the grass while rows of leafless vines stand starkly black like a morning military parade. Today’s train driver likes tooting on his horn. We move on.
As my companion grumbles about the outdated choice of viewing fare available on board, a rippling creek keeps us company outside our windows. The water froths and foams past jagged rocks, smoothing edges but doing little to soothe the temper of my fellow traveller. Eighty kilometres outside Perth and counting, I am revelling in the sight of shorn sheep and green fields and estates with names such as Glen Avon.
Wool gathering: Sheep pause to take in the sight of the Prospector
There is no one beside me – the crew have already unsuccessfully paged a Ms. Johnson of Seat 6. Behind is an Indian family, uncharacteristically quiet (to my mind). The mother is resolute yet remote and her two children are quietly biddable. I spot kangaroos outside as we approach Toodyay. I wonder if they’ve seen them too. Across the aisle two pensioners are looking out the window as well. Do they enjoy the view as I do? They are having strawberries for breakfast. Everyone else is engrossed in the on-board film.
So yes, there is no wi-fi, and the movies are old. The coffee is revolting as is the tea and (I have just discovered) the hot chocolate. Who looks for fine dining on a train anyway? Go on a cruise ship instead. Or, you could travel as I do – for the view, for the companionship of fellow travellers, and for the time for contemplation that only a long journey provides. I see something new each time I get on the Prospector. Even if it is only for a fleeting second, the memory remains.
I travelled on the Prospector to Kalgoorlie. However, you can also travel on the Avon Link and the Merredin Link if you’re not going that far. These services have wi-fi.
We’re refuelling – ourselves, not the car – at a gas station just out of Kalgoorlie. I’m having a doughnut for dessert. The truckies in the little cabin next door are having a very English dinner of four-finger fat sausages and ladles of mashed potato. There are two of them, each sporting black T-shirts that look a mile wide and white beards that seem a foot long. I could be exaggerating, of course.
I reckon I’ve got the best spot in the house, right opposite my friend, el geologo, with a view of the magazine rack behind. If my eyes are wide and my cheeks a bit warm, it’s not because of him (alright, I might be stretching the truth a bit here) or the hot summer night, but because of the array of men’s magazines I can see over his shoulder – and I don’t mean GQ. These are packaged to censor (the more interesting) sections of the covers and I’m a bit disappointed that there’s no one actually reading one – no, not even the truckies.
Light Reading: A view of something cool…and something hotter.
They’re not as racy as I imagine them to be, according to my companion. A bit deflating – I’m having very lurid thoughts at this point. Yes, I am from the land of the Kamasutra but India has rather strict views of adult products and censorship. Clearly, Kalgoorlie (with its adult shops and even more adult magazines at truck stops) does not.
In India, they’re still arguing about what women should wear. Men are writing letters to editors, complaining of women “showing skin.” While my (well covered) female compatriots are marching in Delhi to protest their right to dress as they please, in this remote corner of Western Australia women brave the summer in shorts and tank tops. In this country where so much skin is on display, magazine stands included, no one gives a second glance.
So did I sneak a peek into Playboy? No, but I’ve enjoyed my doughnut and the conversation and the view. It’s not a five-star restaurant, but so what? It’s the best seat in the house. Never say that a pit stop cannot be educational.