Tag Archives: trains

Strangers on a Train

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As my companion grumbles about the outdated choice of viewing fare available on board, a rippling creek keeps us company outside our windows.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

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.

Trainspotting in Kalgoorlie

Believe me, it gets sole-burning hot in summer. This is why I’m up with the birds for my morning walk. A quarter past six, sees me marching across Hannan’s Street towards Piccadilly. This ladies and gentlemen, is not London, but Kalgoorlie. I’m crossing the lines.

Any Indian can tell you that crossing a railway line is something of an adventure. Usually, this is done without the benefit of an overbridge and with one eye to oncoming trains. If there is a walkway in a station, then it is generally conquered step by step – think Mt. Everest here – and against an avalanche of descending (or ascending) fellow passengers. No doubt, you’ve read about the recent Kumbh Mela stampede?

On most mornings, I’m a lone ranger as I cross the Kalgoorlie railway bridge. Sometimes there’s the occasional other jogger to keep me company. On some days I pass nurses on their way to work at Kalgoorlie hospital. I don’t really miss the masses. The station on my right looks deserted, although I know there are probably people getting on the Prospector this very minute.

Working on the Railroad: Shunting engines near Kalgoorlie

Working on the Railroad: Shunting engines near Kalgoorlie

Usually, if I’m lucky, I’ll catch sight of a long tail of a freight train carrying Pacific National containers passing below. On another day, I heard a warning hoot and as I top the incline leading up to the bridge, I see a yellow engine coming round the bend. The driver seems surprised to see someone watching. Is he afraid I’ll jump? He cranes his neck to get a better look as he passes below. I simply wait and walk on. Should I have waved?

A week later, I’m on the road again. Crossing the lines has become my favourite thing to do each morning. The sun on my back is quite warm already, as I pass St. Mary’s school, which smells like a new term.

In the distance, there is a familiar whistle. I stop for a moment on the bridge and the yellow engine comes into view. I’m reminded of Thomas the Tank Engine and wonder if there could be a story about his Australian cousins. This time, the driver’s assistant leans out, looks up, and raises his hand in salute. It’s just one brief moment shared with another human being on this deserted morning. Suddenly, it feels wonderful to be alive. I wave back.

Going the Distance

I saw a kangaroo outside my window. You’d expect a blog about Australia to begin with this line, wouldn’t you? So, yes, this post has been a long time in coming. I did see a kangaroo – a real one. Not made of metal like the red one by the Vic Park post office. Not large and bronze like the statues on St. Georges Terrace. Not fat and tame and lazy like the ones in Whiteman Park. These were the real deal – a little kangaroo family, complete with a joey, watching the Prospector roll past the hillsides near Toodyay.

Once they were green fields, warmed by the sun...

Once they were green fields, warmed by the sun…

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Mud Lake: Rain over a salt pan in the Goldfields

I’ve done this journey several times now, yet the countryside looks different and new each season. Summer is setting in and Western Australia’s wheat belt is ready for the harvest. The yellowing hillsides give way to barbered fields that look like they’ve been groomed for military service. The long furrows streak to the horizon. The sheep are shorn as well and look sadly scrawny, although I expect they don’t need to be warm and woolly during the summer.

Now you’re imagining bright blue skies and sunny weather. Think again. It’s cloudy and wet. Storm winds from Perth are sweeping up behind us and trail us all the way to Kalgoorlie. Despite the grey skies, the view from my window is far more fascinating than the on-board Zac Ephron romance.

The shorn fields have given way to bushland. Near Southern Cross, a salt lake is dissolving into sludge while we wait for a freight train to pass. The miles roll by, and we’re in mining country now. Passengers are met at stations by men in dusty overalls and muddy utes. The C. Y. O’Connor pipeline occasionally emerges in the distance, a silver thread leading all the way back to Perth. It’s a reminder of home. Then, the tableland of Kalgoorlie’s Super Pit appears on the horizon. It’s reassuringly familiar. Perhaps, home is not as far away as I think.