Sunday, 15 August 2010

The body clock did its trick again, and I would need to watch it as we progressed westwards if I was going to avoid arising at some ungodly hour. 

In that regard, I mused as the consciousness kicked in, the Red Service may have been a better option as far as meal times go. Dinner after Adelaide was going to be late.  I suspected something would end up having to give if the diurnal rhythms were going to be maintained. 

That's the sort of thing you ponder when you're wide awake, the sun hasn't deigned to appear, and any attempt to sit up is going to cause a collision between your scone and the overhead bunk. 

Still, as the time worked its way towards sunrise, we had the prospect of an early morning tea. 

The train pulls into Broken Hill around six-forty CST, and we'd been warned to wind watches and other chronometric devices back half an hour before we retired for the night. 

I wasn't sure how to do this with the semi-flash new mobile, so I was still in EST when we arrived.

Since breakfast wouldn't be served until after an 8:20 CST departure, there was a 6:00-morning tea to provide sustenance to those who needed it. 

Plenty did, quite a few of them from the Red Sitting, which was understandable, but quite a few familiar faces from last night who may well have been sleeping in without the friendly reminder call over the P.A. 

I got in two cups of coffee and Madam managed a cup of tea and a Danish, and we learned the outside temperature was a somewhat crisp six degrees. 

Given the temperature, uncertainty about adjusting the mobile, and the fact that we were going to be there for two hours I would have been quite satisfied, assuming I was going outside at all, with a dingo's breakfast. 

After a nervous pee and a quick look around a retreat to the relative warmth would have been the preferred option.

But Madam needed photographic records, some of which I would be able to use, so off we went.

We ended up spending an hour roaming the streets, encountering fellow passengers and noting the locals were probably tucked up somewhere warm. 

As far as Madam was concerned, the excursion could have been a bit longer, but I managed to steer us back to the train comfortably before departure time. 

 While we’d been away, the train crew had been cleaning up. We returned to find a line of plastic bin liners arrayed along the platform. As we turned to board the train, something about one of them caught my eye. 

The bag closest to our door sported a message: For Richard, the kind of thing that puzzles the inquiring mind.

Who, I wondered, is Richard? What had he done to deserve this? 

What items of significance were contained therein?

There are, however, things that inquiring minds are better off not knowing. I guessed that this was one of them.

Back aboard we had time for showers before we set off. 

After an initial encounter with the shower facilities, this little black duck wasn't looking forward to the next, which I expected would take place on a moving train. 

Space was limited, and we'd been warned to ensure that the shower curtain covered everything if we wanted to keep the water in the designated area. 

There weren't many obvious places where the train would be stationary for any length of time after Adelaide apart from Cook, where the primary purpose of the halt is to replenish the water supply at the cost of up to $2/litre!

Once we were moving again, the route took us across an ancient dry landscape covered with salt-bush, populated by the odd pocket of sheep, the occasional emu and, more than likely the obligatory kangaroo, though I didn't manage to spot one over the entire crossing. 

Still, it's hard to keep an eagle eye on the landscape and scribble notes at the same time.

After Yunta, a surprisingly large settlement two hours out of Broken Hill the country started to improve, as stunted trees took over from the salt-bush. 

There were signs of recent rain in the odd patch of greenery though the countryside looked like it'd soak up any precipitation when it hit the ground. In the unlikely event of summer rain (we're talking a Mediterranean climate in these parts) I suspected that rainfall would evaporate on impact.

It's hard to tell where you are as you cross a landscape without signs and landmarks so I can't say where I spotted what may well have been an approaching shower. 

Our approach, however, differed, and we seemed to be skirting around any falling wetness. The scattered green pick on dry earth, however, suggested that we might have been a tad late. 

Extensive patches of significant erosion suggested when moisture did condescend to condense, it took its share of dirt with it. 

I spotted dams, obviously man-made which, although dry, were there to capture runoff with raised walls and what looked like contour ploughing or a near relative thereof.

From that, it was apparent the land was being used. 

Presumably, exploitation equated to grazing since I wasn't sure where we were in relation to the Goyder Line. 

I noticed a homestead where the machinery included something that looked like a device used for cultivating the soil, though whether the item in question was a working device rather than a surviving relic of earlier endeavours was impossible to determine. 

Crossing a bitumen road where the tarmac was still wet about ten minutes out of Peterborough it was apparent we were into country that had, at some point in the recent past, been cultivated, and, in some places, the track-side reservoirs had already started filling with runoff.

Peterborough itself marks one of three points in the area where three separate rail gauges meet. 

The first set of tracks to arrive was the railway from Port Pirie to Broken Hill, followed by a line linking Adelaide to Alice Springs by way of Quorn (the old Ghan) both of which were narrow gauge (3 feet 6 inch) lines. 

Before the launch of the Indian-Pacific, the line from Broken Hill was converted to standard gauge (4 feet 8 1⁄2 inch), and the line south of Peterborough to Terowie to broad gauge (5 feet 3 inch). 

You apparently get the same mix of gauges at Gladstone and Port Pirie.

Peterborough must have been a thriving community back in the day but presented a bleaker aspect through the contemporary mizzle. While the weather reduced visibility to a couple of hundred metres, the landscape showed the benefits of recent rain.

The agricultural side of things became increasingly prominent, with grain silos in substantial towns. 

Not substantial, as in populations running into the thousands, but somewhere more than a dozen or two in a township that boasted a roadhouse, a pub and something else.  

The rain lifted as we passed what may have been Yongala (the town that gave its name to the steamer wrecked off the North Queensland coast) and Jamestown, the birthplace of R. M. Williams, Sir Raphael Cilento and actor Paul Cronin. 

Those two locations listed on the timetable but I assume the stations were on the other side of the train. There was no other way of telling unless you managed to catch a glimpse of a place name on a pub, store or some other business that might choose to be place-specific in its nomenclature. 

A glance in the Platform magazine suggested we weren't that far north of Clare.

An unexplained pause (in most cases we got an announcement and a potted history over the PA if we were stopping to let somebody on or off) wasn't all that long. It did, however, suggest that within the fundamental limits it operates under, the timetable is relatively flexible, so from time to time if the train's running ahead of time it stops to let the schedule catch up.

I'd started on the trip under the belief that this was an express coast to coast service, and once you were on you were on for the duration, but it was becoming apparent there weren't many passenger services operating along the route, so there was an element of the milk run coming into things. 

Under those circumstances (I'm guessing here and am, therefore, open to correction) a particular run might have no one to collect or deposit en route, while another might have a dozen. With a certain amount of time lost at every pickup or setdown, you're probably okay if the train's running late. 

On the other hand, if the train's running early, someone might miss it, so from time to time when they're running ahead of schedule, they stop to allow the schedule to catch up. 

I guessed that happened when they knew there was a pickup somewhere shortly down the line.

At least that's the conclusion I came to as I sat pondering why the heck we were stopping here.

After Gladstone, the weather seemed to be lifting, and there was a vista of green rolling hills across to the Clare-wards horizon and fields beside the track planted with peas or some green manure type crop but was more than likely something else entirely. 

Crop identification from a moving train isn't Hughesy's strong point. 

Shortly before we were called for lunch, we passed Snowtown, and the mention of the name brought a raised eyebrow from 'Er Busily Adding Photos To The Laptop (I was scribbling in the notebook). 

A long, relaxed and leisurely lunch (there are definite advantages to being in the second sitting) took us onto the Adelaide Plains with sightings of grape vines as the urban sprawl became increasingly evident.

Back in the cabin to prepare for the three-hour spell in Adelaide, we watched as the CBD high rise hove into view. I scanned the horizon for familiar structures as the train rolled into the terminal with an increasing sense of unease.

Madam had lined up appointments with a couple of acquaintances from Adelaide days.

The first rendezvous point was at the station close to the CBD, which meant I should have been sighting the light towers from the Adelaide Oval over there, and I should be glimpsing the banks of the Torrens between them and the train.

Alighting, we discovered Adelaide's Parklands Terminal and Central Station are two different, discrete and completely unrelated kettles of fish. A $12 taxi fare took us to where we needed to be for the first rendezvous, and from there we set out in search of somewhere to sit and talk, something that wasn't 100% easy to find unless you were willing to shell out for something to eat and/or drink. 

That, of course, is something you're not likely to be over-enthusiastic about shortly after a substantial lunch and a late breakfast. 

Madam managed a fruit juice and her friend has something more substantial, but I was full up to the muzzle and sat deleting some of the accumulated emails, passing an occasional comment about the train trip. 

There was no guarantee any of my remarks coincided with the actual contents of the Japanese conversation. 

As we headed for the second appointment, Madam's friend seemed nonplussed when I revealed that my grasp of the language comprises the equivalents of Hello, Goodbye, Thank You and Cheers.

Outside it was obvious there'd been rain while we'd been inside. It had been raining steadily for the previous couple of days, and the train's arrival had coincided with a brief break in the weather. 

Remembering that, we were probably stretching our luck when the second rendezvous resulted in a decision to take a stroll along the banks of the Torrens, but the weather held off while we completed a circuit that brought us back to the new panda-motivated entrance to Adelaide Zoo. 

By that time it was about the target I'd set for a taxi back to Parklands, where the sight of the terminal sans train would have had a drastic effect on the equanimity of those prone to panic attacks.

The explanation for the absence was reasonably straightforward. 

Up to Adelaide, the train was configured one way, and while we were off doing our thing, the carriages had been rearranged. 

To this point, we'd been looking off to our left and looking towards the direction of travel. Now we were sitting with our backs to the engine. The outlook was still to the left, which was now the northern side. It's obviously all done with mirrors.

At least the change meant that previously mentioned issues with the setting sun would now be a thing of the past, though that fat old Sol had well and truly gone to bed when the Indian Pacific rolled out of Adelaide. 

With new passengers on board, I wasn't sure whether existing dinner arrangements would stand. I wasn't keen on being forced to switch to the early sitting, but no one came to discuss the matter. When the Red sitting was called, I set off for the Club Car to see whether there'd be a chance of a free glass at the Blue Sitting Welcome Reception as well as the odd pre-prandial snifter.

That may seem uncommonly like freeloading, but once the glasses had been distributed, an inquiry from the new Hospitality Manager (they'd changed over in Adelaide) as to the makeup of the crowd in the Club Car revealed that newbies were rather thin on the ground. 

Maybe that explained why there weren't any refills.

Dinner for the Blue Sitting wasn't due till nine, but I managed to kill time in conversation with the couple we'd met over lunch (Madam was catching up on things in the cabin, with sleep a significant agenda item). When I set off to advise dinner was on the horizon Gavin slipped a rather good bottle of Peter Lehmann Shiraz into the dinner mix.

While I wasn't exactly walking on my knuckles when we toddled off to bed around eleven, I didn't take much rocking.

© Ian Hughes 2017