Tracking Gold across Australia
Jane Wilson travels the rails across Australia in search of gold
Cocooned within a steel embrace, we were chasing gold on The Indian Pacific railway. This was a journey of authentic Australian discovery on a route forged from past gold hopefuls over tracks far from city limits where other forms of transports would struggle to access.
We stood on the platform on a bright Aussie morning, surrounded by trolleys laden precariously with luggage and attendants fashioning bush hats. The lyrics of the song “Indian Pacific” written and sung by native singer Slim Dusty back in the 70’s was serenading the gathering voyagers by a jazz duo – a fitting song for our embarkation… ….“From coast to coast by night and day, hear the clickin of the wheels, the hummin of the diesel on her ribbons of steel, carryin the memories of a nation built by hand”
Smouldering on the track before our eyes was a huge hunk of metal, 731 metres long, with 31 carriages and 1390 tonnes in weight. This would be chugging us through the outback. Would we meet a pearl diver, an Aboriginal elder or a crocodile wrangler? Would we catch sight of hopping kangaroos or other natives flying, crawling or making guest appearances along the way?
Symbolising this transcontinental adventure from one massive ocean to the other were two-meter wing-span emblems emblazoned on its metal casing, all shiny and proud. These would escort us over the next four days (65 hours), and 4352km traversing the unrelenting outback of ancient landscapes, cattle stations and Blue Mountains. We would be travelling on the world’s longest straight stretch of railway track and would witness colour palettes and shadows as dawn rolled into dusk, dotted in between with images carved in aboriginal history. Vast, expansive and dramatic.
This epic trek started on the coastline of the Indian Ocean, where the sands are powder white, soft and silky under-foot, the sea is a colour chart of turquoise shades. Scarborough is one of 19 beaches edging Australia’s remotest city, Perth which is located on the banks of the Swan River. From here we ventured to Fremantle to visit its infamous jail, where dark tales and secrets were dramatically revealed of the convicts and criminals who first laid the colony’s foundations. Perth was our starting point for the Indian Pacific railroad experience.
On board, the lounge and restaurant cars were interspersed among the follow-the-leader line of silvery carriages. They were the social hub for sharing life stories, making new acquaintances and competing to be the first to spot a shrub, a kangaroo or inhabitants along the way. Our fellow passengers included a couple from New Zealand, checking out their neighbouring country, a few Brits who had tested the first direct flight from London to Perth, a lone German exploring the world, as you do, a mother and son from the US and many enjoying the journey as one of those expeditions on the bucket list. Together we watched the landscapes of Western Australia transform from the wheat belt to the Avon Valley revealing winding streams weaving through rolling hills uncovering townships turning to areas of pure nothingness but land – wide, expansive and sparse.
After the first eleven hours, late in the evening, our aluminium picture house screeched to a halt in Kalgoorlie for our first off-train excursion to visit the 3.6km Super Pit. Even in the darkness the world’s largest single open cut mining operation was an awesome site with miners working through the night and huge dump trucks overflowing with the earth’s soil, all in search of those precious nuggets of gold.
A small ghost town called Cook was another break to our journey. Once a thriving outpost, it was closed after the privatisation of the railways in 1997. Today it has a population of four and used as a refuelling station.
On our first morning, breakfast was served trackside outside an old disused post office at Rawlinna, a deserted town close to Australia’s largest sheep station stocking some 70,000 sheep scattered across a vast area.
Meals on board were a treat, not only as distraction from the passing scenery but a chance to dine with new found friends. We enjoyed local dishes, good portions and with an unlimited supply of alcohol and other beverages. Service was delivered with smiles and warm hospitality from the crew, known by first name only.
Our cabins were small with seats doubling as bunk beds which filled all available space. Thankfully, there were ensuite facilities complete with amenities and towels and in the evening the turndown service was sweetened with a goodnight chocolate. But sleep didn’t come easily. It was interrupted with bumps, brakes and clatter but weirdly there was a sense of cosiness and security lying in the confines of a snug cabin.
Entertainment came in the form of a resident duo who performed each day. In the cabins a radio provided an educational commentary or background music to accompany the unfolding landscape in its various versions.
We popped into Adelaide for a few hours walkabout choosing one of the guided tours around the city’s parklands which span 760 hectares which is twice the area of New York City’s Central Park. Back on board we headed next to a place named Broken Hill, known as the longest-lived mining city, having the world’s richest lead-zinc ore deposit and today, home to a base of the highly respected Royal Flying Doctor service. Our final excursion deposited us in the heart of the Blue Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Area, to explore the area’s natural, scenic beauty.
With glimpses of the first British colony in Australia, our journey had come to an end in Sydney with its iconic opera house, bridge and attractions all awaiting our visit. We had failed in our quest to spot those hopping kangaroos and find that nugget of gold but the lyrics we first heard had come to life as we chugged from the Indian to the Pacific Ocean ….….“From coast to coast by night and day, hear the clickin of the wheels, the hummin of the diesel on her ribbons of steel, carryin the memories of a nation built by hand”
Editor of TheHealthcareHoliday.com