65 hours with a pack of cards, a muffin and a beer served by a barmaid in skimpies – the joys of the Indian Pacific

7 Apr

Sometimes I wonder where I get my ideas from.

Mention train travel in Australia and most people just laugh.  After all, they have budget airlines with cheap prices and fast air travel across this vast continent.  And it is vast. The distances are huge.  Sydney to Perth / 4352 kilometres, Adelaide to Darwin 2979 kilometers.

You can fit all the land area of Europe into Australia.  They have postcards showing this for the non-believers.

Of course not one to be deterred by mere distances nor scared by long journeys (I’ve got all the time in the world these days after all) I eagerly purchased my backpacker train pass for $450 for 3 months with its unlimited travel on the Indian Pacific (Sydney to Perth), the Ghan (Adelaide to Darwin) and the Overland (Melbourne to Adelaide).

Eager to escape the rain of Sydney for the blue skies of Perth I duly boarded the Indian Pacific at Sydney Central Station with a few good books, a year of travel photos to sort and a muffin to eat.   In my mind was the romanticism of the Orient Express and maybe a murder to solve on the train (joking of course!)

And plenty of time …the journey takes 65 hours and involves 3 nights’ sleeping on the train in a day / nighter seat.  Average speed is 85 kilometres per hour.  The premium service costs $345o for a cabin but for a mere backpacker it’s a seat, a sleeping bag and a lot of hours to pass upright.

The Indian Pacific

The Indian Pacific


Day one we rolled out of Sydney at 2.55 pm.  I had a very quiet carriage so two seats to myself and turned them round to form a foursome for sleeping purposes.  I wasn’t so organised so ended up a little hungry with only a muffin and a bit of bread and nutella for tea…mmm…met David a backpacker from Boston who inspired me with his super light backpack and penchant for sleeping rough in cities..he has slept in parks in Sydney and Melbourne and in an alley in China..of course as always he was a contradiction having spent $400 on a hotel room in Singapore where he swam in an infinity pool with a view of the city. Nice!


Day two we arrived at Broken Hill early doors having been warned by train staff that it was the end of double seats..of course I didn’t believe that…after all who would be getting on at the so called “Silver City” of Broken Hill?  This town has the world’s largest deposits of silver, zinc and tin…but not much else.   However, the platform was crowded..turned out that there was an annual horse racing event at Broken Hill which is well attended by those from Adelaide..

I was joined in my double seat  by Maria a Swedish 60-something backpacker. This lady has visited Australia 6 times so far. She owns a small farm holding in Sweden and sells off a bit of land to fund each trip.  At this rate she’ll  soon be living on a postage stamp.  Truly inspiring, she has wooffed, taught Swedish, been to a yoga camp and learned a new meditation technique during her trips to Australia.

One of the good things about train travel is the time you have to chat to your fellow travellers and the restaurant car where you can all meet up to have coffee, play cards and chat some more!

We got into Adelaide late afternoon.  It was raining.  Maria left me here.  We exchanged details, book ideas and I encouraged her to try South America for her next adventure!

I managed to stock up on some groceries at Adelaide with a delightful local dropping me at the supermarket and then dropping me back at the station.  People are super kind to backpackers with a Scottish accent in Oz….

We left Adelaide 6.40 pm.

I was joined in my double seat by Patricia a sixty something Canberrian off to visit her daughter on a merino sheep station in the Outback situated 9 hours’ drive from Adelaide.  We chatted about Outback life, her daughter having left a career in PR in London and Sydney to live in the middle of nowhere where she now does a 6 monthly food shop, her kids are educated over the air and her nearest mate to meet for coffee is a 4 hour drive away.  Still they can hear the birds singing, see the stars and they also have satellite internet access!

Patricia left in the middle of the night near Tarcoola waking me up to say bye and pass me her details should I ever be in Canberra.  I moved to sleep on the floor with my sleeping bag.


After yet another not too bad night’s sleep we arrived early morning in Cook on the huge, harsh Nullarbor Plain.

By this time I was rather confused by the time.

Passing through 3 time zones during this journey (eastern standard time, central standard time and western standard time- that’s how huge Australia is) on the train they use “train time”.  Perth is 2 and a half hours behind Adelaide.

” Train time” involves changing clocks one hour at night and then another one and a half hours the next day.  This allows the time change to be “phased in” and ensures that everyone is on the same time for meals and stuff.  And when staff tell you how long you’re allowed off the train they talk in “train time”.

Cook which is situated 1,100 km from Adelaide and 1,500 km from Perth,  was once a thriving railway settlement but now has only a few residents. It’s one of the world’s most remote outposts.

There is pretty much nothing here.  The few residents run a local shop and work on the railway.  Their population is more than doubled with flies.

Me and the resident flies at Cook

Me and the resident flies at Cook

There was a hospital here once.  Its been demolished recently.  One of the guys on the train was a bit sad as he came to visit it having been an inpatient some 30 years previously.  I think they hope to re-open it if they get more support…

Cook..advert for hospital patients

Cook..advert for hospital patients

After Cook it was back on the train and into the restaurant car where Emily a young Kentuckian was celebrating her 22nd birthday with a muffin and a candle provided by train stuff…we played cards for a few hours and chatted. We made friends with Alissa, a nurse from Canada and a Jordanian engineer who was sad to be leaving Adelaide to start a new life in Perth.

Between Watson (just before  Cook) and Nurina lies the world’s longest straight section of train line.  It’s 477.8km long though when first measured they thought it was a mere 477.14km in length.

Longest straight length of railway track in the world

Longest straight length of railway track in the world

That night we rolled into Kalgoorlie.  Described in the Lonely Planet as “an outback success story with streets wide enough to turn a camel train in” Kalgoorlie is truly unique.  There is something fascinating about this place. I mean where else can you do a tour of a supermine and a brothel all in the same day?

Kalgoorlie is a mining town.  This means it’s full to the brim of men, brothels (and not shy and retiring ones at that!), diamond shops and bars where you’re served your drink by a barmaid wearing “skimpies”.  We HAD TO celebrate young Emily’s birthday of course so headed along to one of the Wild West style pubs complete with Wild West doors, barmaids in skimpies and men who seemed more than happy to see some girls! Had a few beers with the locals who told us about life in a mining town.

Then it was back to the train just before 11 (train time!) for a quick shower and another not too bad night’s sleep on the floor.


We rolled into Perth early morning.  I felt quite refreshed after my long journey.  In fact I wasn’t that keen to get off the train.  After all I’d still not finished  any of my books nor had I sorted out my photos but hey ho I’d been served by a barmaid wearing skimpies, learned and played a card game called “spoons” which I lost on many occasions and met some awesome fellow travellers.

You know it’s maybe not that daft travelling by train in such a huge continent after all….

Me and the Indian Pacific

Me and the Indian Pacific


3 Responses to “65 hours with a pack of cards, a muffin and a beer served by a barmaid in skimpies – the joys of the Indian Pacific”

  1. Gus and Eileen Paterson April 7, 2011 at 11:16 am #

    Brilliant Angie, good to see you writing your blog again, your journey will make a good book from your angle on travel, we enjoy your ‘patter’
    I am all mixed up to where you are or going, your mum was in for a coffee yesterday, she is looking well and has actually put on weight for a change – about 4 lb!! but she looks the better for it. Your dad helped me with a job I was doing, he looks good too.
    Take care, enjoy, be happy, lots of love from Eileen and Gus xx

  2. Ard-Jan April 7, 2011 at 11:16 pm #

    Hey Angie!

    That sounds like a tough trip, although you make it sound like a lot of fun;)

    I guess if you have a 3 months train pass, you’ll be spending many more days in the train, so hopefully all those rides will be just as comfortable!

    Saludos desde America del Sur! 😉

  3. Sly April 10, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

    go you….go go go!

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