BootsnAll Travel Network

Westward Ho

The truck driver pulled up to the house early in the morning, before sunrise at 6am. I was already awake and showered, since I couldn’t sleep with such anticipation. Annette told me that he wanted to get a really early start, and he meant it. Loading the sheep onto the truck took only about 45 minutes, and I quickly had breakfast while I waited to leave. The sun was just starting to come up when everyone came to the house to say goodbye, and I loaded my bags into the high cabin. He was in a hurry, so I gave hugs all around, and boarded my ride to Broken Hill. The sheep were restless and so was I.. I was ready to continue my journey west.

The sheep truck driver was really nice thankfully, and actually talked to me, unlike many of the workers and men in the Outback. It was really great of him to give me a lift to Broken Hill, since my original plan to get to Adelaide fell through. I had originally booked my train from Adelaide to Perth, which would have been only about 40 hours on the train. The wool truck driver said it was fine to give me a lift to Adelaide, since that is where he was taking the wool. However, the day before I was meant to leave it rained. Not a lot, but just enough to stall sheering, since they can’t sheer wet sheep, and there wasn’t enough wool ready to make the trip out worth it. Plus, they don’t like driving on the dirt roads in the rain, and the wool guy decided not to come out that day. Since my train was already booked, I panicked slightly. It was really hard to get rides to Broken Hill, let alone Adelaide and I was worried I’d be out money for the train and have no way to get to Perth. After some quick work, I managed to add on a train leg from Broken Hill to Adelaide, and luckily the sheep guy didn’t mind giving me a ride there. So after what seemed like the most rushed goodbye in history, I was off, away from the station that I called home for almost 3 weeks.

The truck rattled across the dirt roads, but once we reached the main highway, it was a smooth ride to Broken Hill about 3 hours away. Terry and I chatted most of the way, about really anything I could think of to talk and ask him about. We reached Broken Hill, and he dropped me off at my hostel in town. After unloading my bags and quick handshake, he was off to continue his trip south to unload his sheep. I checked into my hostel, and quickly left to get a cup of coffee. I had been to Broken HIll before, and since it isn’t a big town, I quickly familiarized myself with the main streets. I found a cute cafe and had some coffee, deciding on what to see that day. Broken Hill’s most famous resident, Pro Hart, had just died two days before, and they had a state funeral for him. He is a well-known artist from Broken Hill, who brought the art movement to the area. Unfortunately, his gallery was closed that week and for the second time, I wasn’t able to get in to see his work. But I strolled around town for a bit and went to a few other galleries and sights, most notably a place called The Big Picture.

This gallery and shop held everything from jewelry to minerals and paintings. My main purpose there was to see The Big Picture. A canvas spanning 12 meters by 100 meters, it is the largest acrylic painting in the world painted by one man. I’m not normally wowed by the “biggest” type of sights, but this was actually pretty cool. You walk into the room, and the painting is in a semi-circle, with only the door opening missing to the complete the circle. A scene of Australian wildlife and land formations, the picture was truly huge and almost lifelike in it’s size. Surrounding the picture was fake little scenery the gallery had put all around, which while making it seem more real, was slightly cheesy just the same. After a long look around, I left the room and continued a stroll through the rest of the gallery. There wasn’t too much else to do in Broken HIll, especially without a car. I missed the tours of the mines and couldn’t get out to the famous Silverton Hotel unless I joined a tour, which I didn’t want to do. So I did some grocery shopping to prepare for my long train ride, and treated myself to a nice dinner at the Broken Earth cafe, perched high above town on an old mining hill. I called it an early night, as I had to be up early again to catch my train.

After a whole frustrating fiasco with my ticket, I managed to get on the train with about 3 minutes to spare. The train departed Broken Hill at 8:20am, and we were due to arrive in Adelaide at 3, with about 3 hours to explore the city. I had hoped to have at least a whole day to see Adelaide, but with my ride falling through, that wasn’t to be. I was also disappointed that I wasn’t able to do a wine tour of Barossa Valley, the famous wine region near Adelaide. But it couldn’t be helped, and I tried to make the most of my three hours. After an uneventful ride, we arrived and I quickly boarded the city shuttle to town. My first stop was to the museum to see the fossil of the Diprotodon, the world’s largest marsupial. I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked things about the Ice Age and that time period, and have been fascinated by reports about Australia’s megafauna. Along with evidence of carnivorous kangaroos and hippo-sized wombats, the diprotodon was a huge possum-like animal, about the size of a cow, but weighed two tons. Along with the diprotodon, the museum also housed opalized fossils of a plesiosaur and other extinct sea creatures. The museum had a huge Aboriginal exhibit as well, but since I’d already seen two such museums, I skipped that and moved on to the art gallery, which was just next door. A quick scan through the gallery was not nearly enough time, but I was so worried about getting back to the train on time, I cut my visit there short.

Working my way back to the train station, I stopped at the wonderful city central market, a huge expanse of fruit and vegetable stands, butchers, bakers, coffee and ice cream stands. I love places like that, and spent some time just peering through all the stalls and settled on some marinated olives with feta cheese, though my choices for just olives was overwhelming. After a quick jaunt through Chinatown, I make my way back to the train station with about 1/2 hour to spare. It wasn’t nearly enough time, but I think I got a nice feel for Adelaide as a bustling big city with a lot to offer. Hopefully I’ll make it back there someday. Boarding the train for my first night, I was a little apprehensive. I’ve heard some horror stories about sleeping on the Indian Pacific train, and much to my dismay, the reports for the most part where true.

The seats were not the most comfortable seats on a train, and the train itself was older and louder than I was anticipating. Not anything like the high speed TGV or ICE trains of Europe, this train was a little clunky and clanky. Since I couldn’t afford the outrageous prices for a sleeper, cattle class it was for me. One saving grace was the no one else seemed to be insane enough to take the train for two nights to Perth, and the few of us brave folks had at least 2 seats to ourselves. It would have been truly miserable without that, and I think almost impossible to sleep if the train seats had been full. I started speaking to Robert, a Brit who was taking the train all the way from Sydney to Perth, with is three days and three nights. After “dinner” of my pre-made sandwiches, we settled in to watch the movie on the smallest TV screen in history, Good WIll Hunting. After the movie, they turn the main lights out like an airplane and we tried to sleep. I found the most comfortable position was to sleep on my side with my head by the window, and my legs in an L shape onto the floor. After about an hour, my arm would be asleep and wake me, and I’d shift to some other position for half an hour. This went on all night, and at the first sight of daylight, everyone was awake and moving around. Surprisingly, they had showers on the train, and that was the best part of the trip. The dining car for us poor people was nothing special, but made a decent cuppa tea and some lights meals and snacks.

The whole next day was sort of a mindnumbing blur. We stopped at a small town called Cook, population 4, which used to be a fairly large town with a school, hospital and golf course. But with the privatization of the railway, many jobs were lost and people moved away. So for a quick deboard, we meandered around town and took some pictures of abandoned buildings and falled street signs. It was kind of depressing and weird that it has turned into a tourist attraction. Our stop was short, and we got back on the train for most butt-numbing ride across the Nullarbor Plain, a seemingly unending stretch of red earth and scrubby bushes. The train tracks through the Nullarbor is the longest straight railway track in the world, and so it was. The other highlight of the train trip to Perth was a stop in Kalgoorlie, and the anticipation building up to this was palpable. After a full 24 hours on the train, everyone was ready to get off, even I think the people in Gold Kangaroo class. We arrived in Kalgoorlie at 7pm, and were given almost 4 hours to explore the town. Since we arrived at night, exploring meant going on a pub crawl, and Robert and I quickly found ourselves in one of Kalgoorlie’s famous topless bars.

Kalgoorlie is a gold-mining town, and is still flourishing. Since the mines are producing, Kalgoorlie is the second richest town in Australia, behind Canberra. But what it is most famous for is the nightlife and entertainment they offer, with over 30 pubs spread around it’s small main streets. Many of these pubs have topless bar maids, left over from the old mining days. Kalgoorlie is sort of given special license to do things that aren’t allowed in other parts of Australia, and another popular touristy thing to do is take a tour of a brothel. Since we were there at night that wasn’t possible, as they were closed to tours and open to work. People always say crazy statistics, but supposedly the ration of men to women in Kalgoorlie is 10 to 1, sort of an Alaska in the middle of the desert. So the topless barmaids are allowed, as are women-owned brothels, which I guess makes it more palatable. We ordered some beers, and it was evident that while they were used to tourists coming in, we weren’t there main source of income and they focused their attention on the men sitting at the bar. It wasn’t the nudity that bothered me at all, but there was something almost “unhygenic” if that is the nicest word I can think of, to have girls in their underwear serving me beer. It was just kind of gross, though I’m sure guys don’t have any problem with it.

After multiple bars and beers, and a quick pub dinner, Robert and I got back on the train for our second night’s sleep. We seemed to adjust better the second night, as we knew what was comfortable and what wasn’t, and Robert eventually found a spot on the floor that he found better than the seats, leaving me with 4 seats. I was becoming immune to not sleeping, and the next morning was a busy repacking and getting ready to arrive in Perth. I was excited for various reasons, getting off that train was the least of them. I was meeting my friend Lora there, a Canadian girl I had met in New Zealand and kept in touch with. We were going to travel up the west coast together. And my cousin from Germany who is living in Perth for a while for work was also to meet me at the train station, and I was looking forward to traveling again after my rest at the station. But when we pulled into the station signposted “East Perth,”I knew that our well thought-out plans were not to be. They were meeting me at the main train station, and I was at a completely different one. With a long tired sigh, I got off the train, said goodbye to Robert, and tried to figure out what to do. I was back to being a tourist.

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