Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Riding the Rattler (1)

Both my grandfathers were railway guards. One worked the line between Mackay and Rockhampton, the other, between Toowoomba and Warwick. They called what they did for a living "riding the rattler".

This was back in the 40s and 50s, so I'm talking deep nostalgia. I can remember joining a crowd of people at Carmila railway station in the early fifties to see the first diesel powered train roar past. I was terrified by the noise - I must have been all of five or six at the time.


As a fourteen year-old heading off to boarding school, I rode the Sunlander from Mackay to Brisbane on my own. I don't remember being daunted by this. I do remember frantically trying to dispose of a lighted cigarette when the conductor came by at some point in the 1600km journey. It was a difficult exercise in an air-conditioned compartment.

Given this background, it seemed nostalgically appropriate to take the Indian-Pacific for the Adelaide-Perth leg of the journey.

Sunsets on the Nullarbor are something else.

The train is comfortable, well-appointed, and technically interesting. The logistics involved in getting what amounts to a long skinny multi-roomed hotel from one end of the continent to the other are daunting. The train staff were persistently cheerful and obliging,which in itself was impressive, given that they worked flat-out for two days keeping hundreds of generally geriatric and accident-prone individuals like me happy and safe.

With a head full of memories of being jolted about in Queensland Rail's 1960s narrow gauge rolling stock, I was pleasantly surprised to find that on the whole the ride was smooth and relatively quiet.

We stopped at Cook, about one third of the way across the Nullarbor, where I came across these pepperinas. Not much grows there, but these do and they're fragrant.I wonder if you could cook with them?

There were wildflowers.

Stopping to refuel provided an opportunity to inspect the train from the outside. The engineering is impressive. These things are built heavy - for comfort, not speed. The contrast with aircraft construction and layout is stark.There's plenty of industrial gauge steelwork about, and the quality (and complexity) of the internal plumbing and cabling is mind-blowing.

The train staff communicate with what look like HF radios - they wear them on their belts. It comes across as a little incongruous when the radio comes loudly alive as the waitress is pouring you a glass of plonk. The tucker's pretty good, by the way.

Cook has a population of two, which doubles when the train stops as extras come in to sell souvenirs. Obviously one of the four has a dim view of shoplifters.

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