The overnight motion of the train, as far as sleeping is concerned, is like marmite. You love it or hate it. For me, it was like being rocked to sleep on an ocean-going superyacht. For Lorna, it was like experiencing severe turbulence on an overnight transatlantic flight, and expecting to fall out of the sky.
Lorna’s response to my customary “did you sleep well?” enquiry was that she had feared for her life. I don’t think she slept as well as I did. The crew say people get used to it though and they sleep sounder on the train than they do at home.
We woke up as the train was starting across the vast Nullarbor Plain (from the Latin, meaning no trees), 200,000 square kilometres of desert.
Breakfast was served off the train during an early a two hour stop at Rawlinna, the largest sheep station in Australia at 2.5 million acres, stocking more than 70,000 sheep. Then it was onwards across the plain; the uniform emptiness of scrubland broken only by the occasional sight of sheep, cattle, kangaroos or emus. No signs of humanity outside the windows, for mile after mile.
A few hours later, the crew briefly dropped post and supplies at Forrest (population 2), a remote aerodrome used as a refueling stop for general aviation and as an emergency runway for commercial aircraft. The name, incidentally, is not an ironic misspelling, given the paucity of any greenery for hundreds of miles, but is the name of John Forrest, the first man to cross Western Australia from West to East, including the Nullarbor. It seemed to me, that crossing that extraordinarily vast and inhospitable desert without air conditioned motorised transport, was an endeavour worthy of at least the name of a decent- sized county town or even a city. A pit stop aerodrome is not much in the way of recognition.
The only other stop of the day was half an hour just after lunchtime, in the remote town of Cook (population 4), now owned and operated by the railway company, to take on water and to change drivers. Cook once had its own school and swimming pool (long since abandoned and filled in respectively). The pool must have been popular when temperatures hit 49 degrees.
It was cooler when we stopped there, but still hot enough to destroy my (supposedly) rugged walking boots. The soles exploded beneath my feet on the baking limestone, so I had to flap my way back to the cabin. I had brought them over specially and they were blooming heavy.
The warning to return to the train came from one blast on the town’s siren. You really would not want to miss the train here.
Two and a half hours later and now adding a further two and a half hours as we switched from Western Australian to South Australian time , we finally left the Nullarbor plain and saw real trees again. After 10 hours of featureless desert, we had missed them.
Next stop – Adelaide.