Day 12 – Monday, January 26
Australia Day, and we’re spending most of it on a train covering the 828 km from Adelaide to Melbourne.
Not just any train though…The Overland, operating since 1887 and a chance to see some of the real Australian landscape in relative comfort. Much slower and more expensive than flying, but it’s better to travel than to arrive, right?
An early start with an 07:40 departure from Adelaide, arriving in Melbourne at 18:50 after moving the clock 30 minutes forward for a time change difference between South Australia and Victoria.
The Overland train is a bit of a functional relic from the past but retains a faded charm. It’s not overloaded with contemporary facilities but its few carriages are wide and each seat has enough legroom for the Harlem Globetrotters. And we’ve upgraded to Blue Premium, whatever that means….
The train trundles, wheezes and squeaks through mile after mile of stark Aussie landscape, the scrub-like plains enlivened only by the more fertile, rolling hills outside Adelaide, and when we cross the mighty Murray River on a historic, rickety bridge. Otherwise there’s not much evidence of anything other than industrial-strength agriculture.
At Nhill, the hamlet is dominated by wheat and sheep, and the train rumbles past the largest grain silo in the northern hemisphere, built way back in the 1920s.
What houses there are along the entire route look flimsy, and everyone seems to collect rusting second-hand cars and obsolete fridges behind their corrugated iron fences.
There’s a driver change in Dimboola, a wheat town on the Wimmera river and pretty much halfway to our Victorian destination.
The onboard train staff are friendly and informative and, thanks to our upgrade, we’re served regular meals and refreshments at our seats…although it’s good to stretch the ageing legs by exploring the adjacent dining car a couple of times.
Sadly we only spot 1 kangaroo in the entire 828 km….although we may have been dozing for approximately 414 km. He was bouncing along a starkly bare field, in splendid isolation and looking for all the world as though he was late for an appointment.
In the carriage, our immediate neighbour for the whole journey was a menacing-looking, wiry middle-aged Aussie. He could have been the love child of genial Harry Grout, the gimley-eyed fixer in Porridge’s Slade Prison, and a tethered British bulldog. Evil tattoos etched on his punching hands; short, muscled neck; gold earring glistening on his left lobe; chunky knuckle-duster rings on his pinky fingers; sunglasses perched on top of his tanned, almost bald head. I let him use the toilet first.
We pulled into Melbourne station a few minutes ahead of schedule, despite taking almost 45 minutes to trundle through its sprawling, graffitied suburbs. A short walk later we were meeting Linda Pk and being taken up 21 floors to her apartment on 350 William Street….ours for 1 night only, thanks to the miracle of Airbnb.
I just about noticed the spectacular unrestricted views from the balcony, across the north and western suburbs of the city, before collapsing in bed from the sore throat and flu bug that had lurked for a couple of days.
No Australia Day fireworks for me, I’m afraid, but still looking forward to a week in multicultural Melbourne and especially to the Aussie Open, the raison d’etre of the Grand Slam Down Under Tour.