Monday, 13 April 2009

Tribulations and Travels

I have given much thought to whether I should write this article and am in fact a little uncomfortable putting fingers’ to the keyboard.

The Ghan has left Station and is travelling through the suburbs and then outer suburbs of Adelaide. One thing that strikes me is the basic make up of suburbs in Australia’s major cities is pretty much the same. And yes, for the exercise I am classing Adelaide as a major city. The fact they host a UCI category 1 cycling race gives them that status as far as I’m concerned.

Australian backyards are also all pretty much the same and I wonder if this is the case in other countries.

On we roll and signs of suburbia disappear and there, not 50 metres from the train track is a kangaroo. Surprisingly and disappointingly, this is the only kangaroo I see for the entire journey and it was not one of the ‘big red’ variety I expected and wanted to see through the outback.

About 5 or so hours out of Adelaide we arrive at Port Augusta for a scheduled one hour stop and an opportunity to get out and walk around.

I spot a gateway to a park that has a sign saying “Matthew Flinders Memorial”. I vividly remember being enthralled in Primary School with the exploits of Flinders and Bass so it is with much enthusiasm and anticipation that I head for the park to see and read the memorial expecting a plague and perhaps a statue. It was only after entering and exploring the park that it occurred to me that the gateway to the park and the sign itself is actually the memorial. A city boy expecting more from a small country town, proud of its history

The facilities at the Port Augusta Station however were disappointing. The Ghan is promoted as being one of the World’s Great Train Journey’s and rightfully so. There was a shop at the station however, the coffee machine was not operating, the magazine rack was empty, there was hardly a can of soft drink in the fridge and no fruit juice at all. While I did not want to buy anything, it occurred to me this is not a particularly good impression to give overseas tourists who have been attracted to Adelaide by the lure of one of “The World’s Great Train Journey’s”. I felt we could do better. Over to you Mr. Rann.

Back on the train and rolling and before you know it all Gold and Platinum Class passengers (sorry, guests) were gathering for the welcome cocktail party. Now I haven’t so much as had a glass of Champagne (sorry sparkling white wine made methode champagne) in 18 months and here I am having my second, third and fourth in the space of a few hours.

Dinner followed (Tasmanian Salmon) and in no time a very full night’s sleep was disturbed at 6.30am with the delivery of a hot cup of tea. Thank you Penny, and made just as I requested the night before.

The view out the window was of dry scrub with a few trees dead and alive for variety. A couple of hours later, there was excitement in the lounge car – a dingo was spotted.

In conversation with an American lady, she mentioned her reason for doing the trip was to see Koala’s in the wild. She was most disturbed to learn that there are no Koala up through the centre.

The view out the window continued to be of bushy scrub sprinkled with trees. I was expecting to be seeing wide open spaces of red by now; maybe closer to Alice Springs; hopefully closer to Alice Springs.

Alice Springs came and went with a marvelous tour of the Desert Park, but more on this another time.

There was a common theme in discussion over pre dinner drinks and then dinner. Everyone was commenting on how beautiful the country is and how wonderful the scenery is we are passing through.

I just don’t get it.

Maybe I lack imagination, maybe I am not sufficiently romantic, maybe I have lived and spent too much time in big cities or perhaps I am actually un-Australian. Sure, the land is perhaps interesting and fascinating. I find it incredible that organisms live, survive and prosper in such a harsh environment and the evolution over time to adapt to the changing conditions is certainly amazing, but beautiful? I just don’t see it and it must be my problem.

I have this theory about Champagne that perhaps particularly applies to the baby boomer and builder generations more than the X’s and Y’s. My theory is that we were brought up believing that champagne was a special and wonderful drink that we should all love and enjoy when we get the chance too. It was almost required that we enjoy it and in many cases, I suspect most people don’t know if what they are drinking is any good and don’t particularly like it more than say a moderate red, but it is wrong to say anything against champagne so they don’t. Haven’t we all gagged on cheap so called champagne at a wedding or 21st birthday party?

I think something similar applies to much of the outback. We are brought up being told how beautiful it is and how its beauty has to be scene to be believed. The promotional material for The Ghan says as much.

I can see beauty in a beach scene, a rain forest, a water fall, a mountain range, snow capped mountains and passes. I can see beauty in a rising sun over the Brisbane River or the silhouette of the skyline against a setting sun. I cannot see it out the train window.

And it is my inability to see the landscape we travelled through to be beautiful that has made me a little un-comfortable writing about it.

Admittedly, I was looking forward to seeing red soil as far as the eye can see and now know we were not in such territory but it does exist.

But don’t get me wrong, I still loved the trip – all of it.

And Katherine and the Gorge are yet to come.

Finally, I was expressing my confusion about the beauty of the scenery on the Ghan trip to a friend over coffee this afternoon. She asked me if the outback or the part I witnessed had personality. My response was a resounding yes, it sure has personality.

She then drew on a different analogy to that of champagne. She suggested that not all people are beautiful to the eye but they have wonderful personalities and are beautiful people just the same.

I have given this some thought and decided the Outback I traveled through last week is indeed beautiful. Maybe I am Australian after all.

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