Distracted from my book I gazed at the landscape that the Indian Pacific train rushed by. As the landscapes gradually morphed and changed the beauty of the journey never dwindled, from the winding trails through the Blue Mountains to the straight desert plains of the vast stretch that is known as the Nullabor.
From Sydney to Perth, the train clicks and clacks its way across the country each week but today was a special journey, a journey that tries to give back just a little to the communities that support the train; a journey through some of the most isolated towns in Australia. I was aboard the Indian Pacific Christmas Train.
It’s not until passengers board that they realise they are part of the treasured Christmas Train journey.
Little touches like a specially crafted program, Christmas decorations and even a Christmas dinner is served onboard. There’s also a two very special guests onboard.
Departing Sydney with welcome drinks, we wound our way through the Blue Mountains, including ZigZag, a town where the bush fires got just metres away from the train tracks and the blackened trees pose a stark contrast to the surrounding greenery.
You hear about bush fires on the news but to see the scar through the mountains where the green trees have turned black is another thing entirely. It’s a reminder of how fragile our sun-burnt country is.
Pulling up at Bathurst Station, the first of six stops where performances take place, crowds were eagerly awaiting, cameras and iPhone poised as speeches were shared and the Assumption School sang Christmas carols.
As they sang many faces eagerly turned back towards the train, well aware that some special visitors were still onboard and hoping to catch the first glimpse of Australian pop sensation, Ricki-Lee.
Singing three of her biggest songs, including Sunshine, which seemed so appropriate with the setting sun, before joining with the kids to sing more Christmas carols, it was a short but special performance with only an acoustic guitar backing her.
Back onboard the New South Wales country kept rolling by as we dinner was had and beds were retired to – after a few cheeky drinks of course.
For my journey, I was staying in a Gold class twin berth sleeper cabin. By day I was seated on a comfortable three seater lounge by night I had a single bed – thankfully no one else was in my cabin so I didn’t have the second bed open above me and a bathroom all to myself! (There’ll be a review on the Gold class service in a later post.)
The second morning went by in a blur as we pulled into Broken Hill early the next morning, our second performance stop.
The wild and unseasonably cold weather put off a lot of people from coming out but there was still a nice group who came to hear the performance – including my Nan who came to give me hugs and tried to talk above Ricki-Lee’s microphone the whole performance – before rolling onto Adelaide where we could take part in off-train excursions to the Central Markets – complimentary in Gold service – or just go for a walk.
It wasn’t until the morning after our stop in Adelaide that we could see just how much the Indian Pacific Christmas Train meant to communities when we came to a stop in what felt like the middle of no where, except the middle of no where had dozens and dozens of land rovers and vans with plenty of expectant looking faces.
We’d reached Watson.
Many of the families had driven a few hundred kilometres and camped overnight to ensure they’d been there.
The Yalata Anangu School – an Indigenous school – had bought their mini bus loaded with kids and the Tjuntjuntjara school, who is usually in Rawlinna, after chat near a local swimming area.
There was no station, no stage, so Ricki-Lee’s performance was done acoustic from a chair that one family had bought with them, but there was plenty of fun and laughs as the children gathered around her to hear the songs and sing Jingle Bells and eat lollies together, before dozens of children, many barefoot, ran beside the train waving, cheering and bidding us a fond and memorable farewell.
Of course the train held another special passenger – Santa was onboard. Babies were held and presents (bags of mixed lollies) were shared to everyone.
Watson was also the location of where my favourite photo for the trip was taken (below). I think the girl was a little scared by Ricki-Lee’s photobombing!
Giving back to the community that help support them is just part of why Great Southern Rail host a Christmas Train. The other is to support a charity that does an enormous job supporting all of Australia’s outback communities.
I’m a city girl. I’ve never lived in the country, probably never will but the work of the Royal Flying Doctor (RFDS) is one that I wholeheartedly support, in part thanks to my Dad’s involvement with the charity over the years and because when we went for a drive to the airport he’d always make a stop so I could look at the gleaming row of RFDS planes at Adelaide Airport.
Operating 61 planes from 21 bases around Australia, The Royal Flying Doctor service offers medical assistance to communities as well as emergency service throughout Australia to around 270,000 patients!
Daily, the RFDS receive around 750 calls throughout Australia and 112 patients are transported for various reasons – patients needing to be bought to or from the cities, passenger transport and a host of other reasons.
The Christmas Train journey supports them by fundraising at each stop, with the passengers onboard (our group had a little wager on how many runs would Australia finish in front of the Brits at the Ashes with a buy in of $10 per guess) and just by spreading the word of the RFDS to the community onboard the train by staging a landing at Cook, a tiny ghost town that used to have a thriving hospital, now only housing staff to refuel the train on its journey.
…and Santa tried to trade in his sleigh just in time for Christmas!
Arriving in the small town of Rawlinna, a station with a lone pine tree, a post office and a gaggle of the nearest cattle station’s workers who were very merry indeed as they enjoying a few drinks pulled out from shirt pockets as they waited for the Indian Pacific telling us “it’s all part of our Christmas party!“
While we were mobbed by the crowds and children at Watson the kids waiting were much more subdued, just 10 sat on the building’s ground waiting patiently for the Santa and the singer to arrive before being presented with backpacks with a few toys, some stationary, cool drink and a few sweets – a Christmas present from the Indian Pacific.These children, also part of the Tjuntjuntjara School had driven 317km to Rawlinna, only half of what it takes to get to Watson, and what the school teacher dubbed the most isolated town in Australia.
When given an extra bag of sweets, the station hands handed them over to the kids. A small gift but something big when you have little.
As songs were sung, some singing a little more merrily than the children and Ricki-Lee, I wandered around the two buildings that made up the stop to see horses that had escaped a paddock willing to be patted but spooked by the clapping as each song finished, and a beautiful dog who wanted to join the fun and eagerly tried to garner love and attention from any who walked by, succeeding every time with a whine and scampering around the edge of the tray to gaze at you expectantly.
As we finished dinner the train began to slow again. The land sinking into darkness for our third night and the lights of the large mining town of Kalgoorlie slowly coming into view.
Tomorrow morning we’d reach Perth but that night we had one final performance by Ricki-Lee and the Kalgoorlie Primary School and one final sighting of Santa before he returned to the North Pole to escape the creeping Australian heat.
Now it’s over to you:
Have you ever taken the Indian Pacific? Share your story!
Had you heard of the Royal Flying Doctor’s Service?
Are trains part of your Christmas celebrations?
The Indian Pacific runs from Sydney to Perth twice each week.
Check the timetable for more information.
Standard Fare Prices for the Gold Service Twin is AU$2,489 for Adults.
For more information about prices for all services, including discounts for Students, YHA card holders, Backpackers, Children and Pensioners check the fare website.
Advance Purchase fares can be made a minimum of 6-months in advance to ensure the best deal.
Sale fares do happen throughout the year.
My trip aboard the Indian Pacific Christmas Train was arranged by Great Southern Rail.
All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.