Sunday, 12th July 1987
I woke up early at 9am and spent the early morning watching music videos with Declan, John and Josie. Then at about 11am I said goodbye to Bondi for the last time and went to Bondi Junction station to take to the rails for the very first stage of my 4,000km train journey to Perth.
I paused briefly at King’s Cross to do laundry and recover my bag from the Backpackers hostel. I had my last ever steak sandwich in the Rex and then bumped into George the Hungarian outside the launderette. He was still living at the Down Under and he was still working at the radio factory.
At 2pm I hauled both of my bags up the steps of Sydney Central terminus and looked with anticipation at the words “Indian Pacific – Perth” on the big blue TV monitor. I checked one bag in and watched as it was taken away to be loaded in the baggage van.
At 2:45pm I made my way down the platform past the long train of sleek stainless steel coaches. The coach numbers started at 1 and so I had a very long walk to the very front of the train to find my own carriage number 15.
I finally reached number 15 to find it was neither stainless steel nor sleek. It was one of two ancient -looking red New South Wales State Rail coaches. These two coaches seemed to have been added on the front almost as an afterthought.
Whilst the rest of the train was made up of sleepers, lounge cars, restaurants and bars, these were the only two seating coaches. 15 was right at the front behind the locomotive and 14 was another red seating coach behind that. Then came the first coach of the proper silver train, 13 a cafeteria car, just behind that.
I jumped on board and found my seat. The seats in the carriage were a bit shoddy and were set out in rows of four with two either side of the centre aisle. I had a window seat in the second row. I threw my bag under my seat and began to read of Bob Hawke’s Election victory in the Sydney Morning Herald. The seating part of the train was less than half full as we prepared to leave Sydney.
At 3:15pm precisely the whistle went and the train trundled out of Sydney and began its three and a half day trip to Perth. We went out past Stanmore, Stratfield, Paramatta and all the other places on the Sydney System that were so familiar to me. Memories of all the trips out to Kodak, Amway, Colgate and Buttercup Buns came flooding back as we passed Liverpool and Penrith.
The train continued on climbing into the beautiful blue mountains and passed Katoomba as the sun began to set. I knew the route as far as Lithgow from previous trips, but once we passed there I was in new territory.
Once it was dark I went to the bar/cafeteria car, number 13, for drinks. There was quite a nice selection of people on board ranging from a helicopter mechanic to a champion water skier. The bar car had quite a nice relaxed feel to it. The whole train was a bit rickety though and it seemed the driver couldn’t avoid breaking sharply and making the whole train clang together every 20 minutes or so.
Eventually I made it back to car 15 and found that I now had a seat mate. It was a little old lady who explained she was travelling as far as Mount Gambier via Adelaide. I got into my sleeping bag and sat in the seat. I tried hard to doze off but with the noise and the jolting of the train it was quite difficult. In the end it was quite an uneven night’s sleep.
Monday, 13th July 1987
I woke up just before we arrived at Broken Hill. The train emptied a lot there. It struck me that relatively few people were making the whole journey all the way to Perth. The train, particularly the seating part that I was in, was used just as much for relatively short journeys.
The train trundled along through flat outback-type scenery. I booked for lunch and went to the dining car located further back in the train at 12 noon. The meal was pretty disappointing and consisted of a main course of cold meat salad and fruit salad from a tin for dessert.
By the time I had finished my coffee and returned to the seat it was raining outside. I spent most of the afternoon learning how to count in Japanese whilst looking out as the rain began to fall harder and harder. At 4pm we arrived in a rainy and windswept Adelaide.
The train pulled into the modern terminal and we were asked to detrain with our luggage. We watched as the two NSW red coaches were taken away (maybe to a museum – someone wondered) and replaced with just one silver stainless steel coach This was numbered 19 and its livery actually matched the rest of the train.
We then clambered back on board and took our new seat assignments. The seats felt immediately more comfortable. On inspection I found that the toilet converted three ways to wash basin, toilet and shower.
However, any feeling of “oneness” with the rest of the train disappeared quickly. The Australian National Railway crew who had replaced the New South Wales staff announced that anyone in the seating part of the train was not allowed to linger in the cafeteria, bar or restaurant cars. We could use them, if we must, but we must return to our seats immediately. There was to be no mixing with any of the luxury guests.
My seat mate was now another old lady on her way to visit relatives north of Perth. On my right was an English guy and his Australian girlfriend.
I had a wash in the toilet & shower cubicle and then climbed back into the sleeping bag whilst still sitting in the seat.
Tuesday, 14th July 1987
The sleep was a lot better the second night and I woke up feeling refreshed. I went to the cafeteria car and had a breakfast of toast, jam, Vegemite and coffee. I made it last a long time whilst keeping an eye out for the staff who would potentially want to throw me out.
At 9:24am we stopped at Watson, a hamlet with 2 houses and a helicopter.
I returned to my seat and watched out of the window all morning as the train entered the long 478km straight across the Nullabour plain. It was all red earth with just the occasional flower, rusty oil drum or kangaroo.
I went back to the cafeteria car for lunch and found that people were generally ignoring the rules. The Anglo-Australian couple had obviously remained in there all morning and so had two Japanese girls playing cards. I decided to join them. I spent the whole afternoon and early evening watching the Nullabour go by in the company of an ex-BR employee from Milton Keynes.
To make my stay semi-legitimate, over the course of the afternoon I purchased a couple of meat pies, a tub of vanilla ice cream, 3 coffees and a muesli slice.
The scenery was unchanging and the time began to drag. At around 2pm we paused at Cook to refuel the locomotive. We had a chance to get out and also to walk through the rest of the train including a visit to the famous piano lounge in the first class.
We set off again and at 3:03pm we saw 3 Kangaroos huddled together. Shortly after that an eastbound Indian Pacific passed us heading towards Sydney.
It finally got dark as we headed into Kalgoorie at about 8pm. There was an extended stop there and I wandered off to get a Red Rooster chicken takeaway meal and to get some cash out of the bank machine.
The last evening on board was pretty magical. By now it was clear that the warning issued in Adelaide was just not being enforced. A few of us stayed in the cafeteria car all evening mixing with the “luxury” guests.
There was a Canadian lady who was a professional blues singer sitting in there, and once we were all a bit drunk on some Emu Export beer she entertained us with renditions of made up songs like “on the Xerox line”. Once we had drunk even more Emu Export we began to sing along as well. I finally made it back to my seat more than 12 hours after I had first left it at 1am. I guess you could define that as lingering.
Wednesday, 15th July 1987
I slept from 1am until 6am and then spent the last hour of the journey back in the cafeteria car sipping coffee and peering out through the darkness at the drizzly suburbs of Perth. At 7am, bang on time, the Indian Pacific pulled into its terminus. I detrained, collected my other bag from the luggage van and caught a taxi to the “Top Notch Hostel” on Aberdeen Street.
I went to Drakes in the afternoon to see if there was any work. It seemed that there could be work soon and I was told to return in a couple of days. I figured I could work for another 5 or 6 weeks until the visa ran out.
I went back to the hostel at 4pm and, still tired from a mammoth train journey, fell straight asleep.
Thursday, 16th July 1987
I slept continuously from 4pm until 9am. When I woke up I suddenly decided that I would not seek work in Perth after all. Instead I would leave Australia as soon as possible. My finances were good enough to support travelling through Asia and then a month or even two potentially unemployed in Japan.
I thought there was just no point in staying around anymore. I couldn’t work beyond September anyway and, to be honest, not having worked since I had injured my finger in Melbourne, I was happily out of the habit for now.
I walked into the centre of Perth and changed the date on my Malaysian Airlines flight for Singapore to Sunday 26th July. I asked the people in the travel agency for the name of a doctor who could perform my travel injections. They recommended one in Central Hay Street.
He was an elderly guy and a private pilot. He entertained me with his stories of flying himself around Australia and working as a doctor in Blackpool Victoria hospital in the 1960’s. He had a lovely story about how he had smashed up a Morris Minor on a trip to the lake district. I left with a script for cholera and typhoid vaccines and some malaria tablets.
Thursday night I spent watching the television.
Friday, 17th July 1987
On Friday I explored Perth a little more but mainly spent time relaxing at the hostel watching TV.
Saturday, 18th July 1987
On Saturday I explored Perth a little more and spent time relaxing and watching TV yet again.
My roommates were an English lad, Craig, from Gloucester, Ian from NSW and Gary, a Kiwi. Craig was working as a cycle courier and the other two had been working as orange pickers but had been laid off.
Sunday, 19th July 1987
A repeat of the previous two days activities; on Sunday I explored Perth a little more and spent yet more time relaxing at the hostel watching TV.
Monday, 20th July 1987 – Wednesday, 22nd July 1987
I began a daily routine designed to complete all the preparations for leaving Australia whilst trying to conserve as much cash as possible.
I stayed in bed everyday until about noon listening to 69FM on the radio. In the afternoon I walked into Perth and bought some hot delicious bread from a bakery run by a friendly Vietnamese family.
I sent all my mail on, began closing my bank accounts and started buying traveller’s cheques.
Back at the hostel I watched the afternoon films on Channel 9 and then spent time writing and playing pool. I cooked cheap vegetable stews for dinner and then watched TV again until midnight.
Thursday, 23rd July 1987
I went to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and a nice chap there, Tom, referred me to Charles Galaway, a lawyer whose office was on top the Reserve Bank Building in St George’s terrace. He agreed to send a letter to Drakes forcing an out of court settlement for my hand injury as long as I could get a doctor’s note.
Friday, 24th July 1987
I went back to see my flying doctor friend. As well as performing all the planned injections he agreed to give me a certificate for the hand. I took that back to Mr Galaway and he promised to be in touch.
I bought the final batch of traveller’s cheques and closed the last bank account just before 4pm on Friday.
Saturday, 25th July 1987
After a week of almost constant rain and drizzle Saturday was finally a nice day. I went for a last look around Perth. I climbed through King’s Park for a beautiful view of the City and then hopped on a train to Freemantle. I spent a pleasant few hours walking around the town.
The only clues that the America’s Cup had been held there just six months before were a few old posters and a couple of signposts. The harbour was beautiful though and I sat there watching life go by for a while having a coffee.
It finally started to dawn on me that after almost 11 months I was leaving Australia and quite possibly an English-speaking country for quite some time. I pondered over my 11 months and felt quite satisfied with my time down under.
I had good memories of the things I had experienced and the people I had met. I wondered how much I would miss it all. How much would I long for meat pies once I was in Asia.
I caught the train back to Perth and began my final preparations for departure.
Sunday, 26th July 1987
I was planning to make the long trip out to the airport on the bus when Craig, Ian and Gary kindly suggested making a bit of a day of it and going over in their car. I jumped at the idea and so we packed my stuff in their little orange Ford Escort and set off at 1pm.
After I had checked in for the flight we all had a bit of an impromptu party with a jug of Swan Lager in the departure lounge.
Eventually the flight was called at 3:30pm and I bid them and Australia a very fond farewell.
I hate to think how much beer I had drunk in Australia but I can certainly say I was still drinking until the last few minutes before I left.
The flight took off at 4:30pm.