Rick and Ann Brown's Travel Adventures travel blog

Wild Emu-don't see to many of these in the USA

Giant termite mound, amazing


The day after Christmas we decided to take a train to Mt. Isa. Mt. Isa is about 1/3 of the way across Australia, in the middle of the Outback. It is an old mining town and has a big fossil museum where some of the oldest known fossils are displayed. The tickets were half price and so we thought why not, we didn't have anything else to do. Well, now we know why the tickets were half price and it has become the train ride to remember.

The day after Christmas here is a holiday, it is Boxing Day, we don't know for sure what that is and neither do most Australians but it is a national holiday. The only thing I can figure out is the Sydney to Hobart yacht race is that day and it is an excuse to take off work and watch it on TV..

We board the train at 6 PM for our 18-hour trip to Mt. Isa. We had a sleeping compartment so we were quit comfortable. The train left right on time, zooming at an incredible 5 to 10 mph out of town. We had just settled in for our ride when the conductor knocked and ask to see our tickets. We then found out that he would put our berths down upon request whenever we were ready to sleep. Also, he asks us what time we wanted out coffee or tea brought round the next morning. Yes, we were going to like this.....The train soon gained speed up to around 40 mph and off we went across the countryside. We decided to go back to the dining car for some refreshments before we went to sleep and to our surprise only 2 people were there. We began to talk to the crew and found out there were only 17 people on the train. We had a cup of coffee and chatted with the crew, as it grew dark and the sun started to set, what an awesome sight it was. We started to see many kangaroos loping along and they were much larger then the ones we had been seeing in Townsville. Around 5 to 6 feet tall and they looked just like on TV with babies in their pouches and all.

We called for our berths to be put down around 9 PM, it was two singles an upper and a lower. Rick and I scrunched into the lower and watched the countryside as the moon rose, it was a beautiful site. We rambled through several small towns and I do mean small, less than 200 people but we were to see many more that were only a few people and I mean a few, like eight........

Rick climbed the ladder and went up top around 11 Pm to try and sleep and I also tried but the train was very noisy and made a lot of creaking noises and also stopped at several small (really small) towns so we slept off and on until around 5:30 AM. The train stopped and woke us; we got up and waited for our coffee to arrive.

Sure enough at 6:15 as promised the conductor knocked on the door with coffee and a morning "bickie", which is a small biscuit, or cookie to us. Soon we were ready to go to the dining car for some "breakie". We got dressed and off we went down the length of the train to the club car. Only the crew were there and we sat down and started talking and they brought us a great breakfast. The terrain had changed and was very desolate, very dry and just scrub for vegetation. It looked so bleak and unliveable it was hard to believe the Australian people had ever managed to cross it. The conductor came and sat with us and was he a wealth of information. He had grown up in the area and told us all about the gold mining that had gone on and where all the wells for the cross-country mail runs had been. He also told us where and when to look for Emu flocks, which we saw, and other strange birds with pink wings. Also saw hawks, eagles and such. Many cattle, on big cattle stations (ranches) to us. And a lot of them were up next to the rail tracks, no fences. So one of the reasons the train went so slow was because of the cattle on the tracks, so we thought.......

As the day wore on and we became enthralled in the narrative our conductor was giving and all the little tiny towns that we stopped in, some with nothing but a building. The train was the only way the people out there got their goods and mail. In a lot of cases, the train was it........

We were scheduled to arrive in Mt Isa around 1:30 PM so around 10 we were thinking about departing, we were tired by then. We noticed the train was going really slow in some places and I do mean slow, 5 mph. We asked the crew what was up, they told us because of the incredible heat that the rails buckled and the train had to go really slow to keep from derailing......oh yea that was what I wanted to hear....

So we creep along until we finally stop at a little tiny place and pick up 4 more crewmembers and the parts of another train hooked on. We chatted with the engineer of the other train and guess what, he was from Indiana, yes another yank, what are the odds.....

He also told us that the day before a train had derailed, they go so slow it just rides off the track, no big deal, no one gets hurt. He is hoping they have it fixed by the time we get there. No it is not fixed and we stop out in the middle of no where "Outback Australia" and it looks just like on TV, only now we are in a hilly area that is a little green. Not a soul in sight, we sit. Then we are told a bus is coming for us to take us into Mt. Isa. This is now 4:30 in the afternoon, the bus shows up around 5 and we all get out into this intense heat and get on the bus that has found it's way to us on a little dirt road. We get on and the driver tells us to buckle our seat belts and the beeping noise that we are going to hear is the bus air ride system raising the bus so we can get over the dirt road. No way, no beep, air system did not work, we are stuck again. Off the bus back onto the train, where there is at least air conditioning, food and water. The decision is made to slowly go forward to Mt. Isa, like we have a choice.... So we rocket off at a break neck speed of 5 mph. The rails are buckled and we can feel the train wobble around and lean over, but the crew assures us we are safe that the weight of the train will push the rails back down. Finally 7:30 PM we arrive in Mt. Isa. It is very hot, we head for our hotel, hot shower, big bed.... Crash we are out like a light. The crew tells us that we are scheduled to leave to come back to Townsville at 6 PM and they are not sure the tracks will be fixed so the ride back will be very slow also....

We wander around Mt. Isa, it is a mining town. Not very big, lots of rough and tumble people, the museum is closed for the holiday so we have very little to do and we are not looking forward to the ride home.... Light bulb over our heads, we pick up the phone and book a flight home on a little 20-passenger airplane. We leave at 6:50 and are home in our own bed by 10 with an incredible story about being stuck in the outback........ It was interesting, informative and now I know why the interior of Australia is so unpopulated, it was almost 130 degrees in Mt Isa. The Australian people have my admiration for even attempting to live there. And 17,000 of them do it and work in the mine. When the heat is so intense it buckles the rail tracks it is no place for me... I will stay by the sea, and the sea breeze will cool us, it may be warm here, 95 or so but the Outback is a whole other story.

No more trips to the outback for us, next time we fly........... on a big plane........



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