Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

December 2012

 

I’m late again. This time my excuse is that I’ve been busy seeing as much as I can of the Wide Brown Land before I depart very soon for the Northern Hemisphere and Greece, where winter is setting in, and where people can scarcely remember the word ‘prosperity.’ And where troubles abound. But all that may well be a story for next month.

In recent years Australia has seen me more often than I dared hope when, long ago, I set out for six months holiday in Greece. Said ‘holiday’ somehow got out of hand and so extended itself indefinitely: I have now been in Greece, off and on, for over 30 years. But still I yearn for my native land. Regularly. And with the years comes the realisation that I have not really seen very much of it.

But I’ve tried to make up for this during this most recent visit, and have in fact whizzed through four states. My niece’s wedding went off very prettily in gardens in West Perth, and then I flew to Melbourne, city of my birth. After a short interval I went to Adelaide as part of fulfilling a long-held ambition: to travel on the Ghan train to Darwin. Adelaide itself I have always found to be a city of great charm; it has something of the Mediterranean about it, while retaining its own character. A dedicated walker, I was delighted by my 6km hike along the banks of the River Torrens in the dappled sunlight of a perfect day in late spring.  And I was with good company.

Said good company delivered me to the mighty Ghan the next day, and having lived in the Centre and points north for several years, assured me that I was going to have the time of my life. (I myself felt it was a case of now or never.) Other people of my acquaintance were not so reassuring, and were inclined to forecast boredom and discomfort, because of course I was travelling on the cheap and so favoured aeroplane-style seats rather than the sealed comfort of a cabin/couchette. One Eurocentric friend simply could not see why I could be bothered to undertake such a trip. And I’m not sure that I will ever be able to give her a satisfactory explanation.

Boredom? Forget it. The train speeds along at about 85kph most of the time, and so an ever-changing landscape rolls by: bush, scrubland, desert, gibber plain. The colour of the earth changes, too, and so do the rock formations. Then there is the light. Poor sun-starved northern Europeans have always waxed lyrical about Greek light, and have sometimes written a great deal of nonsense about it. They’ve not seen the light of inland Australia, or the brilliance of the sunsets and sunrises. The man I slept with on the train, if you follow me, was a keen photographer, and later sent me his wonderful photos of a blood-red sun rising over the desert. There were 4 hour stops at Alice Springs and at Katherine, and the opportunity to go on a tour: there were several to choose from. At the Alice the young among us chose to ride camels, but my sedate choice was a visit to the very impressive School of the Air, which caters for children on remote stations, and covers an area as big as Central Europe.

You can forget discomfort, too. The aforementioned photographer was a big man, but found the foot space ample and so slumbered peacefully: the seats tip back further than the seats in planes. And being with other people is reassuring: the first night there was a loud bang and a severe jolt as the emergency brakes were applied in response to an unexpected red signal. Had I been alone in a cabin I would have been hysterical with fright, but as it was we all woke up, noted that we were still alive, that the train was still on the rails, and fell asleep again quite happily.

The Ghan left Adelaide at 12.20 pm on the Sunday, and arrived in Darwin, all 28 carriages and two locomotives, at 5.30 pm on the Tuesday. That sounds a long time, but I didn’t find it so: there was something very refreshing about being sealed off from the outside world for so long, and about seeing so many new sights in such variety. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

Gillian Bouras

 

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