The almost one-kilometre-long Ghan, travelling twice a week in each direction from Adelaide to Darwin, might incline you to think that train travel has returned to its rightful place as preferred mode of travel. It’s comforting to know that so many people want to take the train through the desert but in truth, the comfort element is a big part of the attraction.
I like to travel by rail as much as I can, and actually see the country I’m travelling though even if it’s flashing by. And I have the most appropriate back up of Don Watson’s The Bush, though not much gets read on the train during daylight.
Before darkness descends we cross Goyder’s Line and enter saltbush-bluebush-Western Myall country. Happy memories of Rangelands Ecology on Middleback Station in January.
Next thing I know is sunrise at Marla Siding. Everybody off the train for breakfast. So many people taking photos of sunrise as if it didn’t happen every day – perhaps not in the desert and unimpeded by anything except other people taking photos.
Now we are in mulga country, an occasional white-trunked gum, quite a few shrubs I can’t identify and, was that a Callitris?
Then we get to my favourite tree, the desert oak Allocasuarina decaisneana and I can revel in it for days through to Uluru.
We are well into the NT before I see the first lumps of the ubiquitous grass of the Australian centre, Triodia irritans. I remember driving over hundreds of miles of the stuff in the APY lands in 1979. It looks invitingly lemony soft with spiky vertical hair but it is (I know) impossibly ‘irritans’.
In places the country is so flogged there’s barely a green/grey leaf; in some areas the small size of the veg looks like it’s returning after being given a severe thrashing.
The land is almost never flat. Relief might be a rocky outcrop, a gentle rise of a sand dune, a distant hill. It is always changing. I sip my beer, look out the window. I am in heaven.