Jay Houhlias

When on family holidays, a younger Jay used to complain about everything – especially how long the drives were. Every time I piped up about it, my mother would say, in that voice that all mothers use when they are trying to drive a point home to their children, ‘It’s about the journey not the destination.’

Legend has it that this adage came from the historic Indian Pacific. Slicing seamlessly through our red country, I got the feeling that my mother really was onto something all those years ago. My journey from Sydney to Perth on the Indian Pacific train spanned over 4000kms and encompassed off-train adventures in Broken Hill, South Australia, and the Nullarbor, with drinks and meals included.

The first step in my voyage was becoming familiar with my room. The cabin consisted of a lounge which turned into a bed by night, ensuite, radio, and the crowning feature, a window. This window was your entertainment, and it was all the entertainment you ever needed. It was your book, your radio, your television screen, your phone, and your catharsis all in one. When I first sat down inside my cabin, I thought to myself, ‘one could really get to know themselves in this room.’ You could position yourself perfectly so that you lay on your back, feet rested against the window and head titled upward, watching Australia go by between your toes. It was marvellous.

Our first stop was Broken Hill. The quiet orange town, once a mining and workers hub, had a charming and colloquial feel. We took a guided walk around the town and stopped at the main attractions along the way. The community at Broken Hill is a passionate one, proud of their town and its history.

Back on board, our meals were perfectly timed throughout the day and consisted of classy, healthy cuisine. My favourite was the lamb shanks – the meat slid off the bone like rolling up a shirt sleeve. The staff got to know and understand my bottomless appetite, and they always went to great lengths to make sure I was taken care of. At the conclusion of each meal, they would come to my table and ask me, subliminally and using only facial expressions, ‘was that enough?’ I became known as the ‘unique boy’, which was code translating to, ‘the boy that eats four times more than anyone else on board’.

At every meal, the staff would seat you with someone different. This was brilliant way for you to get to know your fellow travellers. Many times, you conversed and got to know each other, but other times you just watched those windows, enjoying that communal aspect of dining together – something so often neglected in our day to day lives.

As soon as we passed into South Australia, I noticed a change in the landscape. It is a surprisingly verdant outback of mud-red dirt littered over with green shrubs. The closer you get into the city, the more verdant it becomes, and then you begin passing the rolling hills and vineyards.

We visited the famous Barossa Valley where we got a tour of Seppeltsfield Winery. The symbolic and sentimental winery is respected and revered by all the passionate staff. It was a real pleasure to listen to them speak with such pride about their estate. I was treated with a dinner of the best beef I have ever tasted. Head chef Owen told me the secret to how he cooks it, and there is absolutely no way in the world I am sharing it with anyone else. Apologies fellow beef lovers, but I am not as generous as Owen.

Just before we crossed over into Western Australia, we stopped at Cook, an outpost town that looks like something you might see in a zombie apocalypse film. In its heyday, it had approximately 30 people living there. Now, there are just a few employees who are contracted to manage the place, refuelling tanks and performing maintenance tasks.

On our final eve we stopped at Rawlinna for some drinks, a fire, and live music. Despite the older demographic of passengers, there was some fantastic dancing – definitely some moves that my body, in all its relative youth, wouldn’t be able to perform. It’s amazing what sheer enjoyment can bring out of you. It’s also amazing what alcohol can bring out, but I’m sure that this was only a minor contribution.

As I watched the evenings’ proceedings, I was struck with a realisation. I knew these people, all of them. In a few short days, they had gone from a group of unfamiliar faces to a group of people you’d be thrilled to sit down and dine with again. The staff knew this, the other passengers knew this, and I knew it too.

As we exited the train in Perth, it didn’t quite feel like I was getting off a train. It felt like the finishing of a holiday, like stepping out onto home soil after being out of country. It felt like an adventure. So, it wasn’t just a slogan after all. It was indeed about the journey.

Right, I thought, Perth to Sydney anyone?

To book your Indian Pacific adventure, or to find more information on other trips, visit: https://www.journeybeyondrail.com.au/journeys/indian-pacific/