Thursday, September 26, 2013

Brisbane to Townsville on the Sunlander

We wanted to visit our friends in Townsville and so I used this as an opportunity to take the old Sunlander train in its last year of service. This air-conditioned train first ran in 1953 and replaced the old Sunshine Express. It is due to be replaced soon by a new tilt train that is much faster but only offers airline style seats that fold down to sleep on.

The approximate route of the train.

Our luggage was too large for our sleeping compartments so it was carried in the luggage van.

The carriages. Years ago they were painted blue and white which I much prefer to the current livery.

I last traveled on this train two years ago where I was the sole occupant in a three berth sleeping compartment. This time I opted for a small single sleeping compartment for each of us instead of a double or triple compartment. I might be able to walk across England but I am not as agile as I used to be. Climbing up a ladder to get into bed does not appeal. Marianne says that I just want to be alone in my cocoon and she is correct.

Each sleeping compartment has a massive wash basin that folds out from the wall. After 60 years they still work perfectly.

There is a small foot rest.

The seat is comfortable enough for a long trip. It's cosy in the compartment but there is enough room. There are blinds on the window that can be closed and also raised and lowered. The bed is behind the seat and folds down.

The train is slow and it takes a while to get out of Brisbane.

The area north of Brisbane has lots of pine plantations used for making paper.

To be honest, this journey does not have a great variety in scenery, but it seems to be able to keep my interest. If you like gun trees you do see plenty of them.

I found that using the maps feature and gps on a smart phone let me get the camera ready in advance for what was coming up.

Pineapples on the right.

Rain forest.

Most of the east coast of Australia is suffering from a drought, so grass is generally brown.

The train stopped at the new Gympie station for a few minutes. Passengers were invited to get out and stretch their legs. Smoking is not allowed on the train or on the platform.

Australian sunsets are often spectacular so here are a few sunset photos.

Eventually the sun went down just before we pulled into Maryborough.

The station at Maryborough West. It took about 5 hours to do the 167 miles from Brisbane. This is an improvement over the 7 to 8 hours that the Rockhampton Mail train used to take for the same journey back in the 60's.

We went to the buffet car for dinner and had an interesting conversation with a bloke who used to be a builders labourer but found Christ and became a minister. For many years he had been working with Aboriginals. He reckoned that many of the current problems for Aboriginals can be traced back to a decision made by the Whitlam government back in the 70's that gave equal pay to Aboriginals. It sounded like a good and equitable idea at the time but it backfired. Up until that time, the Aboriginal males worked on sheep and cattle stations and their dependents lived with them on the stations as part of an extended family. The station owners provided the families with food and support. When equal pay came in, the station owners could not afford to keep the extended families as well as pay the new higher wages so the aboriginal males were fired and the families had to leave. The government then had to assist the Aboriginals by paying them 'sit down' money. With no work and access to alcohol, there have been many problems in many of the Aboriginal communities.  The new Coalition Government plans to make changes to the policy.

The dinner was not memorable but I seem to remember I had some sort of curry.

I woke early after a good sleep. Marianne reckoned that she did not sleep well.

Marianne took most of the preceding photos except for the sunset photos because she was on the eastern side. The glare of the sun makes taking photos through the windows difficult. Now in the morning, the sun was behind me so I operated the camera.

We were now north of Mackay and into one of the sugar cane growing areas along the coast of Queensland.

Sugar mill belching smoke. Australia produces slightly less sugar than the USA.

Great Diving Range in the distance.

It is so unusual to see water in Australia that I tend to take a photo of any I see.

Once you get used to Aussie landscapes, it is often quite beautiful.

Dry river bed. Rain can be torrential in the tropics and these rivers will flood quite readily.


Farms near Bowen.

Sugar trains. They run on a very narrow gauge about a foot wide. Since this is the time of year when the cane is harvested, there was plenty of action.

Sugar cane requires the rich red dirt to grow successfully. Beef cattle are raised in the areas with regular dirt. The changeover from red dirt to ordinary dirt can occur within a few yards.

Rugged mountain side taken with a long zoom.

Green peppers.

Bowen is famous for its mangoes.

Another dry river bed.

There is a large coal deposit west of Bowen and the coal is to be brought to the coast at Abbot Point by train.  It looks like the new train line is just about finished in this area.

What is known as a B Double. On the narrow Australian country highways, these are quite scary. Even worse are the versions out in the outback that have three trailers. When they approach, you just pull off onto the side of the road so that your windscreen is not broken by the stones they scatter.

More beef cattle. No dairy since there is not enough rain.

When I was a boy, sugar was harvested by hand and you can imagine how hard this work would have been swinging a machete all day. Since then machines are used to cut the cane.

One of the microwave towers used to transmit voice and data around Australia. There is currently a major project that will connect most of Australia with fiber optic cable called the NBN and so I suspect these towers will eventually disappear. 

Crossing the Burdekin River. As you can see, there is not much water in it now but it can look like this.

Another sugar mill. 

Just before we got to Townsville.

Our friends have a very nice apartment in a tall building. It has great views across to nearby Magnetic Island. We have been very successful all year at bringing unseasonably hot weather to wherever we have traveled and Townsville was no exception. Fortunately there was plenty of breeze high up.

Marianne was not overly thrilled with the train trip but I really enjoyed it. I could have quite happily got on the train and continued on to Cairns.

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