Western Queensland: Ipswich – Charleville – Longreach – Rockhampton
‘The Westlander was departing Ipswich for Charleville at 8.14 pm – I love the precision of country train timetables. With several hours to kill, I stowed my bags and set off to explore the city.
I found an attractive brochure, Ipswich Heritage Trails, at the visitor centre. White settlement began in 1827 when convicts came to quarry limestone. With paddle steamers plying the Bremer and Brisbane Rivers to Moreton Bay and the state’s first railway opening up, Ipswich prospered, once aspiring to become the state capital. Although the dream soured, the city continued to grow; its heritage register boasts some 2000 places, making it a great place for history and architecture buffs. I passed the century-old Ulster Hotel, the Trustee House with its wrought-iron balcony and snub-nose verandahs, the historic post office, and Old Court House (1859).
My town map showed Denmark Hill Conservation Park and I was soon strolling through a pleasant patch of urban bushland, a mix of eucalypts and rainforest. Narrow steps led to the top of a water tower that provided panoramic views of the city and surrounding countryside. Information panels described points of interest, including D’Aguilar Range to the north. Urban reserves such as Denmark Hill are invaluable; being able to easily connect with nature is a great asset for a community.
With only two Westlander services a week, I couldn’t afford to miss the train so I returned early. I chatted with some of the staff, learning rail lingo. ‘Counters’ count passengers on trains, ‘ticketies’ are ticket inspectors, ‘muscle’ are rail cops, ‘SM’ is the station master, ‘gaters’ are ticket gate checkers and ‘shunters’ are freight organisers. I stored this away for future use. As 8.14 pm was approaching, Keith (gater) helped carry my luggage along the platform.
‘Been with the railways for nearly 40 years, had enough train travel. We get cheap fares of course, but on my holidays I want to get as far away from trains as possible’ he told me as the Westlander crawled into the station. As the buffet car passed with a sole male occupant, Keith winked and quipped, ‘I think he might be waiting for you.’
Only two other passengers were in the 54-seat carriage. Train manager Moe told me to sit anywhere, advising that the buffet closed at 9.30 pm. ‘My’ man was watching a video; I didn’t disturb him. I suggested to Trish, the buffet steward, that she was in for a quiet trip.
‘Not on the way back though. We have 50 pensioners boarding in Charleville, so are carrying extra sleepers.’
Back in the carriage, a young woman wearing a striped bandana and with a sleeping baby on her lap answered ‘Toowoomba’ to my question about her destination. The other passenger was reading Answer Only to God, so no soul mate there. The video watcher returned and fell asleep. The 16-hour, 700 km trip was shaping up to be a social disaster. Rather than a musical ‘clickety clack, clickety clack’ as the train cantered into the night, I heard a more meditative ‘click clack, click clack’ as it strolled along. Until lights went out at 10 pm, the view out of the window was just my reflection. After 10 pm, the handsome image disappeared.
We started the long, slow climb over the Great Dividing Range into Toowoomba, travelling at a snail’s pace around tight bends. With a town and district population around 130,000, Toowoomba is Australia’s second largest inland city, Canberra being the first. I decided to wait up for our 11.20 pm arrival.
At Toowoomba, we lost mum and babe, and gained an older couple and two other women. Now we were seven, and we turned out to be an eclectic bunch. The younger of the two women was signing to her parents on the platform, each exchange of signs followed by smiles and laughter. The other woman, unable to talk to her partner through the window, phoned him on her mobile – two ways of conversing with someone you can see but not hear.
The Westlander eased out of the now empty station. The idea of being tucked up in a tiny cabin by myself held no appeal so I didn’t book a sleeper. I preferred the sit-up economy seats, and to take my chances with the neighbours. I soon gave in to the soporific sounds of wheels on track, despite the snorting and snuffling of he who had heavenly aspirations.’