All Aboard the Indian Pacific

An article about Mark Seymour and James Reyne’s Indian Pacific cross country gig.

Author: Phil Tucak, Wangle.

Date: 8 December 2010.

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Article Text

All aboard the Indian Pacific for a very special journey

There’s something special about the Nullarbor Plain.

That desolate outback expanse that separates us in the West from those over East. Perhaps it’s a manifestation of the physical separation that it represents that has implanted it into our psyche – as if you’ve not quite understood just how isolated Perth is from the rest of Australia unless you’ve travelled the dry stretching kilometres to cross the Nullarbor Plain.

A road trip by car is one way to do it, but a unique journey is to travel it by train aboard the iconic Indian Pacific which includes the 478 kilometre longest straight stretch of railway line anywhere in the world.

We board the Indian Pacific amongst the teeming crowds and bustle of Sydney’s Central Station. Soon enough we’re travelling through the interior of New South Wales as the cabin window frames the kaleidoscopic slide-show featuring the ever-changing landscape tapestry of Australia.

The country over east is green and lush thanks to recent rains. The central southern landscape of South Australia is a mix of green-tipped brown. Whilst Western Australia radiates a dry heat from a parched yellow landscape hungry for rain.

As it steadily chews up the 4352 kilometres of track from Sydney to Perth, we’re travelling in style aboard the Indian Pacific to celebrate Christmas along the rail-line. Amongst the beautifully intricate carriages of yesteryear, the train crew obviously takes pride in their work. Passengers are well fed with lavish meals in the Queen Adelaide restaurant car.

A well stocked bar in the newly appointed Len Beadell Lounge commemorates the work of surveyor Len. From the late 1940’s onward Len was living a remote life building new roads through Australia’s interior – including the famous Gunbarrel Highway. His two daughters are onboard the Indian Pacific to launch his namesake lounge car and share the stories of their fathers contribution to Australian exploration.

Leading the Christmas festivities along the train journey are two greats of Australian music; rockers James Reyne and Mark Seymour.

Each train stop sees the local school children gather at the station to perform Christmas carols, then Mark and James, supported by guitarist Cameron McKenzie, belt out a set of their tunes before joining with the children for a rousing rendition of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.

Then it’s Santa’s turn to spread some Christmas cheer. As we progress from Sydney, through Broken Hill and into Adelaide, whilst the quality of the kids singing may vary, their excitement is evident as they get the chance to perform before the crowds and accompany these heritage performers of Australian music.

But it’s on the eastern fringe of the Nullarbor Plain at Watson, that something truly special is experienced.

Aboriginal school children from Oak Valley and Yalata Anangu along with their teachers and families have travelled for several hours to meet the train to share in the Christmas spirit. A solitary shrub has been adorned with tinsel plus the ingenious use of a fishing rod to hold the star atop this uniquely outback Christmas tree.

Mark and James’ acoustic performance is met by wide-eyed stares from the children then shy smiles and fits of giggles. Whilst the children can’t be convinced into singing any carols, they’re enthralled by the arrival of the musicians and accompanying entourage, and their enjoyment is obvious – it’s a special moment in the outback.

The arrival of Santa Claus bringing gifts has the kids crowding around awaiting their turn for a present, but there’s enough for all, including backpacks, caps and footballs.

Celebrations are interrupted when someone spots a snake which has somehow found itself amongst the crowd of people and isn’t happy. Despite efforts to herd it away from the children, a local school teacher is bitten on the leg. Luckily Dr Andy Killcross, a Royal Flying Doctor Service GP who has been travelling aboard the Indian Pacific train, quickly administers first aid along with the help of a local nurse.

The patient will be transferred by air to Port Augusta for hospital treatment, and it’s a timely reminder of the amazing work done by the Royal Flying Doctor Service in remote Australia.

Back aboard the train, there are several hours of uninterrupted flat Nullarbor Plain vistas ahead of us.

Enroute there’s the opportunity to walk around the historic settlement of Cook before the train stops for further concerts at Rawlinna and Kalgoorlie. James Reyne and Mark Seymour also played an impromptu gig onboard the train.

For James Reyne, who last took the Indian Pacific train over 20 years ago when travelling from Adelaide to Kalgoorlie for a gig, it’s the heart-warming experience of the giggling Aboriginal kids at Watson which will stay with him. Mark Seymour agrees, “I’ll never forget it!”, and both have enjoyed being part of a very special journey across Australia.

With James Reyne and Mark Seymour aboard, it’s fitting that the Indian Pacific Outback Christmas Train does its uniquely Australian crawl across the continent, hunting and collecting the kilometres of track, and there are good times to be had by all.

Phil Tucak is a veterinarian, television producer, photographer and journalist from Perth. For more info on Phil visit

*James Reyne and Mark Seymour are both working on new albums, and will perform in Perth at the Quarry Amphitheatre on January 27th, 28th, 29th and 30th 2011.