9 May 2014
The Cook school, now abandoned and derelict
We were able to have a relaxed breakfast and morning, as we will not arrive at Cook until about 3pm today. Cook is a railway station and crossing loop on the standard gauge rail line from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie with no inhabited places around the town. Cook was created in 1917 when the railway was built and is named after the sixth Prime Minister of Australia, Joseph Cook. The town is on the longest stretch of straight railway in the world, at 478 kilometres which stretches from Ooldia to beyond Loongana.
Cook is the only scheduled stop on the Nullarbor Plain for the Indian Pacific. The bush hospital is closed, the swimming pool is empty but Cook still has the ability to spark your curiosity. The desert stretches as far as the eye can see in any direction, giving the town an almost eerie sense of isolation. The town sits 1138 kilometres from Adelaide and 1523 kilometres from Perth. The closest highway is the Eyre Highway, a 100 kilometre drive away. The nearest major town is Ceduna, approximately a five hour drive south east and the local doctor is located about a 12 hour drive away in Port Augusta. Due to the distance, the relationship between the town of Cook and the Indian Pacific is important, as the train brings food and supplies, and the residents provide the train with fuel and water.
The town was once a thriving community boasting a school, swimming pool, general store and housing to accommodate a 200-strong population. After the privatisation of the railway, numbers in Cook dwindled, leaving the town virtually abandoned. The current population numbers four! We were well on to the Nullarbor Plain by the time we reached Cook, but far from being bored with the constant scenery of flat land as far as the eye can see, and the only plant life seemed to be the ever present salt bush, I found it to be a fascinating experience. One feels like a tiny dot in the vast universe as the train seems to float along the straight rail line.
All that is left of the town swimming pool (left) and what was once the town’s Country Club (right)
The horizon seems so far away, and this goes on for thousands of kilometres until there is a distinct change in the environment and the trees begin to appear more frequently and the flora thickens as we move slowly toward the coast. The red soil is quite beautiful, something I have never seen before.
Ready to board the train again at Cook
Our visit to Kalgoorlie was at night. After we had finished dinner, we were asked to move our clocks back 90 minutes to bring us into alignment with Perth time where we would be by shortly after 9am the next morning.
As we pulled into Kalgoorlie the coaches were waiting for us, and although we were all rugged up it was not as cold as I anticipated it would be. The discovery of gold in Western Australia in the 1890s heralded a population explosion as fortune-seekers from around the globe descended on the Goldfields region to cash in on its natural bounty. Life was rough and tough for these early gold diggers, with disease rife and lawlessness commonplace. And while multi-million dollar mining corporations have replaced the early diggers the region retains the sense of adventure, the character and the romance of the early gold rush. Kalgoorlie-Boulder has the largest population in any regional city in Western Australia and is now a bustling and expanding place that offers a contemporary and cosmopolitan lifestyle.
The lovely pink stone building that is Kalgoorlie railway station
Firstly we had a tour around the city then we visited the Australian Surveyors and Prospectors Hall of Fame, then the Kalgoorlie Super Pit which works two shifts of 12 hours each day. The size of the machinery is mind-boggling, and to watch the speed at which the enormous trucks collect and transport the diggings is quite amazing.
Pete is dwarfed by the Big Cat’s wheels (left) and the entrance to the Super Pit viewing platform (right)
We were quite late returning to the Indian Pacific, and well and truly ready for bed on what will be our last night on this wonderful Indian Pacific journey.
Tomorrow we arrive in Perth and have booked for a 3 hour tour of the city and surrounds, we feel this will give us a good feel for this wonderful city and decide what we would like to return to for a better look.