A guide to train travel from nomads who’ve seen it all
Graham French’s fascination with trains began five decades ago. Graham and wife Wendy now take train-inspired journeys all over Australia in a caravan, exploring the many wonderous and incredible spots that Australia has to offer.
In exploring their passion for trains and railways, they have encountered many experiences that they never could have imagined, from as far north-west as Kalgoorlie, to traipsing the Nullarbor Plain. These two grey nomads show no signs of slowing down, and continue to find new adventures, new challenges and new skills while caravanning around this great, wide country.
Graham tells their story:
I first became interested in trainspotting around Australia back in the early 1970s. I got a job in radio at Kalgoorlie in Western Australia and it just happened to be on the western end of the trans-Australian railway line which runs from Port Augusta in South Australia to Kalgoorlie. The transmitter site for the radio station was beside the railway yard and I became fascinated with the trains as they’d come in and leave every day. It’s become a lifelong obsession since then.
My favourite train line doesn’t even exist anymore, but it used to be a train called the Tea and Sugar. It ran from Port Augusta over to Kalgoorlie, and it used to supply all the railway camps, and that stopped running in the 1990s. [There was also a train that ran] in the reverse, it was called The Bomber, and that went from west to east. The reason it was called The Bomber was that it used to supply the crews that worked at the Maralinga atomic testing range.
I just find trains like the Tea and Sugar so fascinating, mainly because most trains are just full of shipping containers and are pretty boring, but the old Tea and Sugar used to have a wide variety of carriages or wagons. They had things like water tankers, fuel tankers, a theatre car, a butcher’s car and they even used to slaughter the animals on board - and then the meat was all packaged up during the journey. They took water and fuel onboard and even took Santa Claus every year! As well as this a minister used to go out and pass on religious advice to people who lived in the camps. You’d find that most trains are fully loaded with coal or wheat - but this train had bits and pieces of everything.
Favourite trains, socialising and travelling
We have always thought that The Indian Pacific is magnificent! There’s food, plenty of drink and socialising with other people, which is always interesting. I personally get a buzz just out of standing beside the track in the middle of nowhere to see a train thunder through. The sound is really, really important. The modern-day trains don’t make as much noise as they used to.
Trains are an absolute and utter obsession for me and I will drive anywhere, I don't care how hard it is to get there, I'll go anywhere to look at them. The most interesting trains these days are probably the steel trains. They’ve got a lot of different carriages and different cargo.
Our favourite modern day train is known as the Great White Snake [and it] is run by a company called SCT, they’re based in Melbourne and that particular train runs from Melbourne, through Adelaide and onto Perth, and the difference about that train is the crew actually lives on board the train. The reason it’s my favourite modern train is that most of the wagons are white and so it looks like a great white snake when you’re in the desert.
Exploring the interest in trains can still be done from home
[At home] we have a replica of the Nullarbor Plain and its various train sidings, which takes up two levels of the garage. I drove to a place called the Triple Five Quarry which is about 900km from Adelaide – so it’s a long way out in the middle of nowhere. There, I got all the ballast I needed to use on the railway line. I would think I’d be the only person in Australia who’s got the real ballast from the Triple Five Quarry.
25 Feb 2021