The Sunlander. Queensland, Australia

The Sunlander train travels between Brisbane and Cairns; a distance of 1680kms (about 1045 miles) and is described on their website as “one of Australia’s great journeys”. I wouldn’t go that far but it was interesting on several levels.

The Sunlander at Roma Street Station

There’s something about state run enterprises that always leaves me wishing that someone who really cared or had a vested interest ran the business. If you’ve been lured to long distance train travel by movies like “Murder on the Orient Express” or “North by Northwest” (one of my all time favourite movies) you’d be a bit disappointed by the “ordinariness” of the Sunlander. Having said that, a long train trip on an ordinary train is a thousand times better that a long bus journey or driving oneself.

Both my wife and I like long train journeys, so on the 18th of this month both of us went first class on the Sunlander to Cairns.

Engogirl in our first class sleeper

First class doesn’t really mean classy, it just means that you get two bunks in your sleeper. Economy class has three bunks in the sleepers.

Economy class sleeper

There are also tiny little “roomettes” for people travelling on their own and of course there is also plain old Spartan seating.

If you really want an up-market train experience on the Sunlander, closer to what is shown in the old movies, there is another class called “Queenslander class”. Twice a week, two extra cars are added to the Sunlander and for double the cost of a first class ticket you can purchase a berth in Queensland Class which caters for the well heeled looking for that old time luxury train trip complete with better quality meals. The hoi poli with cheaper tickets are barred from the extra cars.

On a side note the whole concept of “Queensland class” seems to be an oxymoron, as there is very little that can be considered classy in Queensland. Queensland is to Australia what the deep south is to the US. Queensland has the most decentralised and most evenly dispersed population in Australia, which means more people live in the rural areas there, than do people in other Australian states. Queenslanders tend to be down to earth laconic types with not all that much time for fripperies like comfortable travel, good food and civilised company like us effete Mexicans (that’s what Queenslanders call all us people from “south of the border”).

Besides sleepers the Sunlander has a rather nice club car which serves alcoholic drinks

The club car

and a restaurant car serving better than expected food in surroundings that evoked thoughts in my mind of industrial workers canteens.

Engogirl having breakfast in the dining car

Whilst waiting in line to be served (Table service? Don’t be silly! That’s only in “Queensland class”) I met an older Scottish couple and ended up discussing live theatre.

The Scottish theatre goers 

I was told that they like to see live theatre in the various places they travel and they had enjoyed a show in Melbourne so I suggested that they might want to see “Pig Iron People” at the opera house on the way back home via Sydney. They were a vibrant couple who were very engaged by culture, full of life and good humour. As we were chatting an older Queenslander with deeply suntanned leathery weather beaten skin, dressed in thongs (flip-flops), stubbies (shorts), short sleeved shirt and a broad brimmed felt hat (it was night) was being served at the counter when we heard the following exchange, “how do you want your steak cooked?”

Blank stare, “what do you mean?”

“How do you want your steak cooked? Rare, medium rare, medium or well done?”

Further look of non-comprehension, with “I don’t care, whatever”, grunted out in response.

“What sauce would you like with it?”

Blank stare again.

Not waiting for a question seeking clarity, the woman at the counter continued with, “Diane, mushroom or pepper?”

“I’ll have it with gravy” was grunted back.

The woman at the counter, realising that the guy had no idea said, “mushroom is the closest to gravy that we’ve got” to which our cocky (as in cow cocky which is Aussie slang for country person, usually a farmer or grazier) replied, “yeh that’ll be right”.

So there was this guy, possibly in his sixties who’d probably never had a steak cooked properly in his whole life. I found it hard to understand such a mind set. He seemed almost malevolently ignorant. He was a guy that  seemed to be so uninterested in what was outside of his little world. Back in the early 1970’s I went on a long train ride in western Queensland and I met people there in the outback who’ve never even been to their state capital, and the old bloke ordering the steak reminded me of those people and that time.

Like they say about Queensland, it’s more of a state of mind than a place.