Butterflies, dragonflies, cockatoos, and hawks fly outside my widow while kangaroos hop into the distance and cows and calves lazily raise their heads to watch us go by. Then she appears.
A Brahman cow has been startled by the train and with us on one side and a fence on the other she has nowhere to go but straight ahead. It’s the first time I’ve seen a Brahman run at such speed and as her long floppy ears swing in clockwise circles around her head she looks like something out of a cartoon, and I can’t help but chuckle.
While some of my fellow travellers are socialising in the lounge car after breakfast, I’ve come back to my cabin and hopped back into bed so I can watch the countryside go by.
I had originally planned to do some work that morning and start writing a piece I’m doing for Get Up & Go magazine on the journey. Then I thought I’d let myself have a morning off and enjoy reading a book. But that book was soon closed after I realised all I wanted to do was look outside the window, see the creatures big and small, and watch the landscape change.
While I’d travelled the Brisbane to Rockhampton section of the rails before on the Sunlander and Spirit of Queensland trains, the Spirit of the Outback heads west at Rockhampton, into a part of Australia I’ve never seen before and I jumped at the chance to hop onboard.
The Spirit of the Outback Sleeper Carriages
When you travel on the Spirit of the Outback you can choose between a cabin in one of up to four first class sleeper carriages, a cabin in the single economy sleeper, or a seat in one of the two economy sitters cars.
The first class and economy sleeper carriages are actually the same, but if you’re going first class, as we did, you get exclusive access to the Tuckerbox Restaurant and Shearers Rest Lounge, have your meals freshly prepared by the chef, receive an amenities pack with shampoo and conditioner, facecloth, eye mask and ear plugs, and are able to borrow entertainment tablets. Although as the tablets have a somewhat limited supply of TV shows and movies available those who like to relax with a TV marathon may like to bring some of their own shows loaded on their devices.
Toilets and showers are at the end of the carriage, while the cabins have a chair that is converted into a bed and a washbasin.
The cabins themselves are compact, and once the bed is down there is only enough space to stand in front of your washbasin. You’re either standing in that one spot or you’re on your bed, so when it comes to spreading out you’ll want to be in the lounge or dining car.
If space is available in first class the staff are able to turn one cabin into two, creating one longer cabin with the bed at one end and the chair at the other. On our trip we were fortunate enough to have that extra room, but as it is dependent on space it’s best to talk to Queensland Rail Travel’s reservation team to decide whether you’re best off purchasing an extra cabin as a guarantee.
While the cabins are definitely cosy, I loved being in my little cocoon. Unlike other sleepers I’ve been on where the beds go length ways across the tracks, on the Spirit of the Outback they run in the direction of the tracks, as the railbeds do on the Spirit of Queensland.
While I’ve never actually been on a luge, that’s the thought that kept coming to mind as I lay in bed falling asleep. I felt the speed beneath me as my head followed where my toes had gone, which combined with the slight rocking is an unusual sensation but one I liked.
I love knowing I’m on the train so much I do something that isn’t the best idea for a good night’s sleep and leave my blinds up and my eye mask off. I like looking at the stars as I fall asleep, but of course that also means that the lights at every station we stop at throughout the night wake me up. It results in a disjointed sleep, though one I perversely enjoyed as I liked being reminded of where I was and being able to fall back to sleep with the rocking of the train.
If you want to do the same keep in mind that when the blinds are u people on the platform can see you in bed so make sure you have the right pyjama options for that one.
Dining in The Tuckerbox on the Spirit of the Outback
If you’re going the whole way from Brisbane to Longreach it takes around 24 hours to travel along 1325 kilometres of track. Which means there’s enough time for dinner, breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea.
The Tuckerbox Dining car is where you will meet for your meals which are prepared in the small kitchen at the end of the car by the chef. Dishes included lamb shank for dinner, and a Bushman’s Beef Salad of grilled sirloin, roasted potatoes, mixed leaves, cherry tomatoes and Spanish onion with a coriander and ginger dressing. For dessert I opted for the sticky toffee pudding with Bundaberg rum ice cream.
The alcoves in the Tuckerbox seat four, and each is named after one of the big cattle properties between Rockhampton and Longreach, with the cattle brands for Wellshot, Longway, Bowen Downs, Isis Downs, Gracemere, and North Delta in wrought iron above the property’s name.
As much as I am squeamish about the way the brands leave a mark on the poor cow’s skin, I love the look of them. They remind me of growing up in the country, and while we didn’t have a problem with cattle duffing, or rustling as it is known in America, where I come from, the brands are a reminder of the problems station owners did face out here with people stealing their four legged property.
Visiting the Tree Of Knowledge, Barcaldine
While most of the stops between Brisbane and Longreach are only long enough to get off the train for the quickest of leg stretches before it’s time to move on again, at Barcaldine the train stops for 20 minutes, allowing time to see a tree with a special part in Australia’s history.
The Tree of Knowledge is said to be at least 170 years old and was the central meeting point for the shearers’ strike back in 1891. As such it became a symbol of the struggle that led to the birth of the Australian Labor Party.
In 2006 some nasty person poisoned the tree, but if their plan was to get rid of it then what happened next must really get their goat.
The tree sadly died but was sent off to Brisbane to go through a preservation process, then returned to its original spot in front of the Barcaldine train station where a beautiful memorial was built around it.
The memorial looks like a big box from the outside but when you’re inside large wooden wind chimes hang in such a way that they leave blank space where the branches of the tree once were. While it was impressive by day when we saw it on the Spirit of the Outback stop, it is even more beautiful at night when it is all lit up, as we saw when we returned to spend more time in Barcaldine.
From Barky, as the locals call it, it wasn’t too much longer until we reached our destination of Longreach and its old train station that celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
When our outback adventures were over I had to fly back home as I needed to get back for some work, but as lovely as the folks on QantasLink were, I couldn’t help but wish I was doing the train back. To be able to relax and watch the world go by once more would have been heaven.
Next time I go to the Outback I’m going to make sure I have time to do the train in both directions. And I won’t even pretend I’m going to do any work or catch up on my reading when I do it.
Amanda Woods travelled as a guest of Queensland Rail Travel but as usual all opinions remain her own.
While in Longreach Amanda stayed at Kinnon & Co’s beautiful outback lodges. You can check out a video of what they’re like, and get a glimpse of the Kinnon’s Cobb & Co stagecoach rides in Ten Questions with Richard Kinnon.
Love train travel? Find out what it’s like to travel from London to Berlin on my train dream come true – the Venice Simplon Orient Express.