*Image from here.

I wrote this piece around this time last year on a train journey to visit my friend/ second mum, Ruth Jones, on her rural property in Wee Jasper near Yass NSW. It’s the outcome of an exercise in sensory mindfulness – paying attention to the present moment and taking the time to notice what you can see, hear, touch, taste smell and feel – on a train through country NSW. Hope you like it. x

The Earl Grey Limited

At first the loud green of the hills after so much rain confuses my eyeballs, accustomed to the urgent grey murmur of the city streets. The fields sweep past the train window, muddled with patches of misty scrub that also look suspiciously too-green; the eucalyptus-grey of deep summer’s thirst forgotten. Water lies in puddles on the muddy ground – the earth having drunk its fill weeks ago. Bloated; unable to force down another gulp.

It’s not just my recent unfamiliarity with green after Sydney-city dwelling that’s got me feeling a slight aversion to the colour. This is rural Australia in early autumn, when paddocks are usually coarse and dry.

I’m on the Sydney to Melbourne railway that slices its way through the lower east of Australia. The journey is 960km and takes about 12 hours, but I’m leaving the train in rural NSW to visit my friend on her farm.  I recline comfortably in my cushy seat having forked out an extra fifteen bucks for “first class” with more legroom. It’s not exactly lavish (maybe The Darjeeling Limited set unrealistic expectations), but I’m glad of the option to spread out and not have the seat in front mere inches from my face. At 5ft 1”, it’s a welcome but unnecessary luxury.

I notice the passengers around me are mostly well versed in the journey. They’re reading, playing on their iPads or talking quietly with their companions. The lady in the seat across has come prepared with trackies, socks, two blankets and a pillow. She’s put the armrest up, the seat back and cocooned herself in for a nap.

The nice train attendant checks my ticket and advises that they’ll make an announcement when the café opens to serve breakfast. Soon I wander sock-footed down to the buffet carriage, which serves a decent array of options from snacks and pastries to full meals, as well as magazines and newspapers. We left Sydney’s Central Station at 7:30 – too early for wine and cheese – so I opt for scrambled eggs with mystery sausage and baked beans and earl grey tea. It’s not exactly the pride of Australia’s gourmet offering – pre-cooked and a bit sweaty – but some small, sick part of my brain’s pleasure centre gets lit by weird travel food.

It’s drizzling outside and I feel cosy sipping my tea and gazing out the peppered glass. I’m finding there’s a sense of safety and restfulness that comes with train travel and I’m thankful to be tucked up in here and not braving the wet roads on this dreary day.

The scenery begins to change to a wide, dry gold; distant rocky ridges smudged with bracken and mist. Grubby sheep cascade up hills, rough and bindied – no fluffy English whites here. The length of a rainbow arcs across a row of poplar trees and power lines, and white cockatoos take flight behind bronzed barbed-wire fences. I make a mental list of all the beautiful rusted things I see – water tanks; shed roofs; crumpled, scrappy bits of ancient machinery; stacks of discarded railway tracks, coppered by the weather. Rows of kooky letterboxes mark dirt roads to properties; one a reddened metal drum, another an old microwave.

I see rambling blackberries and wild apple trees with heavy laden branches, and realise that the comfort zone of my city life isn’t so comfy, but this isn’t either. I think of the grit of the farmers who battle this unpredictable landscape and the Aboriginal people who tended it before them.

Near the end of my journey we stop at a quaint town where we’re met at the station by the Gunning Platform Singers – a twelve-piece ensemble, complete with oboe, giving their once-yearly performance of ‘Celebrations of Bach’. We pause here only a few moments, but it’s this unexpected pleasure that makes my journey. As the train doors close on the harmony of voices, I fall a little more in love with this quirky land I call home.

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Hands up if you’ve seen the Darjeeling Limited!? It’s one of my fav movies of all time. Have you ever taken a journey by train? Did you get caught up in the romance of it? Tell me about it in the comments below (then check your junkmail if you don’t get an email with a response to your comment).

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