A Different Track

The journey from Sydney to the Blue Mountains by rail is a well-travelled one, particularly for the people who commute each work day to the city. Depending on where you start and finish, it can be quite a lengthy journey through the mountains and the ever-extending suburbs of Sydney.

On a Wednesday afternoon, I embarked from Central Station on the Indian Pacific. The Indian Pacific leaves every Wednesday, heading to Perth via Broken Hill and Adelaide. My journey took me to Adelaide in 24 hours.

I could quite easily rave about the train and the trip as it was extraordinary in many ways. Once I got over the excitement of getting onboard, patiently waiting whilst the two sections of the train were coupled together (it is too long for a single platform with 2 locomotives and 27 carriages on my trip), I settled back to watch the Sydney suburbs slip by before we began the slow climb up the mountains.

The gradual ascent was felt physically through the train – you could feel the engines at work, and I sat by the window entranced as it curved around the bends. There were sandstone segments as we approached Lapstone, moments of darkness through tunnels before bursting out amongst an ocean of trees. At Warrimoo there were houses tucked into gullies. Then a glimpse of a sandstone cottage built in 1867 near Springwood. Passing by the Corridor of Oaks at Faulconbridge, then scorched tree trunks came into view. There were vistas towards Sydney or acres of wilderness, depending on the turn of the track.

It was interesting to see what was familiar from a different angle, a higher viewpoint. I spotted some lovely character cottages near Hazelbrook, then we were running alongside the Great Western Highway and the shops and pub at Lawson sped into view. Little ferns poking out of stone walls, a kid practising discus near Wentworth Falls. As we approached Leura I saw the last lingering remnants of autumn colour and the beautiful sandstone cliffs in the distance. Then Katoomba, the soft glowing lights of guest houses, welcoming weary travellers. Tree branches slapping the side of the train, then the Hydro Majestic, lit up amongst the darkening shadows. Towards Blackheath, the depths and folds of the valleys in the last light, through Mount Victoria, last light over the Hartley valley.

Have you taken a different track on a well-travelled road?

[Photo taken near Emu Plains before the climb up the mountains]

Movie magic

There are a few places along the mountains where you can catch a movie. They range from cosy cinemas offering independent film releases, to larger theatres where the latest blockbusters are on show.

Recently I headed along to Mt Vic Flicks on a Sunday night to catch a newly released Australian movie. For me there is something about this cinema in particular that is both enticing and comforting. As I walked in on a fresh autumn night, I was immediately drawn to the brightly lit snack bar where there was freshly made soup on offer (tomato, lentil & coriander with buttered bread as an option). I wasn’t even aware I was hungry until I smelt it, and happily sat down with a cup full of steaming, fragrant soup. It was delicious. Around me other movie-goers were enjoying the choc-tops which are also made on site. The cinema is locally owned and it has a great, friendly atmosphere.

There is something quite special for me about the sense of timelessness that comes with watching a movie in a theatre. You are here for a specific purpose. There are no interruptions (usually) and you can allow yourself to really focus on the movie, letting it have all of your attention instead of the disruptions that may happen if trying to watch something from start to finish at home.

I like watching the trailers, tossing up if any of the upcoming shows are of interest. Then, as the lights dim, I settle into the red vinyl seat and let myself get lost in the storylines, the swirl of music and dialogue and action. There is something too about the shared experience of watching a movie with others, even if most of them are strangers. Knowing that your reaction – of shock, amazement, humour – is a communal one. And when the movie came to an end, there was a bit of loitering amongst the theatre-goers, keeping a watchful eye on the credits in case there were any more surprises to be had.

Do you go out to the movies?

[Photo:  glimpse of the snack bar at Mt Vic Flicks]

Train of thought*

The railway station at Mount Victoria was formally opened in 1869. The sheer magnitude of the railway construction through the mountains must have been overwhelming, an engineering feat through dangerous and challenging terrain. The road through the mountains would have been over 50 years old but was still rough in parts and had been given a good thumping during the gold rush years.

Inevitably the coming of the railway opened up the mountains and created new opportunities for businesses and lifestyles away from the established towns in Sydney and surrounding areas. There is a good overview of the impact here.

The towns along the railway line would have thrived; those further off the track (excuse the pun) may not have fared so well. I wonder how expensive it was to travel initially as a passenger. Was it something that would have been within reach of an ordinary person?

By 1894, the trip from Sydney to Katoomba cost five shillings and sixpence; roughly about $40 in today’s money. These days a full fare is $5.80/$8.30 one way, depending on the time of travel.

From historical accounts, Mt Victoria began to thrive once the railway arrived, and it was an important gateway to the central west. It was a changeover point and a large staff were employed at the station and in the dining rooms to meet the demands of feeding the hungry hordes who disembarked at the station with about half an hour to refresh themselves as the trains were refueled, ready for the next stage of the trip.

The museum at Mt Victoria contains an amazing array of paraphernalia relating to this now lost time.

Do any transport options near you capture your imagination?

*Title of a song by Sharp.

[Photo of the platform at Mount Victoria station]

It’s a kind of magic*

There are many landmarks for the traveller along the Great Western Highway. Whilst the highway’s course has altered over time due to bypasses and road changes, there are many sections which have remained unchanged despite the perpetual roadworks over the decades.

One memory of a mountain trip was on a school excursion. We stopped at Bull’s Camp Reserve at Woodford.  As we wandered about, one of the teachers explained the location’s significance as a convict stockade whilst the initial road was being carved through the mountains. A large, slightly stained flat rock was pointed out and it was identified as a flogging stone for errant convicts. I’m not sure of the truth of this tale but it lodged firmly in my mind.

As you travel towards the apex of the mountains, the familiar shape of the Carrington Hotel chimney crests the horizon. It fascinated me as a child, looming in the distance before slipping aside as the highway turned towards Medlow Bath and Blackheath. It was built in 1910 and originally provided power to the township of Katoomba as well as the hotel.

A little further along the highway is the sprawling splendour of the Hydro Majestic. It stretches for over a kilometre along the escarpment, commanding views over the Megalong Valley. Recently it was extensively refurbished, and it is once again an extremely popular tourist destination.

The old Toll Bar House is on the left hand side on the final stretch before Mt Victoria, and is another milestone along the highway. Nestled in the bend before the township, it was a collection point for tolls during the early life of the highway and continued through to 1868 when the railway station opened at Mt Victoria. It has the grace of an earlier era, a static witness to over 150 years of history.

There are many kinds of magic along the Great Western Highway. What are your favourites?

*From ‘A Kind of Magic’ by Queen

[Photo is of the Carrington Hotel, Katoomba on an autumn day]