When I boarded the train at Cooroy I was excited about the 28 hour journey ahead of me to Cairns. I settled in to a little berth which I was pleased to discover I had all to myself. But within 45 minutes we were pulling into Gympie Station (a twenty minute drive from the farm where I've been staying for two and a half weeks) to the announcement that we would be delayed there for 'two or three hours'.
Gympie Station is nowhere near Gympie town, and is one of the least interesting railway stations I have had the misfortune to wait at. The platform was sandwiched between the train and a steep cutting so there was no view, except of the other 160 passengers getting increasingly irritated. I had been informed by several people of the phenomena in Queensland where pensioners get free train travel, so the trains are all full of old folks. Our train was no exception, the under 60s numbering less than a dozen at that stage of the journey.
Every couple of hours another announcement would confirm the swirling rumours that we weren't going anywhere soon. Eventually, the beleagered train people told us that they'd organised 'a coach tour of the gold mines and complimetary afternoon tea'. You've never seen such a stampede to the parking lot, where we spent another 30 minutes waiting for the promised coaches.
The tour of the gold mines consisted of hurtling past a single open cast mine on our way to Dingo Creek winery, where the complaining crowds were saited with cheesecake, scones and wine tasting. Back on the buses we took the long way back to the Station via Traveston Crossing. I got to show off my local knowledge of the proposed dam to my seat mates on the bus. But back on the train, we still weren't going anywhere!
Seven hours in Gympie. Seven hours waiting for a bridge to be fixed. It didn't really worry me, as I have no particular timetable to follow for my travels. But other people were running out of patience, and/or food and money. But eventually we rattled off over the bridge and up the coast into the night. I made the most of my private berth, playing music and dancing in the dark watching the stars and silver eucalypt trunks spin past. When I got tired, the nice porter pulled my bed down from the wall and I fell into a broken sleep, rolling around as the train hurtled along much faster than it had gone at any point during the day, trying to make up some of the lost time.
At 3.00 I woke to find the train stopped and my new berth mate knocking at the door, boarding at Rockhampton after a 7 hour wait. Next day, it was interesting to have her local knowledge of a lifetime in Queensland as the landscape subtly changed from rolling pastures to flat sugar cane interspersed with rainforest.
QR managed to make up two hours of the delay and we pulled into Cairns Station only five hours late, at 9.30pm instead of 11.30pm- a much more civilized hour to arrive to stay at a CouchSurfing host's home. This is my first CouchSurfing experience and its lovely. Anne and Kerry are relaxed hosts with a big house with so many people staying that I'm hardly worth blinking at. I helped feed a grandbaby this morning, and had a good chat with Kerry about art- he is a talented painter who directed me to an excellent art supply store (Art Barn). Anne gave me a huge pawpaw from one of their trees to take away with me.
I've spent the day in Cairns stocking up on supplies for going into the forest for a few weeks. It's my last day in a city for a while so I went to the Regional Gallery and saw a stunning sculpture exhibition by Ben Trupperbaumer. His exquisite 'Little Dwellings' will stay in my mind as I go into the bush hoping to imagine exquisite books.