Friday 19 June 2015

Overland by Rail to Horsham, Australia

Our guest blogger this week is fantasy fiction author Narrelle M Harris.

She recently spent a few days in the Wimmera region of Victoria, Australia, visiting local libraries to present talks and writing workshops. Narrelle caught Great Southern Rail’s Overland train service to Horsham, and writes about the experience here.

The fact that Great Southern Rail’s Overland train from Melbourne to Adelaide makes stops along the way in rural Victoria is one of its best kept secrets. Even locals in Horsham were surprised that I was able to arrive directly from Melbourne by rail (and a few of them went off eagerly to look at websites for timetables).

I caught the train heading west early on a Tuesday morning. Given I have a history of catching the wrong train to rural destinations, I was grateful for the assistance provided by the station staff in making sure I was at the right place at the right time for this one.

The on-board staff were also kind to a tired writer in the early AM, and didn’t laugh when I asked them to make sure I didn’t fall asleep and miss my stop.

I generally prefer trains to planes for travel, and the Overland was a reminder of the reasons why.

The Red Premium class seat was comfortably padded, with plenty of room across for my hips and in front for my legs. There was even a little footstool, if I’d been inclined to tip my seat back and have a nap.

The Overland has a charming, old-fashioned feeling; which seems fitting for Australia’s oldest interstate train service, founded in 1887.

It’s comfortable and neat, but not fancy or hyper-modern, giving a comforting sense of a more relaxed era of travel. I was reminded of the Agatha Christie novel, At Bertram’s Hotel, with its hotel unsettlingly reminiscent of yesteryear (though without that book’s rather shady underpinnings).

The café car was sweet too, with seating and little tables. The meals were good – my veggie curry was excellent, and I can recommend the scones, jam and cream which were themselves recommended to me by a fellow passenger.

It was nice to sit, having lunch, making notes in a diary and gazing out of the window at the passing landscape as we moved through Victoria’s suburbs, towns and bushland.

The announcements as the train reached each of its stops were unexpected and a bit naff, but also part of the whole friendly, low-key feel of the trip. And I learned things – like the fact that Ararat was settled by Chinese immigrants (a fact I now intend to use in a book I’m writing).

A lot of my fellow travellers were in an older age group, and the staff were focused on ensuring they were comfortable and their needs were met. That level of care made sure I did alight correctly at my stop; and on my return journey a few days later, the same staff recognised me and helped me board again.

Uber-cool, flashy and modern, it isn’t; but if you want friendly service, comfortable seats and a sense of pleasant, old-fashioned travel, the Overland is a good way to travel from Melbourne to western Victoria and on to Adelaide.

Narrelle travelled courtesy of Great Southern Rail; learn more about its Overland service by clicking here. Journeys aboard the Overland within Victoria can be booked via V/Line.

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