‘Townsville’ is the third name this settlement has had. It was originally called Cleveland Bay, then Castle Town, after Castle Hill which dominates the central part of town, and now Townsville.
The first settlement, in the late 1850’s, came about as a port was needed to ship in the needs required by the first settlers and of course ship out their produce. It is now a city of over 130,000 residents, not the least of which are 17,000 military, mostly army, personnel.
A quick tour of town took us past some majestic old buildings including the old railway station; the foreshore and its Strand and a climb up Castle Hill for an overall view of the city and surrounds.
We ended our quick tour of Townsville at a very derelict set of sheds which housed the North Queensland Branch of the Australian Railway Historical Society. Their collection of bits and pieces was most uninspiring but they put on a good morning tea, which in most cases, doubled up as lunch. Medium sized home-made pies, cakes, scones with jam and cream, various cakes and a good cup of tea.
It was then off to the station which was just around the corner to await the arrival of the ‘Inlander’ from the marshalling yards. The ‘Inlander’ was to be our home for the night.
There was a technical hitch with the locomotive which resulted in us not leaving until some 50 minutes late.
The ‘Inlander’ consists of 6 carriages and a single diesel loco. The Queensland Railways runs on track which is 3 foot 6 inch gauge. I have a single berth cabin which is quite cosy but manageable. All the couples have three berth cabins but there is nobody allocated to the upper berth! I’m very lucky having drawn the straw that put me in the last cabin in the carriage – the one closest to the opening doors, shower and right on top of the squeaking bogie and carriage buffers. What more could I possibly want.
QR, like British Rail, is not known for good food. Whilst waiting on the station to board our train, we saw dinner go past. It consisted of moulded food shapes that contained our dinner in separate depressions. Talk about depression! We found out after leaving that these ‘nasty’ shapes contained chicken and veg or corned beef and veg or bangers and mash. Which one would you choose? If we’d known what they contained we may not have boarded. The other horrible thought is, was it the microwave to heat our dinners that was the technical problem which caused our delay?! Hope they fixed it properly.
The road journey from Townsville to Mt Isa is a distance of 906km. The railway line parallels the road for all but the last 120 or so kilometres into The Isa. Instead of continuing pretty much due west from Cloncurry, the line dips SW for 180km to a mining area called Duchess before heading NW to its destination. This adds an extra 75 kilometres to the journey which takes around 20 hours all up.
There is quite a bit of road traffic on the highway which parallels the tracks. The roadway must be all of 100 metres from the track for many kilometres at a time, and dead straight. Many cattle trains use this road. Most are a semi-trailer prime mover with two semi-trailer sized ‘dogs’ behind. Overtaking must be a formidable task for all but the most powerful of cars.
Since leaving Townsville we have slowed to 25km/h many times to traverse passing loops with the odd complete stop for reasons totally unknown to the train’s passengers but obviously for good railway reasons. (From people on the left hand side of the train I later heard that we passed trains carry ore to the coast.) That works out to be an average speed for the complete journey of a bit under 60km/h. Not bad for QR!
The whole area traversed so far is through relatively flat savannah grasslands with eucalypts and wattles. There is the odd chain of little hills and rocky outcrops scattered across the broad landscape. It is very good grazing country for Brahman and Brahman/cross cattle.
It is half 5, the sun is about to drop below the horizon so it must be time to break out the cashews and wash them down with some of that ‘medicinal’ whisky I’m carrying around. Anything to lighten the load, and to mask the thought of dinner. I’m foregoing the strawberry cheesecake or Black Forest cake for dessert.