I’m underway! And it’s been a lovely first day of travelling on the Overlander through Melbourne’s western suburbs to the city of Geelong and then up into pastoral Victoria. This is wool and sheep country, the kind of country where once a jolly swagman might have camped by a billabong. Flat and open farmland is punctuated by weaving creeks lined with eucalyptus trees. Pink and grey winged galahs swoop among the silvery branches. The earth is copper brown and topped by a seemingly endless deep blue sky.
Small towns with wide empty streets pass by infrequently. One, Ararat, was founded by Chinese gold miners in the 19th century and comes complete with an ornate temple sitting incongruously between the low bungalows. Late in the afternoon we cross into South Australia and over Australia's biggest river, The Murray. The sun is setting over vineyards and oak trees as we wind our way down the Adelaide Hills and into the city.
Train travel, like summer, beer and football is a very different beast Down Under. The cheapest seats (in which I’m sitting) are wide, padded and comfortable and recline if you fancy a nap. Staff crack jokes over the tannoy and smile at passengers. In the snack car, farmers, tourists and retirees sit and chat sociably. One man, in his 60s, tiny and neat, sits staring out the window, not talking and drinks one beer after another. Another, younger, well over six foot tall with a Hells Angels leather jacket stretched over a vast beer belly and a pony tail that hangs to his waist, sips a tea. Two farmers lean languidly against the corridor and talk about wool and weather as if they were lifelong acquaintances standing in a local pub.
It’s not fast; the train’s average speed is a meagre 85km (50miles) per hour. But it’s both peaceful and relaxing and, after a month of frantic planning and organising, it feels great to be finally on the way.