The only stop on the epic Indian Pacific rail journey between the Australian cities of Adelaide and Perth is at Cook – a lonely scattering of buildings straddling the Trans-Continental rail line in the middle of the vast Nullabor Plain.
It is half way along the 1,700 kilometres between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie. Like the trans-continental train line itself, Cook was once an essential part of Australia’s development over the past 200 years.
Cook was once a thriving railway support settlement, the self-styled ‘Queen City of the Nullabor’.
Sadly, it now has only a handful of residents. Rail privatisation meant only a few people are required to service passing trains nowadays (freight trains as well as the twice-weekly Indian Pacific). Over the past 10 years the school, the hospital, pretty much everything except the souvenir shop has closed.
It is, after all, one of the world’s more isolated outposts: Over 1,000 kilometres from Adelaide and 1,500 kilometres from Perth. And it has one of the world’s best street signs (see top of post).
It’s also on the longest straight stretch of railway in the world – 478 kilometres of tracks laid in a dead straight line.
Apparently this is partly thanks to the camels used to transport men and equipment during construction. The desert beasts originally imported from Afghanistan unerringly followed a straight line towards water.
We only had half an hour to explore this almost ghost town, while the Indian Pacific took on water and changed train drivers.
Many of the buildings are condemned and off limits. Not least the tiny, tin-roofed wooden shacks that were once the police cells, an especially poignant glimpse of the harshness of pioneering Australia.
It wasn’t unreasonably hot (in September) but the air of the Nullabor is dry, so dry. However that probably made the lemon meringue pie I had with lunch on the Indian Pacific train taste even more fantastic afterwards.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you ever visited a ‘ghost’ town like Cook?