Griff Rhys Jones’ Australian Outback adventure

The Australians are an urbanised lot. The majority of their land (the bare bit, the wild bit, the difficult bit) lies beyond the living space of 85 per cent of the population – and with good reason. It’s a rough and dangerous place. And it’s vast.

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But the Aussies are also very sensible. Mercifully, they provide an excellent means to explore their massive frying-pan of a continent in comfort. The Outback may represent the equivalent of outer space, a hot moon of Venus, but we were going to take a rolling Sputnik – a well-equipped and serviced train, the Indian Pacific, trundling out along a track that must surely boggle the mind of any maintenance contractor. No human beings live anywhere near hundreds of kilometres of it. How do they get to it if it buckles or sinks? Unlike the Trans-Siberian express, there is no locality to this trans-Oz railway. It may be shorter, but it crosses a whole continent.

We plonked ourselves down and chatted to Tom from Wakefield.

“They all look of a certain age, don’t they?” he whispered, gesturing at his fellow guests. They were indeed quite a senior complement. Tom himself was white-haired, stooped and bearded. The other guests were thinking: “I hope we don’t have to sit with those two old crocks.”

My cabin was fitted out in a yellowish-blonde wood with multiple cupboards and hidey holes.

“Are you going to leave me a hanger?”

“Of course.” I handed Mrs Jones one hanger and then, after negotiation, a second (of the four available in our tiny wardrobe). I was looking forward to a bout of Marx Brothers slapstick when it came to getting dressed. We would be negotiating to be the sitting window-tenant, too. Otherwise: perfection. Two bunks (the top one folded away during the day), a neat little refuse door, a handy inset mirror and a door to our own private bathroom cubicle-cum-washing facility-locker.

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