Brisbane to Melbourne – the slow way is the only way

Back in Australia! My father’s land. He was born in Kalangadoo, South Australia. By sheer chance, Roly Parks, a famous author, also hails from Kalangadoo. We’re not going there. We start in Brisbane, Queensland to continue my sustainable travel! Onward!

Painted on the wall of YHA Byron Bay
On the wall of YHA Byron Bay – Coronavirus learning curve just starting

I disembarked from container ship MV Ontario II on the 22 February 2020 at The Port of Brisbane and caught a train to the centre of town. Brisbane, the third biggest city in Australia, has good bus/rail/ferry links for city travellers. The local Translink system – together with nifty app – works well. You get a GO card and set your course. Thank you, dear friends, who looked after me during my stay in Brissie! (We all kept our distance.)

Brisbane is subject to flooding
Brisbane straddles the River Maiwar (Brisbane River). Sign taken in Ashgrove, a hilly suburb!

During this trip I was not interested in tourist sights – you will have to seek other blogs for things to do in Brisbane – rather, I was a commuter, focussed primarily on my journey south to Melbourne.

Brisbane to Melbourne as the crow flies
Brisbane to Melbourne as the crow flies – I’m not a crow

As you may know, I recently travelled overland across Europe and a corner of Asia with only a hiccup between China and Taiwan, mostly on fast trains.

Australia has no fast train. Not one. Check out this hopeful article from 2016. C’mon, Aussie! And don’t bother wheeling out the old, ‘there’s not enough passengers to make it viable,’ nonsense.

In 2018, Melbourne to Sydney was the world’s second busiest flight route. That’s right. The entire world.

In February 2020 there was a deadly de-railment between Melbourne and Albury. As I write, it is still not possible to take a train from Sydney to Melbourne, much less Brisbane. How is it possible Australia cannot afford decent public transport in 2020?

Even medium speed rail could be a start.

Chinese Fast Train
Chinese Fast Train taken from another fast train

If there is one thing Australia could do to quickly cut emissions, it would be to get that fast train built. Australia has steel mills. The country has the ability to build rail lines and carriages. The economy will need stimulating. People will need jobs. Knowledge is available from all around the world. Airlines have the potential to invest in transporting people quickly in metal tubes. KLM is investing in European buses and trains. Virgin has been in rail for over twenty years. Why not Qantas? Why not the Government? Why is this so difficult to get done?

Well, then. If it was going to be a slow trip, then I would make the most of the experience and try to visit places I had not seen and catch up with friends, old and new, in their native habitats. First stop, a small town near Mullimbimby. Now, all I had to do was buy a ticket.

The central station in Brisbane is Roma Street Station. There is now (2020) no central transit centre because it’s been demolished.

Roma Street Station, Brisbane, is being revitalised!
Roma Street Station, Brisbane, is being revitalised!

As I strolled around the brutal public buildings by the river, GOMA, Gallery and Library, trying to negotiate pedestrian travel, seeking out hopelessly inadequate signage, getting tangled with motorways right beside parkland (who designed this city?) my dear friend Louiselle researched how best to buy my ticket. She went to a great deal of trouble, getting incorrect telephone numbers from Brisbane City Council and bum steers from Roma Street Station (under construction) itself.

Finally, we met at the Gallery and she delivered her report. ‘Buy it online.’

I must have seemed ungrateful for I shunned this technological answer, preferring to do it the old way, the international way, go to the central place and get experts to help you. I wanted to visit the place where there’s leaflets and information and they print out tickets, you check the times and dates and everyone is happy. This is what I did in all the countries I’ve been to (UK, Spain and France, Denmark, Germany and Russia, China, Taiwan and NZ). I could talk to a real person, get relevant up-to-date advice and organise my ongoing travel. Let’s go!

Much to Louiselle’s credit she pandered to my arrogant international-traveller-uppityness and helped me to seek a nonexistent central Tourist Information spot, question a helpless ticket officer in a local train station window, make enquiries with a couple of train officials at Queensland Rail (they only go North and West), approach three fed-up representatives from three different bus companies in three different temporary booths where they all expected to work separately for the next five to nine years who eventually directed us to two tired Information/Parking Officers in high viz jackets who gave us false information. So I found out later. They did admit to ignorance on a number of points which made me wonder why they had not been given some technology to enable them to look things up? I mean, technology worked for Louiselle! All these people were completely flummoxed to have to deal with questing public wanting travel advice.

Admittedly I’d been spoilt by the wonderful I-site system in NZ, where bookings can be made not only for transport but also tours and accomodation. Perhaps Brisbane City Council officials could organise an online Tiki Tour with I-site developers for a few tips and hints?

As an English-speaking Australian citizen, with a local beside me, I felt completely out of my depth. I could not begin to imagine the experience if you couldn’t understand the language or read the signs. Would not Brisbane and indeed, Queensland, why even Australia, wish to offer tourists a pleasant trip? Is not Tourism a valuable part of the Australian economy? Remember, I was able to negotiate my way, thanks to helpful people and obvious signage, across China and Taiwan without having a common alphabet much less language, and there, helplessly, I could only say ‘thank you’. Xie xie, Louiselle!

I bought the ticket online. And I rang to check the whereabouts of the bus stop. Which turned out to be a good thing for they would have dropped me at Uncle Tom’s roadhouse – in the middle of nowhere. Better for my friend to pick me up at Brunswick Heads. ‘Just tell the driver, love.’

Bus stop for Byron Easy Bus
Bus stop for Byron Easy Bus – just turn up and go indeed!
inside the Byron Easy Bus
inside the Byron Easy Bus.
The driver called me ‘Vic’ and already knew I was going to Brunswick Heads. Give them a call, Love.
Byron Easy Bus stopped at the Gold Coast Airport
Byron Easy Bus stopped at the Gold Coast Airport – 25/2/20 – first public nerves about virus contact – noticing people wearing masks and leaving space around them
Brunswick Heads has a lovely beach and an attractive township
Brunswick Heads, part of the Byron Bay Marine Park, has a lovely beach and an attractive township
View from friend's property near Mullimbimby
View from friend’s property near Mullimbimby – you’ll all want to go there now, won’t you. Very sensible.

Now in New South Wales, I found the Northern Rivers area peaceful, verdant, with changeable weather. But then, I suppose, so is everywhere these days.

Byron Bay
Warm evening in gorgeous Byron Bay
Bryon Bay Lighthouse
Bryon Bay Lighthouse

Remarkably, I’d never visited Byron Bay, not for yoga nor writers’ nor blues festival or sunny beaches but I concur, it is a wonderful environment. It’s easy to see why it got so popular.

Less gorgeous Byron Bay
Less gorgeous Byron Bay
Sign outside a pub in Bryon Bay
Sign outside a pub in Bryon Bay. Home depends on how you price things, doesn’t it.

Byron Bay is no longer connected to the rest of Australia by train. BUT, exciting news, Bryron Bay does have a solar train running 3km of restored track to the Northern Beaches. Please drop a comment if you’ve experienced a solar train!

Train link bus to Casino
Train link bus to Casino at 0553

Early in the morning and pretty empty, the Translink bus turned up at the Tourist Info Centre in Bryon Bay, ironically in the Old Stationmaster’s Cottage. This is a creditable institution which does have the power to sell and print tickets. The train at Casino would take me further south to Maitland to visit a cousin.

Byron Bay to Casino train ticket
Byron Bay to Maitland train ticket – it’s a folded piece of A4

The land around Lismore/Casino was beautiful. I could see tantalising glimpses of coast from the bus and relished a stop at Lennox Heads to get out and stretch my legs. Stunning beach, brilliant morning light, young woman standing still, silent, silhouetted, and I thought, how lovely, she’s been meditating or watching the sunrise but no, she was engrossed in her phone. A lone fisher, two people swimming but no surfers. It looked to me the waves were passable but I couldn’t tell – apart from the fact presumably there would have been surfers if it had been good enough to surf! Gorgeous pale mist spray hovering over the distant curves. It was all faintly pink and grey like the colours of a magic galah goddess in her filmy finery.

From there the bus went through Ballina and Lismore before reaching Casino with plenty of time before the 0820 train arrived.

There were a lot of staff crushed into the Buffet Car. I was glad to be their first customer and paid Aus $3.60 for a cardboard cup of hot water and a Robert Timms dipping bag. Better than nothing. (Ah, for the days of Kiwi Rail baristas!)

The train was divided into different classes and, on my perambulations, I found sleeper berths and showers in the first class section. It’s difficult to discover how to book this – it appears Brisbane to Casino is by coach so I don’t know how much sleeping you’d get done.

The XPT travelled through Grafton and then to Coff’s Harbour. As I wandered through the train I couldn’t find a charging point for my phone. When they announced our arrival at Warhope I pondered the name. Did they have many young men survive the Great Wars? Or lose too many? But I saw the sign said Wauchope which is different. I had hope in ‘watch-ing’?

The guy serving in the Buffet Car told me he’d watched The Game Changers and was trying to eat less meat. He really liked the fresh vegan pizza from Coles, plus, he told me encouragingly, their ‘chik’n Thai Green curry is worth a try. Plus, he got a couple more colleagues to watch the film and they’re also converted. Brilliant work, Cameron, Arnie and Jackie! Bonus, I got a vegan sandwich.

Maitland is another beautiful part of New South Wales and I enjoyed my trip around the township with my cousin. Back on the train again and thence to Sydney the next day. Sydney. I’m sorry, Hamburg. It really is the most beautiful harbour I’ve seen in the world.

Sydney Harbour from South Head
Sydney Harbour from South Head

Another city where I used to live. I have memories in many addresses, many suburbs, different times … But it’s no longer my home. I arrived in at Wynyard, a place where I used to work and didn’t recognise it at all. There were squillions of bus stops. I had to ask 3 high viz peeps before I found the right way to go.

Sydney Bus Information, dense as code
Sydney Bus Information, dense as code

There seems to have been an explosion in different types of transport you can catch around Sydney. At a minimum, you will need an Opal Card and a matching app. (As usual other city travel apps are available.) A local person to explain things would also be good.

Sydney city trains
Sydney city trains
Sydney Central Station under construction
Sydney Central Station

Sydney has trains, light rail and buses, ferries and taxis. Plus, and as well, there’s a new Sydney Metro under way, which is Australia’s biggest public transport project.

A fraction of the extensive building site for the Sydney Metro
A fraction of the extensive building site for the Sydney Metro – under wraps

You really are spoilt for choice.

Sydney trains
Sydney trains

I was sad to leave my friends in Sydney. I am so grateful for all their kindness, good humour and upholstery stories. I urge you all to examine a most interesting blog from my friend in Redfern, mainly because you will find my own humble contributions therein.

Other Sydney trains
Other Sydney trains

And so, further south. Another train to Bombaderry where my friend came to pick me up in a car! My friend recommended sitting on the left side of the train, upstairs, to see the lovely glimpses of coast and beach on the way. Although the nearby fire destruction was horrible and the tales of my friends experiences frightening, it was heartening to see the resilience of the bush, and the people. Click here to see a dramatic timeline of the fires from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Burnt bush near Nowra with hopeful regeneration
Burnt bush near Nowra with hopeful regeneration

Once again, I was lucky to share memories and friendship with locals from Bowral and Moss Vale before I went on my merry way by train and then bus to Melbourne.

View from the train from Moss Vale to Albury
View from the train from Moss Vale to Albury
Bus from Albury to Melbourne
Bus from Albury to Melbourne
Melbourne Coffee - is it the best oat latte anywhere?
Melbourne Coffee – is it the best oat latte anywhere?
Clear sky above Melbourne city
Clear sky above Melbourne city

I don’t know. Am I home? What is home? Can you get there without burning a lot of carbon? Join me in my next post, where I will explore my conclusions. Is sustainable travel possible?

Stairwell of YHA North Melbourne
Stairwell of YHA North Melbourne

4 thoughts on “Brisbane to Melbourne – the slow way is the only way

  1. Thankyou again for honourable mention, it’s not all true though, she totally had “a process” and would have worked it all out. Arrive, settle, then work out how to leave. Xx

  2. Loved this Victoria. Fascinating to hear your insights into being back after being away for so many years. To see such a burned landscape would have been heart wrenching. I for one hope you will be calling Melbourne home. xx

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