“I knew I was in for a treat the moment I got to the end of the introduction to Steven Lewis’ “Hot Silver – Riding the Indian Pacific”. It not so much took off as galloped. A master of irony, Steven Lewis’ razor sharp wit is delivered with deadpan accuracy. I found myself chortling with laughter throughout, unable to put it down until the glorious end.” — Victoria Ugarte, “Postcards from Millie”
It’s Bill Bryson meets Paul Theroux in Hot Silver — Riding the Indian Pacific, in which Steven Lewis reviews the Indian Pacific in the train’s fortieth anniversary year.
He travelled with his wife, Fleur, as one of his travel reviews for the inflight entertainment of an Australian airline. That feature, along with his other reviews, is now available from Audible but the full story is so much more. In Hot Silver, a 14,000-word travel story, Lewis takes you onboard the Indian Pacific and across Australia from Sydney to Perth. It’s a trip for which he had high hopes:
I wished to travel like Poirot in a lavish TV adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, all whistles, explosions of steam and white gloves. I wished to believe that the smart casual dress code for dinner specified on Great Southern Rail’s website was a reluctant concession by the Dining Standards Committee to the fact that so few of us own black tie these days.
The reality, however, was somewhat different:
My biggest mistake was that we were early for drinks, at least 30 years too early. Looking around the bar, the average age was over 70. Starring down the barrel of 40 and parenting a teenager the next year, I hadn’t been feeling like a spring chicken for a while. In this crowd, however, Fleur and I were adolescents. The reaction we were getting was the same reaction our fellow passengers would have got emerging through the pheromones onto a Contiki bus. Close quarters travel doesn’t tolerate great differences and we were clearly very different.
Hot Silver stops with the train in Broken Hill, Adelaide and Kalgoorlie, all of which are closed when the Indian Pacific pulls in.
You’ll join Steven and Fleur on their whistle-stop tour of Broken Hill at dawn, which includes a sighting of The Big Picture:
So it is we find ourselves walking through a souvenir shop into a papier-mâché “opal cave” and onto the walkway from which we are to admire an enormous canvas panorama of the outback. The wooden walkway is done to look like the verandah of an outback station, complete with a sloping wooden roof above. To complete the effect, the floor between the edge of the walkway and the canvas is strewn with plastic rocks, shrubs and at least a metric tonne of red dirt. Unseen floodlights shine uniformly on the canvas. It could be the backdrop to a dawn scene in the stage adaptation of The Three Amigos.
Nowhere is more closed, however, than the almost-abandoned town of Cook in the middle of the Nullarbor Plain (pop. 5):
I ask myself who on earth these five desperadoes might be. From the look of the place they must be on the run from the law or atoning for their part in some off-the-books massacre in a southeast Asian jungle…
It’s like walking round one of those fake towns the Americans built to test their nuclear weapons. I wouldn’t be surprised to turn a corner and find mannequin Betty Draper holding a plastic cigarette to her red lips while she waits to be blown to kingdom come. And, if the Reds don’t get her, the wind just might.
The main attraction of the journey — aside from the train itself — is the vast Nullarbor Plain. There is no better way to see it; and nothing can prepare you for this 200,000 square kilometres of nothingness across the centre of Australia:
Everything drops away to a flat and uniform nothingness. There is an absence all the way to the horizon in every direction. Sure, there is brown dirt and a plentiful helping of shrubs the size of decent rocks; but it’s what you don’t see that absorbs you. From the train window to the edge of the world there is nothing between earth and sky. The negative space is eerie, as if the world has disappeared.
This is a journey through parts of Australia steeped in history. In this Indian Pacific review the train and the places it passes through are brought to life with the deft sketches and first-hand observation of a seasoned travel writer.
A perfect read for the armchair traveller, Hot Silver is a laugh-out-loud account of one of the world’s most famous train trips that will be published in late 2011.
“Hot Silver — Riding the Indian Pacific” is travel writing for anyone who loves great journeys, whether travelling or being entertained from the comfort of their armchair.
Hot Silver is available from Amazon as a paperback and a Kindle ebook.*
*You don’t need a Kindle to read the book. You can download Amazon’s free
e-reading apps for PCs, Macs, iPads and smartphones.
The Amazon reviews are in…
Smokin’ Hot Silver — thelovelyMissR
“Steven takes readers on a rolicking ride on the rails filled with plenty of wry commentary on his experience on the iconic Indian Pacific. Peppered with great facts and anecdotes this succinct story imparts plenty of well researched and interesting information about Australian social and colonial history, rail travel and the dramatic geography of this wide continent. Steven had me laughing out loud with his humour and deftly honed observations – largely directed at himself – as his romantic notions of train travel are tested on his journey across Australia with a gaggle of polar-fleece wearing passengers mostly 30 years his senior. I would happily share his dining car booth for days rattling across the desert if it were half as much fun as reading this terrific little book. Hunt him out online at Taleist and listen to his podcasts if you are on Virgin – you won’t be disappointed.”
“I love a good trip by rail. I recently got home from four months crossing Europe and China by train so I’m not ready to head off again just now. I was happy, however, to take a great trip from my Kindle and that’s exactly what Hot Silver gave me. The book brings it all to life so you really feel like you’re on the train or touring Broken Hill with Lewis and his wife. I know it’s a cliche but I really did laugh out loud. Next time I take a train trip, I hope Lewis is onboard.”
A ripping good tale — TonyL
“Steven Lewis is a very funny man….although he has destroyed my dream of a Downtown Abbeyesque train journey across Australia, he did it in a way that had me sniggering and laughing all the way through. More please !!”