Millennium Post

Train-borne Santa to spread cheer Down Under

His stories have been told throughout the year in different parts of the world and in many different ways.

The basis for the Christian-era Santa Claus is Bishop Nicholas of Myra in Lycia (now Turkey), who died in 345 or 352 AD. He was considered to be very rich, generous and loving towards children, often giving joy to poor children by throwing gifts in through their windows.

In a well-known story illustrating St. Nicholas’ benevolence, we find two of the basic principles of the holiday spirit — giving to others and helping the less fortunate — as well as the tradition of hanging stockings by the fireplace.

But this year around, leave alone tradition and the myth. Santa Claus is coming to town in a train! But this is no journey through the pine or spruce forests so characteristic of Christmas. It is through a swirling desert into the remotest corners to the Outback for the Australian community.

The train would appear to be a dancing spot of colour in a landscape of scrub and yellow earth. Nearby, dozens of Aboriginal families are leaning impatiently against their pick-up trucks, most having driven for hours to this place called Watson through a pitch-dark pre-dawn. As the train screeches to a halt, the children surge forward waving madly to catch their first glance of their most anticipated guest – a fat, jolly bearded-man in a bright red suit. The iconic Indian Pacific runs from Sydney on Australia’s Pacific Coast to Perth on the Indian Ocean side through some of the nation’s most inhospitable territory – a three-night westward sprint across 2,700 miles that’s considered one of the greatest rail journeys in the world.

Once a year, the Indian Pacific sends out a seasonal thank you note to the communities living in these remote areas, in the form of a visit from Santa Claus in person.

It seems remarkable today but less than 60 years ago, Britain was exploding nuclear bombs in the middle of Australia. Seven bombs were tested at Maralinga in the south-west Australian Outback in the mid-1950s.

The combined force of the weapons was double of the bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima during World War II.

The Indian Pacific is a vital link to the outside world for these communities; bring mail, basic foodstuffs and beer.

Through suburbs, then green fields the train rolls. After a drink in the lounge, there’s dinner in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant, where gourmet fare includes saltwater barramundi and grilled kangaroo fillet with excellent Australian wines.

After four days and thousands of miles, the cross-continental journey is over, leaving a fine coating of red Outback dust in the memories of those who took the train with Santa Claus.
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