On the train again: apparitions across the Nullarbor (to the spirit, not to the letter of Jimmie Durham)

Hamish Morgan


My hand shaky and tremulous on an unsteady page on an Australian trans-continental train. Being thrown at random it would seem, forwards backwards and to the side; but this is nothing more than the interactions of landscape, rail, speed and springs: there is nothing random about it at all. That point in the railway line, that compression of the spring, lies in wait infinitely along the line. My writing like a seismograph, marking quite faithfully each bump and pivot, each predetermined interaction between the mechanical, physical, technological and intellectual. Not only the movement of the carriage, its sway and dip, but the bad music that constantly plays from tinny speakers above us; it rocks us all towards neurosis. The staff, too, weary from innumerable crossings of the Nullarbor and exuding boredom and disconnection, are in fact, our guides towards it. Their uniforms, nylon, shimmer. No sensual sashaying, just abrasive squeaking as they walk. Their waistcoats, wanting to appear as old-world train grandeur, read more as post-modern pastiche. Just like the dinning car in fake art deco, that illusion of old worldly train romance is lost somewhere – everywhere – in the cheap vinyl aqua couches, the plastic light fittings and the dickey souvenir display glimmering above the overflowing rubbish bins. The dining car manager – tight, thin lips, boofed-up, brittle hair, her face aglow in peach foundation – gathers up your plastic meal before your last mouthful and dumps it in the bins. You feel ashamed for even existing within this space. In fact, you can’t believe you’re here. This can’t be happening. Get me out of here.

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