Western Australia by Wheelchiar 2000
The Big Adventure

by Ian Hawkins © 2000

At last the big day had arrived. Will the taxi turn up on time, will the taxi meet us at the Sydney airport, will , will? We’ll will find out soon.

The planning for our holiday had started 5 months previously when we decided to go to Western Australia. We thought that we would like to travel by train to Perth on the Indian Pacific so a quick call to The Great Southern Railway, “Do you have facilities on the train suitable for people in wheelchairs”? “Yes, I will send you a plan of the cabin and shower etc. in the first class compartment”. “First class?” “Yes Australian pensioners get a substantial discount”. “OK”. “Can you get out of your wheel chair?” “no” “OK, then we will arrange to have the train chair and ramps on board when you make your final booking”. Great Southern Railways, the operator of the Indian Pacific could not have been more helpful in the initial preparations.

A quick trip down to the local travel agent. Can you book us on the train to Perth? Yes, when late September or early October. “You do realise that that time is wildflower time in WA and is peak period? Another good reason to go.

The booking was made to leave Sydney on 23 September. Can you also book us on a plane to give us plenty of time to travel from Mascot to the railway station? Done. Return Perth / Brisbane on the 11 October, done. Accommodation in Perth, QANTAS has a special on at some serviced apartments, could you check if they are suitable for wheelchairs, can do. The reply came back “Yes, the apartment is wheelchair friendly”. 

With travel and accommodation booked what next? Taxis at home, Sydney airport and East Perth railway station. Once again the information was available on the Internet, bookings made will they turn up? Don’t forget to phone the Department of Transport and make application for reciprocal interstate taxi vouchers. Done.

Where do we want to go. A trip to the Internet again a link into the WA travel Corp., and all the info was there at my finger tips. Bunbury, Bussleton, Margaret River, Albany the south west corner, names that we had only heard about. The local Royal Automobile Club of Queensland supplied all the necessary maps. Can we go there, can we go here? Why not. The travel section of RACQ arranged our accommodation in Margaret River, Walpole, and Albany. After previous trips with them, they now know what questions to ask regarding accessible accommodation. But once again they need to be told that you require accessible accommodation.

We will need a car. No book it in Perth. WA Automobile Club usually has special deals with the local car hire firms. Once again good advice.

Arriving at Brisbane airport the efficient QANTAS staff carried out all the formalities
(one little trick is that Qantas will allow people with disabilities to check in through the Business/First class check ins). The flight boarding call came over the pa system, the staff helped with the transfer to the aircraft wheelchair, and I boarded the 637 and within 15 minutes we were winging our way to Sydney.

The same efficiency was evident at Sydney airport, and we found ourselves waiting for our taxi at the entrance. Behold it was there (not like last time in Sydney, the taxi did not even bother to turn up) and the trip seemed to be progressing as planned, remembering the old adage about the best laid plans of mice and men, I remained quiet.. 

Standing at platform 2 and 3, was the Indian Pacific in all its glory. The railway porter explained that we were too early to embark and we could cloak our luggage. This we did, but what next to fill in time. Once again NSW Rail to the rescue, why not take a ride on the new city loop light rail system? Why not? Onto the carriage with a minimum of fuss, well they had to bring out an access ramp. All the other stations on the loop are accessible. What a pleasant way to travel. Hurry up Brisbane with the our new light railway system. 
Lunch retrieval of our luggage and onto the IP. With the help of the staff we were settled into our carriage. On close inspection, the shower/ toilet arrangements seemed a bit suspect. 

Running a railway system on time is everyone's dream, so at 2.55pm ESST, on time, the journey had begun. It lasted 2 minutes before the train came to a screaming halt. Had the disaster bug finally struck? No. Because of extra passenger demand additional carriages had to added. Carefully the train backed up to the extra load, another 5 minutes and the journey had really began. Instead of the normal 17 carriages, there were a grand total of 33 pulled by 3 locomotives. A massive 930 metres long. Slowly the train moved through the western suburbs of Sydney. Across the coastal plain to the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Now we knew why they needed 3 locos. The climb up the escarpment was not rapid, but the view from the lounge car was fairly spectacular. It was here that we met up with some of the other passengers. Viv helped me to the lounge car by pushing the wheelchair along the passageways across the carriage joiners (this demanded a certain amount of skill by both pusher and pushee to open doors and push with a combined effort). Well, we made it only to told that the staff would only be to pleased to do this hard work, well next time.

With dinnertime arranged and the offer of breakfast in our cabin, willingly taken up, we settled back to enjoy the journey. A quiet drink before dinner and dinner was served. Once again the staff were more than helpful. We were first in so had the choice of seats. Back to the cabin. A bit of jiggery pokery and the bunk beds were ready for us, but were we ready for the beds? Even though they were smaller than a normal single bed, they were reasonably comfortable. “To sleep perhaps to dream”. 

Morning. Toilet. No amount of maneuvering could coach the chair over the toilet. Problems? If necessity is the mother of inventions, then plastic bags can be more than useful. Toileting complete now for a shower. The chair almost fitted into the shower. So the floor of the cabin got slightly wet. Thank goodness for an understanding wife. The staff were very helpful. When we told them about the shower access problem there was a don’t worry. They gave us a heap of towels to place on the spill and then offered to clean it all up when we asked them.

Breakfast arrived. 

First stop. Broken Hill. The train stops for 1.5 hours where a bus tour could be arranged, we had been to the Hill several times before, so we choose a walk around town and a stretch of the legs, well Viv’s anyway. Back on board next stop Adelaide. Another bus tour if desired.

So life progressed relax, dine and generally let the world go by as there is no outside communications on board. After Adelaide the next stop is Cook, the centre of nowhere. Mid way between Adelaide and Kalgoolie. On the Nullabor Plains. Yes it as flat as the proverbial without trees. Definitely the middle of no where. I was reading and gazing out of the window and fell asleep, awaking I thought that the train must of stopped. But no, even though the country side appeared the same the train was still mobile. We arranged a bus tour for the stop in Kalgoolie, with help from the train staff and the bus staff I was able to see the sights, the huge hole in the ground of the largest open cut mine in the world to the ladies of Hay St.
On ward to Perth. 

Shower, toilet, breakfast and more looking out of the window. The country had definitely changed. Real trees. 

The train travels through the foothills and along the Avon River (the home of the Avon Whitewater Dash). After watching the river for a few miles I made a new new years resolution. “Don’t enter the dash”, one resolution that will be very easy to keep. The valley of the Swan River was more my style, slow and leisurely
So to East Perth Station. Bustle, hassle, every body out this is the end of the line. Miracles on more miracles, the taxi was there. Three out of three, unheard of.

What's on in Perth over the weekend, “hadn’t you heard, it’s Queen’s birthday long weekend and everything will probably be closed.” “Oh well”.

So to the apartment. The apartment maybe accessible but the reception definitely is not, unless we can make the wheelchair fly. Entrance for us will be through the garage. Not all that bad. The unit is not ready, so settle down for a cup of coffee, read the paper, and catch up on three days news. At last up to the unit. No problems just like a bought one. Shower, kitchen and bed all specifically set up for wheelies. Where to from here. Up to down town Perth. The taxi driver was right everything was closed. 

Lets go for a train ride and look over the countryside. The railway staff was more than helpful. The assistant stationmaster gave us free tickets to travel all over the system and explained the free central area transit system (CAT for short). Did she say free? Sure did. Is it wheelchair friendly? Sure is. We had better check that out, after the train ride.

Wonders of wonders, all the stations on this line seem to be wheelchair friendly. If not, they are in the process of making them so. Stations are accessible and have lifts, yes, lifts to access the roads. So to the end of the line and return to Central station. Out the front door, there it is The CAT. A 20-seater bus waiting at the stop. The driver saw us and proceeded to put the access ramp down. We wheeled on and were directed to the dedicated space one wheelchair wide complete with handrails. What luxury, unheard of, only ever dreamed of. The driver introduced himself as Malcolm. “Where do you want to go to?” “Don’t know, we have only got off the IP”. “Here is a map with all the stops and tourist destinations”. “Good, but we will just go for ride at first to get the lay of the land”. “Ok”. “Tell me where you want to get off, and I will tell you when it is time”. “How much”. “Gratis”. The decision was made use the CAT system at all times. There are two routes that operate during the week, a red Cat, and a blue CAT with several stops that overlap. At the weekends the routes are combined to a somewhat shortened route but it is still acceptable.

Finally arriving back at the apartment, a quick decision to eat downstairs at the restaurant and an early night. 

Monday, off to the Zoo. Accessible ferry, accessible zoo, accessible bar on the way back to the ferry. What a good day.

Tuesday. Train to Fremantle, Freo to the locals. A visit to the heritage listed jail. Just in time for a guided tour. Whilst the jail was built in the early 1800’s most of the areas are suitable for wheel chairs. No I could not go up the stairs to see the cell where Moonlight Jack (the well-known escaper) was interned and the scaffold room also had stairs. But the tour was fascinating and what's more they let us out.
Down the hill to the wharf area. A large number of eating places. We choose fish and chips; it was cheap, but possibly the best f&c that I had had in ages.

On to the WA Maritime Museum. Another heritage listed building but completely accessible. What a place. I won’t tell you what is there apart from the stern of the Batavia a Dutch sailing ship wrecked off the WA coast in 1629. The stories of the survivors and the subsequent rescue of some of them makes good reading. As did the way the wreck was discovered and the restoration of both the artifacts and the total stern section. 
The WA Maritime Museum would have made the whole journey well worth while in itself. Then the rain came, so back to the apartment by cab. Once again the reciprocal taxi vouchers worked well. 

Explore Perth. The Cat bus service made the exploration easy. The WACCA, home of cricket in WA. Don’t get off the bus; it’s raining. Oh well to the Mint. Most of the Mint area is accessible. They were minting the gold medals for the Olympic Games. The attention to detail was incredible. Each medal was inspected by the operator, wearing cotton gloves, and carefully placed in it’s own box. On to the gold pouring. Very interesting. Tried to open the safe to relieve the Mint of $100,000 worth of gold bullion. Maybe next time. 

To the RAC to book a vehicle. They were correct. They do have good local deals. We managed to upgrade to the next vehicle in the range as well as an extra days hire. The only draw back was that there was no hand controls available. They really need 4-5 weeks notice (apparently this is common practice through out Australia), well we know next time. Down to the station and on to the Subiaco markets. Well worth the visit.

On the James Cook ferry to Fremantle. Past the Narrows Bridge and Kings Park, with the history of both. The commentary on the journey filled in the history of settlement, who owned the huge houses on millionaire’s row (all with water frontages, of course), all complete with complimentary coffee and biscuits. Very civilized. A bit of a hiccough at the Fremantle wharf but no hassle. The crew even arranged an accessible taxi for us. Once more to the WA Maritime Museum what a fantastic place. Fish and chips again and onto the Freo markets. An easy trip back on the train with the sun disappearing into the sea. Different. As we live on the east coast the sun disappears over the land. The CAT to Northbridge the home of kerbside eateries etc. Dinner and home to bed. What a day.

Pick up the car and off to King’s Park. Hectares and hectares of wild flowers. We were too late for their Wildflower Spectacular but what we did see was spectacular. I have never seen Kangaroo Paw like those growing wild in the park. We did not know the names of most of the other flowers. On to the glass houses. Strange, the toilet was completely accessible, BUT the path to the glass houses left a little to be desired. We made it and wandered around, through, and along admiring all they had on display. The sight of the path was daunting so we took the line of least resistance and stole up the "No Admittance" road. What are the northern suburbs like? Let’s take a look. Affluence definitely finishes north of the river. 

Off to Margaret River via the SouthWestern Highway. Got lost as the road changes name several times with no indication. Call into the service station and ask directions. Down the road turn left at the round a-bout and right at the lights. So far so good. There it is a sign Bunbury 110 Kms. Go. Arriving at Bunbury at lunchtime, a quick look around, nothing is open. Ask again at a service station. Problem solved.

Busselton is the home of a very long wharf. We will have to come back tomorrow to study it in closer detail. Onwards to Margaret River, wander around and finally find the motel. Book in and see if we can find a place to eat. It would appear that every thing closes up on Sundays. Not good for a tourist centre. 

Back to Busselton and explore the long wharf. It is approximately 2 Kms long, after going along ½ it’s length we sat and watched children catching fish. I think they called them Tommy Ruffs, we would have used them for bait but they were taking them home to eat. Next the lighthouse at Cape Naturaliste. The paddocks were ablaze with Arum Lilies; we were to find out later that they have been declared a noxious weed. Maybe there is a market for them in the Eastern States. They don’t appeal to me but…….. Visits to several vineyards, as Margaret River is one of the premier wine areas in Australia. The vineyards seem to have taken this to heart and the prices duly reflect it. A new boutique brewery Bootleg Brewery was the next port of call. Very pleasant, completely accessible and friendly. A nice place to visit and relax. 

Off to Walpole. Via Karindale, Kandertup, Augusta, Cape Leeuwin and Pemberton through the mighty Karri/Jarrah forest. What magnificent trees.

The Mammoth caves were partially accessible and interesting. At Cape Leeuwin the two oceans meet, the Indian and the Southern, what a contrast. The deep blue of the Indian and the dirty coloration of the Southern. We sought more advice at a service station at Augusta. “Yes the short cut that you are proposing to take is only about 2 years old and has a good surface. A trip through the countryside mainly cleared for dairy farms, onto Pemberton. The “new road” straight for 60 Kms. “Whats the smell”. After about 20 Kms the smell of Boronia made its presence felt. It was over powering. There they were all along the cleared verges of the road, Boronia, 4-5 metres deep both sides. 10Kms later the smell changed to what the locals call TCP, the scent of the Karri Wattle. Quick close the windows. To late , I don’t think that we will collect any of those seeds to take home. They are best left alone. The road meets up with the coast with spectacular views over Walpole Sound.

The Karri/Jarri forest continues these BIG trees are now mixed with Tingle. More huge trees. The tree top walk take us over the tops of these trees, you actually look down through the canopy complete with birds, butterflies etc. The boardwalk wanders around to the Grandma tree. A rather large Tingle with a hole in the base that could easily garage a car. There is a photo in their display of a car actually parked within the confines of the tree. One of the surprises around Denmark was the number of blue gum plantations. They are being planted as a sustainable resource, to gain carbon credits and as an investment. It seems to be working. A quick trip around Albany then off to the one accessible unit of accessible accommodation. It started to rain. Oh well it will soon dissipate. Or so we thought.

Off to Frenchman’s Beach to the whaling station. Whaling was Albany’s oldest industry. Before whaling was banned in 1978 the whale chasers from the Cheynes Beach Whaling Co. were taking up to 850 Southern right whales per year. Thankfully whaling was stopped, by a mixture of public pressure and international treaty, before the whales were completely decimated. Their numbers have increased to such an extent that whale watching is big business in the season. The station has been restored to how it would have been in its heyday as an operational whaling station., except that the last of the whale chasers is now high and dry on the beach. Never to be used again.. More rain, a quick lunch and back along the coast to some natural attractions. The Gap, a 24-m drop into the ocean, the Natural Bridge, huge natural granite arch with spectacular views across the ocean. Albany is set on King George Sound and on the day we were there sun light slanting down through the clouds gave the whole landscape a weird feeling. The light was diffused and soft, totally unreal.

The last day in Albany. Do all the tourist things. A trip to the brig “Amity” replica, the Dog Rock, Mt Clarence the home of the The Desert Mounted Corps memorial a replica of the memorial originally sited at Suez, the granite base is the original even to the bullet marks. Then a visit to the Princess Royal Fort the first federal fortress commissioned in 1893. The fort saw active service until 1956 and was designed by the same architect that designed Fort Scratchly at Newcastle NSW. The sight from the top of the hill over King George Sound and Princess Royal Harbour were great. Once again the sun light through the clouds was great.

Dinner at a restaurant on Middleton beach. The local fare was great, marron, local mussels and prime beef. All washed down by a bottle of local wine. Who could ask for anything more.

Return to Perth. A detour via Mt Romance. A new venture set up to encourage the growing and the distillation of sandalwood oil and incorporate it into cosmetics. After a brief factory tour, free coffee and cake we were on our way again. What funny town names a lot of them end in “up”. Most peculiar. 

Tourist business, the buying of presents etc for the troops at home. Once again the CAT bus system proved invaluable. We had gotten to know most of the bus drivers by now and when ever we asked to dropped at a particular stop, they would suggest a better stop which was either closer or had better access. A service unheard of but most welcome. Onward to the Perth Museum. What a fascinating place. It occupies the old Perth goal, no worries about getting out this time as it had not been used as a goal for over 50 years. Phew. The CAT bus system again was the answer to travel around the Perth CBD area. At no cost to the management.

More tourist business. A trip to the Gosnell markets and a vain search for the endangered species site of the zoo in the Darling Ranges. No zoo but the countryside and the wildflowers were stunning (Vivs quote) but they were truly fantastic.

On to Armadale Reptile Farm. Oh, snakes man! Its all right they were all locked up and I hoped that they stayed that way. We were very well received the lady that owned the farm and we swapped yarns about eastern reptiles and western ones. A very pleasant interlude. She told us about a local vineyard so off we went. Jandran winery had been in the family for over 60 odd years and while the table wine did not suit us we purchased several bottles of their tawny port and Muscat. Back to town, last minute shopping, last ride on the CAT system and home for our last night in Perth.

Packing, return the car at the airport and wait for our flight. Perth airport must be the saddest airport that I have ever been in. Announcement of our flight, embarkation and off a brief stay at the Adelaide airport and then to Brisbane and HOME.

It did not seem like that we had been away for nearly 3 weeks. There had been no disasters. 
On reflection, every part of the trip went smoothly and as expected. This fact we put down to the careful organisation that we had put in before the start and the very, very careful checking of everything that we were told. I believe that the initial preparation that was carried out before we left had made the trip hassle free trip. 
Many places only had a cursory glance or were completely missed out on altogether.
In the words of that famous World War 2 general: WE WILL RETURN.


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