Cairns-Kuranda, Australia

Train to the Middle of the Jungle

gaudy locomotive
Kuranda train locomotive in Kuranda.
last whistle
Station manager announces the departure of the Kuranda train.
Oriental Visitors
Eastern passengers predominate in one of the carriages on the Kuranda Train.
Contemplation on Rails
Passenger enjoys the tropical jungle landscape of PN Barren Falls, in motion.
Psychedelic saleswoman at the fair in Kuranda.
Railroad colossus
Composition of Kuranda crosses one of the wide viaducts that made the route between Cairns and Kuranda possible.
Kuranda station employee adjusts a signpost.
Passenger in tropical suit photographs the composition of the Kuranda train that has just arrived at the Freshwater platform.
Kuranda train stops above the Barron waterfalls for passengers to enjoy the scenery.
Composition of Kuranda train passes along the signage 10
Sada, sculptor of aboriginal artefacts and instruments.
Oriental Visitors II
Eastern passengers predominate in one of the carriages on the Kuranda Train.
Kuranda train
The Kuranda train winds its way through the jungle of Barron Falls National Park.
Kuranda Hippie
Image from the hippie era of Kuranda.
precious shadow
Passengers protect themselves from the stifling heat on the Kuranda Hotel's terrace.
barren falls
Kuranda train stops for passengers to admire the region's most emblematic waterfalls, usually more impressive.
aussie maternity
Selling mother in Kuranda with her son.
Welcome to Kuranda
Passengers leave Kuranda station and head towards the center of the small village.
Built out of Cairns to save miners isolated in the rainforest from starvation by flooding, the Kuranda Railway eventually became the livelihood of hundreds of alternative Aussies.

The composition approaches the Freshwater platform.

The employee finds it difficult to contain the curious passengers, eager to photograph the large colored locomotive approaching and too close to the forbidden end of the line.

We are on the outskirts of Cairns, in the lush north of the east of the Australia. The train arrives from the city center with some delay and the driver knows he has to make up for lost time.

It has the collaboration of the station chief to speed up the procedures: "all aboardscreams this one from the bottom of his lungs. He breathes in again and blows the whistle with equal railway vigor.

Tropical, passengers, Kuranda train, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Passenger in tropical suit photographs the composition of the Kuranda train that has just arrived at the Freshwater platform.

Cairns Journey through the Jungle from PN Barron Falls above

We are already installed in the red seats when we feel the carriage sway. The Kuranda Train advances first between the bordering rainforest and the grassy sands of the Coral sea.

Then it climbs the heights of the Macalister Range and enters the thick jungle of Barron Falls National Park where it winds through imposing canyons.

The graceful flow of the carriages, airy and comfortable, and the imposing scenery of the scenery say little about the hardships at the origin of that railway. And yet, little more than a century has passed since the wild draft of the project.

Train, composition, carriages, Kuranda train, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Composition of Kuranda crosses one of the viaducts that made the route between Cairns and Kuranda possible.

The Historical Urgency in the Origin of the Kuranda Railway

It was 1881, and North Queensland was experiencing yet another of so many protracted monsoon seasons. A large community of tin miners on the banks of the Wild River near Herberton was already suffering from rationing and starvation for months.

This was because the dirt road that had been rescued from the bush had turned into a long quagmire and did not allow the arrival of supplies from Port Douglas. This ordeal aroused a strong dispute among the settlers in that remote area and the intensifying demand for a railway linking them to the coast.

The period of affliction, with the prevailing heat and rains, has passed. As Australia's coldest and driest months came, southern politicians flocked to the Top End to campaign for elections. All promised to build the desired line.

In March 1882, the Minister of Labor and Mines decided to make good on the promises and commissioned Christie Palmerston, a bushman and experienced pioneer, to find the best route between the coast and the Atherton Plateau.

Tourists in carriage, train, Kuranda train, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Eastern passengers predominate in one of the carriages on the Kuranda Train.

Cairns and Port Douglas Rivalry for the Coastal Terminal

With guaranteed state support, the rival cities of Cairns and Port Douglas fought for the right to host the coastal terminal and develop the line. At that time, Palmerston was already investigating the various hypotheses for the itinerary and systematically came across a trail previously marked by a Douglas inspector.

At the end of his journey, Douglas sent a telegram to the colonial secretary summarizing the situation: “… Fearful journey. No chance of road. Twenty days without feed and subsisting almost entirely on roots. Nineteen days of continuous rain.”

Two years later, Christie Palmerston's investigation reports were submitted and evaluated. The Barron Valley Gorge route was chosen. The population of Port Douglas exploded with indignation. At the same time, Cairns celebrated as much as it could.

This would be just the beginning of a great epic on rails.

The Ever Denser Jungle of Tjapukai Aborigines

On board, we entertained ourselves walking along the carriages and we noticed a kind of babel in movement animated by visitors from the four corners of the world, but with a predominance of aussies and of Asians.

The train comes to a standstill and passengers are granted the privilege of observing the imposing Barron Falls and other smaller waterfalls such as Stoney Creek, just a few meters from the train.

Train, Kuranda train, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

The Kuranda train winds its way through the jungle of Barron Falls National Park.

As we approach our final destination, a multilingual voiceover gives curious information about the line's troubled construction.

None of this is part of the text, but in March 2010, Kuranda Train derailed because of a debacle. Five of the 250 passengers were injured and the operation was suspended for re-assessment of risks until 7 May, an insignificant setback compared to those suffered during the original work.

At one point of construction, 1500 men were involved in the project, mostly Irish and Italian, distributed in barracks installed next to each tunnel – 15 hand-excavated – and to each of the 37 bridges.

Signpost, carriage, Kuranda train, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Composition of Kuranda train passes along the signage 10

Over time, campaign villages sprouted up supplied by small grocery stores and clothing, equipment and dynamite stores. Kamerunga, at the foot of the canyon, once had five hotels.

In June 1891, the railroad service to passengers was inaugurated. Cairns thrived while Port Douglas became a quiet housing retreat. This discrepancy remains quite notorious.

The Bitter Resistance of the Tjapukai Aborigines

Almost an hour and a half later, the Kuranda Train makes its way to the final station, Kuranda.

The village of just over 1000 people continues to form part of the Tjapukai indigenous “nation” and hosts the Tjapukai Indigenous Dance Theatre. In practice, it is the settlers who occupy it most.

Aboriginal Sculptor, Seller, Kuranda train, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Sada, sculptor of aboriginal artefacts and instruments.

During the construction of the line, the Aboriginal people, dissatisfied by the invasion and destruction of their lands, responded by attacking, with spears, the oxen and settlers trespassing in their territories.

This led to leader John Atherton sending rival native troops to carry out revenge, which resulted in the infamous Speewah massacre.

As an extra consequence, the Tjapukai clans responsible for the initial settler attacks were segregated and sent on a mission called Mona-Mona where they could no longer hunt, fish or even move about freely.

By the turn of the century, the number of those Aborigines had dwindled dramatically. The few who resisted were employed in coffee plantations introduced in the meantime. More recently, the Australian government has returned land that belonged to their families to their descendants.

Some explore them. Several trade crafts in the markets from the terminal station.

Many never recovered from the setbacks suffered. For them, the ultimate irony will be to see these days the painting of Budaadji, the mythological serpent that created all the rivers and streams of his wild world traveling on the locomotive of the Kuranda Scenic Railway.

Kuranda Locomotive, Kuranda train, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Kuranda train locomotive in Kuranda.

The End Station of the Kuranda Scenic Railway

In the 60s and 70s, Kuranda welcomed hundreds of Australians in search of a secluded and more existential life, a new hippie community that delighted in this unlikely haven of refuge.

Rosie Madden writes some proud and esoteric lines in a mini-forum about the village: “I was one of the first so-called hippies in Kuranda. I lived in a tree house that I and some mates we build.

Our foreman Kevin took me from Brissy (Brisbane) there by light aircraft and we were welcomed by friendly residents in a Combi.

Jesus met us, then had a fight with God, two people who left me speechless. This was in the 70s. Since then, I have given two children to the Rusch family: Rastah and Reuben.

Shade, esplanade, Kuranda train, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Passengers protect themselves from the stifling heat on the Kuranda Hotel's terrace.

But I was there when the markets opened for the first time. There was even a tourist pamphlet that said “Come to Kuranda, the center hippie of North Queensland!” Those days were like that, now that's how it is. But I am very happy to have contributed to the current prosperity of the village”.

Kuranda's Now Touristic and Prosperous Days

“Now is the way it is” refers to the strong influx of ozzie and foreign visitors and the total commercialization of the village, which, from 9 am until the last train leaves, bills against the clock.

There we find modernized remnants of the more spiritual era of the place, numerous psychedelic paintings and quirky businesses. We are seduced by aura readings, the sale of exotic delicacies like mango wine and the inevitable pieces of aboriginal folklore: didgeridoos and boomerangs to mention just the familiar ones.

We descend a small staircase and enter a shadowy part of the market that a sign advertises as Bizarre. Like a hallucinogenic guardian, Lynda manages her staminé from inside a loose-fitting tunic of all colors and, with a small cheek-licking mutt in her lap, foists garments and trinkets from another world.

Seller, Janada, dog, Kuranda train, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Psychedelic saleswoman at the fair in Kuranda.

We climb back up into the merciless sun. In this elevated section, we meet Sada who maintains a small tent of artefacts that he sculpts himself.

A short conversation reveals that the bare-chested aborigine assimilated much more of the external reality than we expected: “Are you from Portugal? Well, how I love your football. But for us, Eusebius continues to be the great idol, I tell you now.

At a time when we, like most African Indians, were fighting for our rights, he rose up and was idolized by whites. That was very important!”.

Nearby, an eccentric-looking woman holds her dolled son in her arms, wearing only a leopard-print T-shirt. We ended up having a dialogue and it gives us evidence of the deepening of the relationship between the parties aligned by Sada.

Saleswoman, Mother and Son, Kuranda train, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Selling mother in Kuranda with her son.

I am from North Queensland. Kwame was born here but his father is from Ghana. Looks like a little aborigine, doesn't he?

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