The small community of Cook is situated almost in the middle of Australia’s Nullarbor Plain. The Nullarbor is the largest karst landscape on Earth and, like most karst landscapes, is riddled with caves.
Unlike most other karst landscapes, there are no steep hills, rushing rivers or coastal waters to add interest. The Nullarbor Plain is flat. There’s not a hill to be seen on the Plain. It is vast and also empty. Nullarbor literally means “no trees” and when you get out onto it, you realise that its name is eerily accurate.
Cook was established in 1917 to service the Trans-Australian Railway which connects Sydney on the east coast with Perth on the west coast. It was originally a town built for railway workers, who serviced the track, and their families. Today precisely four people live in Cook, and many of the buildings that were there have either been taken away, or are in a decrepit state.
The Indian Pacific train still stops there, but only to take on fuel and to allow its drivers to rest. Passengers can alight, but there is very little for them to see.
Cook is partway along the longest stretch of railway line in the world. For 478 kilometres across the Nullarbor there is no turn, or even a slight curve.
You would think that to undergo such a stretch would be boring, but the opposite is true. To cross the Nullarbor Plain on the Indian Pacific is absolutely mesmerising. It is as if you are afraid to take your eyes off the passing country, with is red dirt, ankle high shrubbery and complete flatness in case you miss something.
When you alight at Cook, you have the opportunity to walk upon the Nullarbor, to wander off a couple of hundred metres from the train and into the shrub to experience the surrealness of it all.
Cook does have a few scrawny trees, but only because great effort was put it to growing them there.
Cook is a seriously long way from civilisation.
Scattered around Cook are relics of what it was like. The vacant land where the hospital once stood; the filled-in public swimming pool; bits and pieces of the old school.
It is quite sad to reflect upon the town that Cook used to be, when a community flourished there and the weekly Tea and Sugar Train, a supermarket and post office on wheels, made life worthwhile for those who called it home.