One of the most popular museums in Alice Springs, the Ghan
Preservation Society Museum depicts the history of the original
legendary Ghan railway, which ran between Adelaide and Alice Springs on
3' 6" track from 1929 to 1980. The siding at MacDonnell is beautifully
and affectionately reinstated and is home to the museum. The station
and rolling stock are on display at all times. The 'Old Ghan' runs 30
km down the track to Ewaninga each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Location: Norris Bell Avenue, Alice Springs. Ph (08) 8955 5047. Entry fees apply.
The Story of the Old Ghan
The idea of a railway from Adelaide into the far north was suggested
in the 1860s when railway building in Australia was at its peak. Up
until that time, Australia's outback telegraph and pastoral stations
relied on camel trains to bring their supplies, no matter how isolated
or far away they were. These camel trains worked the Queensland road,
which later became known as the Birdsville Track, as well as the
Oodnadatta and Strzelecki Tracks. Afghan camel drivers went as far as
Wyndham and Newcastle Waters to cart supplies to stations which had no
other means of fast and efficient transport. Their camels plodded down
the many tracks, bringing supplies on their outward journey and
returning with wool or any other product. It was the Afghan cameleers
who did so much to open up Central Australia. The camels brought
everything -pianos, motors, furniture and supplies. The arrival of
these beasts of burden was a time of high excitement. Mail, newspapers
and long-awaited clothes and cosmetics orders also came this way.
The new railway commenced at Port Augusta by the South Australian
Government and headed north-east via the Pichi Richi Pass via Quorn,
Hawker and Parachilna. By 1881 it had reached Beltana. Within two years
it passed through Copley and reached Farina. As the line to Farina was
completed, work was beginning on a southern line from Palmerston
(Darwin) that was intended to join up with the southern line when they
both reached Alice Springs.
By 1888, Pine Creek was reached, but no further work was carried out
on the extension of this line until 1926. By 1884 Hergott Springs
(Marree) had become the railhead of the southern line. After some years
the line was pushed further north past Callanna, Alberrie Creek,
Curdimurka, Coward Springs, Strangways Springs, William Creek, Anna
Creek, Box Creek, Edwards Creek, Warrina, Algebuckina and Mount Dutton
until it finally reached Oodnadatta in 1891. Oodnadatta remained the
railhead for the next forty years.
In an effort to advance the line and get construction going once
again, in 1895 activists began singing the praises of outback
Australia, stating that the interior was not all desert, but had
extensive areas of good land fit for cultivation and a variety of
tropical products. Despite regular attempts to speed up its progress,
the laying of the line through some of Australia's most desolate and
flood prone country was painfully slow.
The first promise to complete the line came in the Acceptance Act of
1910, though no date given and the promise was not followed through. In
1926, the line was acquired by Commonwealth Railways, which began
immediate extension of the line south from Darwin. Katherine was
reached in 1926, Birdum was reached in 1929 but the line was never
extended beyond a terminus at Larrimah.
Construction finally came to a halt in 1929 when the Commonwealth
Government completed the section from Rumbalara to Alice Springs, but
the line would never be extended to link up with the northern line. By
that time, the camel and its driver had lost it economic value and
became a nuisance and a pest. In 1925 the South Australian Government
passed the Camel Destruction Act, giving police the right to shoot any
camel found trespassing or without a registration disk. On many
occasions they were just shot as vermin. In 1935 the Marree police shot
153 camels in one day.
The rail service began as a limited mixed train which was given the
official title of "The Oodnadatta night train". When the route was
extended beyond Oodnadatta, it became known as the "limited mixed" once