The vast treeless Nullarbor Plain isolates the inhabited areas of Western Australia from those of South Australia. The plain is generally considered to extend 400km west and 300km east of the Western Australia-South Australia boundary, and up to 250km inland from the Great Australian Bight. Formed of a single giant piece of limestone, the Nullarbor Plain is fairly porous so that any rainfall drains underground, resulting in no surface watercourses and few distinguishing features.
The main vegetation includes saltbush (Atriplex spp.) and bluebush (Kochia/Maireana sedifolia), the former being of the greatest value as forage, succulent and nutritious food for sheep and cattle in the driest season of the year, and supporting about one sheep per twelve hectares. In non-drought seasons, these well-spaced subshrubs almost disappear in a sea of grasses and forbs.
The Aboriginal groups Mirning, Kokata and Wirangu lived on the periphery of the plain, which they called by the Mirning name of Gondiri, but only after rain would they venture far into it. The remarkably Aboriginal-sounding name ‘Nullarbor’, Latin for ‘no trees’, was given to the plain by South Australian surveyor Edmund Delisser, who explored into it in 1865-66.
Driving across the Nullarbor is for many the quintessential experience of the Australian Outback. Bumper stickers bought from roadhouses on the highway proudly declare ‘I have crossed the Nullarbor’ as though it were a rite of passage in becoming a ‘real’ driver. The Eyre Highway is the only road by which to cross the Nullarbor Plain from east to west or vice versa. It was hastily built during World War II should a road link have become necessary for the transportation of military equipment and personnel at that time.
Crossings in the 1950s and earlier were significant, and those who made the journey literally took their lives into their hands, as most of the road back then was at best an unsealed dirt track. Round-Australia car trials (The Redex Trials) utilised the Nullarbor crossing for good photo shoots of cars negotiating poor tracks. The last section of road to be sealed – around 200 kms of highway up to the state border on the South Australian side – was opened in 1976.
Though the Eyre Highway is dotted with roadhouses, the Nullarbor is still a remote area and when travelled by road you can expect to pay high prices for fuel and food. Make sure your vehicle is reliable before crossing the Nullarbor as mechanical repairs will be expensive and time consuming – especially if parts have to be freighted in. Transport costs are high this far away from civilisation!
It’s a long journey but the Nullarbor Plain is by no means devoid of things to see along the way. Between Ceduna and Norseman, which is the most isolated stretch of the journey, there are a few surprises in store for those unfamiliar with the Nullarbor.
A single railway track crosses the Nullarbor Plain. Construction of the 1,692 km standard gauge railway, from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta across the Nullarbor Plain, commenced in 1912. Completed in October 1917, the single line, complete with numerous spur lines and sidings to allow trains travelling in opposite directions to pass, has been used by goods and passenger trains ever since. The switch from steam to diesel powered locomotives began in 1951.
The present Indian Pacific service was inaugurated in February 1970 when the standard gauge Trans Continental line was extended west to Perth and east to Sydney (the original Trans Continental rail service only ran between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta; passengers then had to change trains to complete their journey, travelling on a narrow gauge line to Perth, or first a narrow gauge line to Adelaide, then broad gauge to Melbourne, which was the line’s original eastern terminus).
Today, the Indian Pacific has two scheduled passenger services each week – one in each direction. The train makes only one scheduled stop between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta – at Cook, though stops to pick up mail and/or passengers do occur at other sidings if required. At Cook, passengers have around an hour to stretch their legs, wander around the tiny settlement and buy souvenirs while the train takes on water midway through its journey.
Photo: Liz Rogers
90m under the sun scorched red dust of the Nullarbor lie some of the worlds largest underground cave systems, some with several kilometres of passages, and some approved for public investigation. The Murrawijinie caves north of Nullarbor, Koonalda and Bunaby Blowhole can be visited, and others are only accessible in the company of a National Parks and Wildlife officer. These caves have been formed over thousands of years out of the limestone that lies under the plain. Once you leave the glare of the sun, the caves are awesome, many featuring underground lakes. This is a hot, dangerous remote place to be and is the kind of place people have passed over for years but never explored. The caves you enter are a long way from medical help and some extend over 5 km into dark tunnels, often interrupted by high dry chambers it is easy to get lost in.
Koonalda Cave: 76 metres below the surface of the Nullarbor Plain, the cave, which features a chain of underground lakes, contains deposits from Aboriginal occupation and art (7 km north of Koonalda Station). The cave is one of hundreds of limestone caverns beneath the flat plain of the Nullarbor.
Cocklebiddy Cave: in recent years Cocklebiddy has gained an international reputation as a site for one of the world’s largest cave systems. Ten kilometres to the north west of Cocklebiddy Roadhouse lies Cocklebiddy cave. In 1983 a French caving expedition created caving history by exploring Cocklebiddy Cave to an unprecedented distance of 6.4 kilometres. The Cocklebiddy cave system is unique in that it extensively penetrates an aquifer that lies 90 metres below the Nullarbor Plain. Within Cocklebiddy cave are a number of vast limestone caverns, rockfalls and saline subterranean lakes that extend for several hundred metres.
Weebubbie Cave entrance
Weebubbie Cave: Cocklebiddy and Weebubbie caves are among the largest tunnels in the world, and they lead to enormous subterranean lakes. The main entrance to Weebubbie is more like a quarry than a cave. The preliminary descent into the cave mouth is relatively easy, there are ladders and hoists for your gear and you can still see the sky and feel the warmth coming off the orange rock, it s once you suit up and get into the literally crystal clear water and darkness that it gets challenging. Most visitors make it to the Rockpile, a dry pocket about 1 km in and admire the clear water, the boulders and the interesting shapes of the tunnels then turn around, but if you go deeper you ll see more of the worn limestone sculptures of the earth s interior.
not far from Nullarbor Roadhouse is the turn-off to the an ocean lookout at the head of the Great Australian Bight. As well as offering views east to seemingly endless sand dunes, and west along the face of the Bunda cliffs which line the shore for 200 km right to the WA border, it also offers to opportunity to see Southern Right Whales carving between May and September. For some unknown reason, Southern Rights have chosen this spot for that purpose and travellers have the privilege of viewing mothers and children at close range. A small entry fee is charged for access to the whale viewing platform.
The Nullarbor Plain is not the home of Australia’s longest gold course, it is the world’s longest golf course. In a bid to make travellers slow down and spend more time there, a few enterprising business people along the Eyre Highway have created a golf course which takes the length of the Nullarbor to complete. The eighteen holes are spread over 1,365 km of outback terrain; a game of golf can take as long as seven days to complete – longer even, if you keep on hitting your balls into the scrubland or suffer the indignity of having them stolen by an errant dingo or chewed by a feral camel.
The idea is that after playing one hole, you drive to the next … and then the next. The only difference to any other golf course is that the next hole is generally 100 km further down the highway. It’s a par 72 course, and bright yellow warning signs alert golfers to wayward wombats and even kangaroos on the way. Golfers can tee off at either Kalgoorlie or Ceduna, depending on which direction they are travelling.
From Ceduna, South Australia, to the Border Village on the SA/WA border, the Eyre Highway follows the northern coast of the Great Australian Bight. This dramatic section of coastline is known as the Bunda Cliffs There are five lookouts between Nullabor and Border Village providing wonderful ocean panoramas. These spectacular cliffs stretch for 200 kilometres west of the Head of Bight. They are around 70 metres in height and are the remains of an ancient ocean bed that was subject to geological uplifting millions of years ago. Something remarkable to ponder is the fact that as you drive across the Nullarbor you are in fact driving accross the floor of an ancient sea bed. On blue sky days, the sight of these cliffs are truly hypnotic and awe inspiring.
Photo: SA Tourism
Between June and October the waters along the coast have again become a safe haven for Southern Right whales to breed and train their young for the long journey back to the Antarctic waters during the summer and the lookout, built to view the cliffs, fulill another purpose, whale watching. The best views of the whales is from the Head of the Bight lookout (right), 12 kilometres off the highway. Located some 72km. west of Yalata, it is one of the best viewing points for Southern Right Whales in the world. They congregate at the base of the Bunda Cliffs between June and October each year and can be easily seen frolicking from the lookout.
Anyone who has flown between Perth and the Eastern States and either followed the route on the aircraft’s flight path simulator or looked out of the window will know that aircraft on this route fly over the Great Australian Bight and miss the Nullarbor Plain altogether. As a safety measure, however, an airstrip built for military purposes during World War II at Forrest on the Trans Australian railway line, has been upgraded and equipped to function as the main emergency runway for commercial aircraft flying east-west, should they encounter situations that require a landing midway through their flight. The airstrip is capable of taking aircraft up to the size of a Boeing 747; it has two runways that are both sealed and lighted. The airstrip’s traditional arched hangar and runway can be seen from the Indian Pacific train.
Forrest boasts a resident population of just three, but it’s not a lonely outpost, with up to 10 light aircraft refuelling every day and the transcontinental railway line only metres away bringing supplies and delivering mail. There’s also a steady flow of 4WD adventurers through the town as they follow the transmission line across the plain.
Before the arrival of Europeans, the southern fringe of the Nullarbor was crossed by Aboriginal traders. The first recorded crossing of the plain–from east to west–was by Edward John Eyre, John Baxter and three Aborigines in 1841, searching for an overland stock route. The expedition predominantly hugged the coast. Two of the Aborigines killed Baxter, south of present day Caiguna, and ran off, leaving Eyre and the other native, Wylie, to complete the journey to Albany.
The second crossing – from west to east – was made by John Forrest, later premier of Western Australia, and his brother Alexander in 1870, travelling slightly inland. As a result of their report, a telegraph line was constructed along their route to connect Perth with Adelaide via Esperance. The line was completed on 8 December 1877 when the Western Australian and South Australian lines met at Eucla (Main Roads Department, 1969; Reardon, 1996, 64). A connecting line via Balladonia and Norseman to Coolgardie was added in 1896.
Meanwhile, Ernest Giles had also crossed the plain, westwards to Perth in 1875, travelling 250-300km inland, north of the present railway. He returned to South Australia through the centre of Western Australia in 1876, demonstrating the superiority of camels over horses for such journeys. Further trans-Nullarbor crossings included Alfred H.G. Heath in 1894 who drove camels for the merchant Sultan Mohammed of Kandahar, from Marree to Coolgardie, and the remarkable Arthur C. J. Richardson, who in 1896 cycled from Coolgardie to Adelaide in 31 days of “sweating and swearing”. Sheep stations were established on the Nullarbor’s fringes about this time: Noondonia in 1880, Balladonia and Nanambinia in 1883, and Mundrabilla in 1892. More stations were developed in the 1930s, and the 1960s.
Francis Birtles (centre), Sydney Ferguson (right) and a terrier named Rex
In 1906-7, filmmaker and overlander Francis Birtles cycled from Perth to Sydney unaccompanied, carrying his water, food, spares and a rifle “for protection against hostile blacks, although legend claimed, as a competent bushman, he understood them and, if need arose, could live with them”. He crossed the continent seven times by bicycle, his crossing in 1911 setting a record from Fremantle to Sydney of 31 days. Turning to motorised transport in 1912, Birtles, Sydney Ferguson and a terrier named Rex made the first motor-vehicle crossing of the Nullarbor, from Fremantle to Sydney in a 10hp Brush automobile in 28 days. The Trans-Australian Railway was begun in September that year, connecting Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta. Completed on 17 October 1917, it opened up overland travel to Western Australia to all from the eastern states. The telegraph was rerouted along the railway for ease of maintenance, and transmissions via Eucla ceased in 1927.
Then in 1937, Hubert Opperman, champion cyclist and subsequent politician, outdid Richardson’s and Birtles’ feats by cycling from Cottesloe beach in Perth to Bondi beach in Sydney in 13 days 10 hours 11 minutes. His backup crew included Herb Elliot, who while carefully noting road conditions for “Oppy’s” attempt, was probably the first to tow a caravan across the plain. Another in the crew, Aubrey Melrose, had crossed the plain seven times. Their route followed the railway from Kalgoorlie to Rawlinna, and then turned south towards Madura Pass.
Before the Second World War, the ‘road’ to South Australia followed tracks used to transport poles during construction of the overland telegraph line, and was little more than a stock route connecting pastoral stations, hard to locate in places and impassable after rain. Wartime strategic necessity dictated that the Department of the Army, through the Main Roads Department of Western Australia, form more useable road. A road paralleling the transcontinental railway was ruled out due to the cost and effort required for construction through the numerous limestone outcrops. The eventual Norseman to Ceduna route avoided such difficulties, and was constructed from July 1941 to June 1942. Road metal was used on weak sections, but the passes at Madura and Eucla were fully constructed and sealed.
Even when formed, occasional rain could still render the road impassable for several days. Traffic volume was light, but grew steadily after the war as private vehicle ownership grew. From fewer than 10 vehicles per day in June 1951, volumes increased to 20 per day by 1957 and almost 40 per day by 1963. This latter increase was due in part to the hosting of the Commonwealth Games in Perth in 1962 which attracted a reasonable number of interstate visitors.
The long unsealed road was notorious for its potholes and difficulties after rain, as attested by entries in the John Eyre motel register:
16/2/61 You don’t need a licence to drive on this road. A grader or two maybe.
19/2/61 The words to describe this road aren’t in the dictionary.
23/4/64 I haven’t come across a road yet.
2/5/64 Please put lights in the potholes.
7/5/64 No wonder Eyre found the going tough.
11/5/64 C–t of a road.
29/5/64 So that’s why kangaroos hop. Caution: blow horn before entering potholes–there may be another car in it.
11/7/64 First man to swim through Caiguna.
3/9/64 Oh! My aching arse!
Such traffic and tourism increases, and the economic importance of the road to Western Australia, convinced that state’s government in 1960 to seal the highway all the way to the South Australian boundary. South Australia began sealing its section of the road in tandem, but the work was less critical to that state, so was given a lower priority. The sealing of the Western Australian section was planned to be completed in stages from Norseman, by the end of 1971. The long duration of the work was the result of Commonwealth refusal to fund the road, forcing the state to find the monies itself.
From Norseman to Madura, the new sealed road was built alongside the original to allow both construction and traffic to operate unhindered. Some curves were added between Madura and Eucla to reduce driver fatigue and boredom, and the Main Roads Department considered in retrospect that this policy would have improved the 90-mile (146km) straight from Balladonia to Caiguna, which is claimed to be the longest straight sealed road in the world.
Between Balladonia and Madura, soil surveys revealed an absence of suitable natural gravels for roadmaking. While “stabilising both the in situ soils and poorly graded, high plasticity index gravels with bitumen, lime or cement” was considered, this was more expensive than utilising local limestone, if quarries were strategically placed and operated at a reasonable scale. Between Balladonia and Madura six such quarries were eventually established, providing a total of 230,000 cubic metres of crushed limestone for use as base. These quarries also produced sealing aggregate. Together with a seventh quarry between Madura and Eucla used only for this latter purpose, a total of 44,000 cubic metres of sealing aggregate was produced. The bitumen for sealing was initially trucked in from Perth, in drums. With the development of road tankers, up to 20,000 litres could be delivered by each truck. A total of 9,500,000 litres was used.
Another limiting condition was the availability of water. Dams were considered, but tests proved them unworkable due to the porous limestone bedrock. Even if lined with polyethelene, the dams were of little use due to the low and unreliable rainfall, less than 250mm annually, and high evaporation rates exceeding 1500mm. A total of 123 million litres of water was instead sourced from bores and underground caverns, despite salinity higher than normally used for construction. Potable water for the workforce was trucked in from Norseman, up to 1,360,000 litres per year, and a total of 6,400,000 litres.
The workforce grew over the initial years to about 90 men when large scale work began in earnest in 1965-66, reaching a peak of 125. This does not include wives and children, some of whom lived alongside their men for several years out on the highway project. The Main Roads Department provided the labour and most equipment, although some plant was hired. Part of this hired plant included mobile crushing units sourced from the Ready Mixed Concrete Co.
Mundrabilla Roadshouse and Motel
Radio communication was maintained between the workgangs, their camps, and operational headquarters in Kalgoorlie. Motel-roadhouses were established at Balladonia, Caiguna, Madura, Cocklebiddy and Eucla during the project. The John Eyre Motel at Caiguna was constructed in 1962, for example. These were the only sources of entertainment for the men, apart from a movie projector provided along with the mobile kitchens and ablution blocks for the construction camps. Air strips were constructed at each of the camps for pay runs, deliveries of urgent spare parts, personnel transfer and emergency medical use.
Sealing to the South Australian boundary was completed ahead of target, on 17 October 1969, for a total cost of $9 645 000. On the South Australian side, the South Australian government sealed the highway from Port Augusta to Ceduna by 1968. This was extended to Penong in the early 1970s, leaving 428km to the border, which was completed on 29 September 1976. On the South Australian side the road was significantly rerouted in places, particularly between Nullarbor homestead and the border, where it was diverted to hug the scenic coast.
With the Eyre Highway fully sealed, annual daily average traffic volumes rose from 150 vehicles in 1969 to 250 in 1976, though as high as 800 per day during the Christmas period that year. The current annual daily average is 700 vehicles per day. Demonstrating how effectively the sealed road now competes with the railway, 45% of Eyre Highway traffic is heavy transport.
In the closing years of the 19th century, the task of uniting six autonomous British settlements under one central (Federal) government was one that had herculean proportions. State rivalries seemed to impede the federation fathers at every step. Neither New South Wales nor Victoria wanted to see the other as the seat of Federal government and each was aware that the other colonies may well benefit, by form of a virtual subsidy, from their wealth and prosperity. Western Australia was a reluctant guest at the Federation table. She argued that the distance between her and the eastern sea-board would mean that the interests of her people would be ignored. WA believed she was neither a Cinderella state, nor poor cousin. The Kalgoorlie/Coolgardie goldfields gave hint of vast potential mineral wealth. In effect she would be milked for her economic contribution without having any political influence in a central government.
The Premier of Western Australia, (Sir) John Forrest, believed that a railway linking WA to the other states of Australia would help to unify the various Western Australian factions. In 1896, when the railway reached Kalgoorlie from Perth, Forrest promised the Goldfields residents that the railway would not stop at Kalgoorlie. This was a promise they did not let him forget. Thus the lure of a trans-continental railway did become the ‘carrot’ which led WA to join the Federation of Australia on 1st January 1901. Unfortunately it was only a promise and not a cast iron guarantee. This resulted in many years of lobbying by Western Australia to see it come to fruition. Despite a preliminary survey in 1901 it was not until 1908 that WA and South Australia, each to their side of the border, undertook a full survey across the desert. Each state ceded the land required for the railway to the Federal Government but three years would pass before any attempt was made to start the project.
That rail transport was traditionally a State function probably contributed significantly to the delay in building the line. Colonial railways were established long before Federation and complex administration was already in place. The Commonwealth was first involved in rail transport when they acquired administration of the Northern Territory in 1911. Along with the Territory came the Palmerston to Pine Creek Railway, a narrow Cape gauge railway of over 500 km built in 1889. It was renamed the North Australia Railway.
During a visit to Australia by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff Lord Kitchener in 1911, he stressed the importance of the Trans Australia line in the defence of the nation to the Federal Parliament and urged them to commence its construction without delay. Hence following the introduction of a bill into Federal Parliament by the Minister for Home Affairs, King O’Malley, a vote for the new Transcontinental Railway was passed on 6th December 1911. Construction of the 1,692 km standard gauge railway, to run from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta, commenced in 1912. Once construction was underway the new entity to be known as the Commonwealth Railways was created. The Trans Australian line has always been owned and operated by an agency of the Australian (federal) government. There have however been three different authorities over the years.
Construction of the Trans Australian Railway commenced at each end of the line and the track finally joined about five years later in 1917. The single track line, mainly across the Nullabor plain, included the world’s longest straight stretch of railway track (478 km, between Nurina, WA and Watson, SA). Since there were no physical obstacles, not even a single running stream, there were very few technical problems. Because the line crossed 680 km of uninhabited treeless desert, however, there were most certainly significant other challenges – challenges of logistics and the problems with labour, with several thousand men living and working in desert conditions remote from established towns. It was built mainly by men and animal power, supported by 250 camels, a few steam shovels and the first track-laying machine to be used in Australia. Track laying rates of up to four kilometres a day were achieved.
All supplies had to be brought in and housing was moved from camp to camp. Despite problems with labour and supplies due to the 1914-1918 war, construction was completed on 17th October 1917 at a point near Ooldea. One team had worked from the eastern end (starting from Port Augusta) and the other from the western end (Kalgoorlie). These teams had to be equipped not only with the materials to build the railway but also with food, water, accommodation and other supplies for the workers. Despite all tribulations and the great distances, when the two teams met they were less than a metre apart on a north-south line. This made the final joining of the rails very easy. On 22nd October 1917, the first through train left Port Augusta with an official party on board for Kalgoorlie. It should be mentioned that owing to deviation from the original route, the length of the line was reduced from 1,711 km to 1,692 km.
Trans Australia Express at Tarcoola, SA, 1920s
After the Trans-Australian “golden spike” was driven on 17th October 1917, it became technically possible to make the really useful journey across the nation, leaving Melbourne for Adelaide initially in a joint Victorian – South Australian Railways train running on 5ft-3ins (1600 mm) broad gauge track with an engine and crew change at the border station, Serviceton (built specifically built for the purpose), and then travelling north from Adelaide on a different train, though still running on broad gauge track, as far as Terowie in South Australia’s mid-north wheat belt, where passengers alighted, crossed the platform, and joined yet another South Australian train, this time running on 3ft-6ins (1067 mm) Cape gauge track (Cape gauge is named after the Cape Province in South Africa which adopted this gauge in 1873). This next journey took passengers on a circuitous path, eventually joining the old path of the Port Augusta to Alice Springs railway at Quorn in the heart of the Flinders Ranges, then wending its way south-westerly down through the Pichi-Richi pass and across the alluvial flats at the head of Spencer’s Gulf into Port Augusta. There passengers once again took themselves and their luggage acoss the platform, joining the Commonwealth Railways standard gauge train, which when leaving Port Augusta climbed up to the Eucolo tablelands, continued on across the Nullarbor Plain (null arbor literally means “no tree”) as far as Kalgoorlie in the Western Australian Goldfields, where passengers once again crossed the platform on to the Cape gauge train which took them the rest of the way into Perth.
Shortly before World War II, a broad gauge main line had been extended northwards from the existing terminus at Redhill into Port Pirie, and the standard gauge had been extended south from Port Augusta to Port Pirie along the western side of the Flinders’ Ranges, and one gauge change was thereby eliminated, along with a considerably faster service. However, this now made Port Pirie a three-gauge yard, and some very interesting track formations existed there until the withdrawal of the broad gauge in the late 1980s. Port Pirie Junction station was built by the South Australian Railways in Solomontown, adjacent to one of its widest streets, “Three Chain Road” – 61 metres wide.
By the 1950s, moves were being made to extend the standard gauge line from Kalgoorlie to Perth. November 1962 saw the start of its construction, with the dual-gauge (achieved by using three rails) Avon Valley deviation being opened to Cape-gauge traffic on 14th February 1966, the day that Australia changed to decimal currency. This route replaced the winding and heavily graded route through the Darling Ranges via Glen Forrest and Mundaring, east of Perth. Grain traffic from Merredin commenced in that November, and ore from Koolyanobbing to Kwinana started rolling on the following April. The full standard gauge railway from Kalgoorlie to Forestfield, Kewdale, Kwinana and Fremantle (Leighton) was finally opened to revenue service for freight traffic in November 1968, and to passenger traffic, both local and the trans Australian railway, into new East Perth Terminal, in February 1970.
The first through passenger train, Trans Australian Railway, Oct.22, 1917 (coll. Australian National Railways)
As the whole locomotive power of the initial railway was steam-drive, and the country through which its passed was arid, the most important problem was water supply. On the Nullabor Plain, surface storage of water was such that, in normal times, it was common for all reservoirs to be exhausted at least for part of each year, and recourse to underground supplies was necessary. On no other railway in the world were the supplies of underground water more deleterious to locomotive boilers than those on the Trans-Australian Railway. On one stretch of more than 400 miles, there is no permanent source of supply. To facilitate the maintenance of the line, it was decided to establish small settlements of six houses per siding and 30 km apart along the most isolated sections of the line on the Nullabor Plain. A number of these sidings were named after early Australian Prime Ministers. The three roomed corrugated iron houses at these sidings were T-shaped, with each room being linked by open latticed-walled corridors. All cooking was done on a wood stove. Without refrigeration food could not be kept, and meat especially had to be cooked as soon as it had been purchased from the Tea and Sugar Train. A ‘pit’ or ‘dry’ toilet (a long drop) at the bottom of the yard, and tin (galvanised) tubs and baths were all that served as conveniences. The rain water tank was filled from the catchment area provided by the roof of the house when it rained. This precious water was for drinking only. Water for their domestic purposes came from tanks filled with water carried from Port Augusta in water wagons included with the weekly train. Water was carried to the homes in buckets.
Tea and Sugar Train
Cook had a school where students attended normal lessons. Students – known as line kids – at places such as Barton were able to enrol in the Open Access College at Marden through which they could do their correspondence lessons, or they could enrol in the Pt Augusta School of the Air. Students enrolled in these colleges had direct access to teachers through a telephone bridge. Their written work was railed in to their teachers who would mark it.
In 1915 it was proposed that a supply train provide food and water for the navvies (railway worker) maintaining the East-West link. With the completion of the line, the supply train became the lifeline of the fettler (track layer or repairer) communities, bringing them food, water, clothing, household items, letters and news of the rest of the world. It became known as the Tea and Sugar train. A similar supply train referred to as the Slow Mixed, later serviced the communities along the northern line to Oodnadatta.
The Trans Australian Railway would fulfill Kitchener’s prediction of its importance for Australia’s defence during World War II. During the years 1942-44 the east-west railway line was generally unavailable for any non-military use, due to its vital role in the transport of troops and equipment. To meet the rapidly growing service during the war years, a large programme of expansion of water supplied was undertaken. Reservoirs were built and enlarged, bores were sunk, water treatment and pumping plants were installed, tank storage was increased. In April 1942, approximately 300 Italian prisoners of war were put to work on the Trans-Australian Railway to expedite sleeper renewals. These men were placed at six locations where camps had been prepared for them. A Military camp was established at Cook (about the centre of the line) for the headquarters staff. During the twenty months the prisoners of war were engaged on this line, the highest effective strength was 240. Nurina siding was the site of the main base camp for prisoners of war on the line. It was officially known as the Cook POW Labour Camp No. 3 POW Labour Detachment.
The switch from steam to diesel powered locomotives began in 1951 with the introduction of the maroon and silver GM Class Diesel Locamotive. This improved conditions for the train crews considerably. Diesels locomotives not only eliminated the need to shovel coal into the hot furnaces of the locomotives during the sweltering summers on the Nullarbor, they shortened the time taken to serve the remaining camps, although the distance was still the same. Education for children living at these settlements on the line was still based on lessons from the correspondence school, but modern technology provided a direct link between students and teacher(s) by means of the DUCT system (a telecommunications link). Modern, faster diesel travel now permitted the occasional visit from a teacher. Larger centres had schools which enabled some students to experience school life in much the same way as their urban cousins.
In the 1980’s railway engineering advanced rapidly and with some urgency adopted a range of low maintenance materials that essentially eliminated the need for local maintenance gangs. Most notably the use of highly durable concrete sleepers was adopted, and together with the ability of modern diesel locomotives to travel very long distances without refuelling, the staff along the line began to dwindle.
One by one, settlements along the Trans-Australia line were abandoned and the families from these communities were settled elsewhere. But not all the towns were ‘dead men’s camps’ and the Tea and Sugar Train still supplied isolated communities along the railway line out on the Nullarbor for a number of years. The last trip was made on 30th August 1996 ending a colourful chapter in railway operations in Australia. Today, the only place with permanent railway staff is Cook, where one couple remains to manage the facilities for locomotive refuelling and for the ‘watering’ of the twice weekly (in both directions) Indian-Pacific service during the warmer months and once a week service in each direction during the cooler months when passenger traffic is at its lowest.
In 1969 standard gauge was extended from Kalgoorlie to Perth eliminating the change of gauge at Kalgoorlie; the uninterrupted standard gauge railway line from the Pacific Ocean in the east to the Indian Ocean in the west was finally a reality. The first unbroken journey of the Indian Pacific commenced at Sydney Central Station on Monday 23 February 1970, arriving in Perth to a crowd of over 10,000 on 27 February. In 1984 the standard gauge was extended from Port Pirie to Adelaide, eliminating the change at Port Pirie.
Today’s trans-Australian passenger train – the Indian Pacific, operated by Great Southern Railways – runs directly from Perth to Adelaide and then on to Sydney, a journey covering 4,352 kms, utilising a single train travelling on standard gauge track all the way.
Ziggy’s house near Barton (see entry below)
Australia’s east-west railway line, known as the Trans Australian Railway, was completed in 1917. On the Nullabor Plain across which it passes, surface storage of water is such that, in normal times, it was common for all reservoirs to be exhausted at least for part of each year, and recourse to underground supplies was necessary. On no other railway in the world were the supplies of underground water more deleterious to locomotive boilers than those on the Trans Australian Railway. On one stretch of more than 400 miles, there is no permanent source of supply.
To facilitate the maintenance of the line, it was decided to establish small settlements of six houses per siding and 30 km apart along the most isolated sections of the line on the Nullabor Plain. A number of these sidings were named after early Australian Prime Ministers. The three roomed corrugated iron houses at these sidings were T-shaped, with each room being linked by open latticed-walled corridors. All cooking done on a wood stove. Without refrigeration food could not be kept, and meat especially had to be cooked as soon as it had been purchased from the Tea and Sugar Train. A ‘pit’ or ‘dry’ toilet (a long drop) at the bottom of the yard, and tin (galvanised) tubs and baths were all that served as conveniences. The rain water tank was filled from the catchment area provided by the roof of the house when it rained. This precious water was for drinking only. Water for their domestic purposes came from tanks filled with water carried from Port Augusta in water wagons included with the weekly train. Water was carried to the homes in buckets.
Cook had a school where students attended normal lessons. Students – known as line kids – at places such as Barton were able to enrol in the Open Access College at Marden through which they could do their correspondence lessons, or they could enrol in the Pt Augusta School of the Air. Students enrolled in these colleges had direct access to teachers through a telephone bridge. Their written work was railed in to their teachers who would mark it.
The switch from steam to diesel powered locomotives in the 1960s improved conditions for the train crews considerably. Diesels locomotives shortened the time taken to serve the remaining camps, although the distance was still the same. In the 1980’s railway engineering advanced rapidly and with some urgency adopted a range of low maintenance materials that essentially eliminated the need for local maintenance gangs. Most notably the use of highly durable concrete sleepers was adopted, and together with the ability of modern diesel locomotives to travel very long distances without refuelling, the staff along the line dwindled away. Settlements along the Trans Australia line ceased to exist and the families from these communities were settled elsewhere. But not all the towns were ‘dead men’s camps’ and the Tea and Sugar Train still supplied isolated communities along the railway line out on the Nullarbor for a number of years. The Sugar Train last trip was made on 30th August 1996 ending a colourful chapter in railway operations in Australia.
On a map you will see a plethora of names noting remote communities once home to the railway men, fettlers and anyone else who could scrape together a living around the railway line. Very little of these settlements remains. A rubble of stones might demark an old water bore, sometimes even the outline of a stone hut is often all that can be seen today. Some sites with tourist or historic value have been partially preserved – such as the site of the Prisioner of War camp which housed 300 Italian prisoners of war who worked on the maintenance of the line during World War II. Others, long since deserted, have been razed by bulldozers.
The following are the sidings and remnants of towns on the Trans Continental railway across the Nullarbor Plain between Tarcoola (where The Ghan line branches off to the north) and Kalgoorlie in the Western Australian Goldfields.
Tarcoola: a goldmining ghost town, Tarcoola as named after the Melbourne Cup winner of 1893, the year in which gold was found here and European settlement commenced. It was a busy railway town in the days of steam when trains stopped here for coal and water before continuing into the Nullarbor.
Since the Central Australia Railway was rebuilt as standard gauge in 1980, it has been the site of the junction of the line to Alice Springs and later to Darwin as the Adelaide-Darwin railway. The station has two triangles, one for turning locomotives, and a larger one that gives direct access from the Darwin line to the Perth line. A Babkery was built at Tarcoola to provide freshly baked bread to the passenger trains over the Trans Australian line and workers along the route.
When the gold petered out, Tarcoola almost died, but was given a new lease of life when the Transcontinental railway to Western Australia was pushed through Tarcoola South during the First World War. The historic Wilgena Hotel, which still stands today, was moved down from the main town block of Tarcoola North at that time to service the collective thirst of the railway construction and maintenance gangs. When it closed, it was one of only two iron hotels left operating in South Australia. While at its original location, it was well patronised by shearing teams from the extensive pastoral runs of the area including Commonwealth Hill which is easily the biggest contiguous sheep run in SA and arguably the whole of Australia.
In 1980, when the old narrow gauge Ghan line through Marree and Oodnadatta was closed, a new standard gauge line to Alice Springs was built and it spurred north from the Transcontinental line immediately west of Tarcoola. The town then became a significant railway maintenance, crew-change and service centre with its own school, hospital, church, hotel, police station and community hall. However after 1998, when Australian National transferred the responsibility for the Indian-Pacific and Ghan lines to the Australian Railtrack Corporation Ltd., rail services and crew changes were increasingly facilitated from Port Augusta and Tarcoola began to be progressively closed down.
Today there are only a handful of people living permanently in Tarcoola while relief and maintenance crews use the railway quarters during the working week. Most of the infrastructure is still intact and in reasonable order. The hospital is used periodically as a clinic and people from the surrounding sheep stations use the building intermittently for meetings and social purposes. The hall is an impressive structure; there is still a town power generating system and water is available from the extensive railway dams nearby.
Malbooma: the name is taken from the nearby Malbooma station. Australia’s north-south dog fence passes through Malbooma. The siding has a 1,975 m loop & spur line.
354 Mile Siding: the railway settlement of Lyons was located 3.9 km from 354 Mile Siding. is that name honouringLyons is named after Australian Prime Minister Joseph Aloysius Lyons (Period in Office 19th December 1931 to 7th April 1939). In October 1929 Lyons was appointed to the positions of Postmaster-General and Minister for Works and Railways. He was responsible for the North Australia Railway in the Northern Territory, the Trans Australian Railway, the Federal Territory (ACT) Railway, and the Central Australian Railway in South Australia. The siding was thus named to mark its distance from it to Peterborough.
Wymbring: a small siding with a 1,852 m loop, it takes its name from a pastoral station which in turn adopted the Aboriginal name for the locality. Wymbring is an Aboriginal name meaning fiery or burning spring.
Mount Christie: the siding consists of a 1,855 m loop with a spur line that is still used today to service an iron ore mine at nearby Mt Christie. At 9.30pm on 1st September 2008 a train carrying goods to Perth from Melbourne derailed near Mount Christie. The intermodal train was proceeding into a passing loop in order to cross with a train travelling in the opposite direction. Approximately 20m before the loop, 12 of the train s wagons derailed, falling onto their sides and blocking the line. The oncoming train was immediately halted. There were no injuries associated with this incident. The west end points and approximately 2.2km of track has been damaged on the east side of the east end turnout and 300 mtrs of damaged track west of the west end points. In another incident, a collision occurred not far from Mount Christie Siding on 22nd February 1997.
Barton: Situated 1,708 km from Perth, this railway settlement of just three or four dwellings clings to the line amid the rolling red sand dunes which mark the eastern boundary of the Nullarbor. Barton’s airstrip lies close the train tracks. When approached from the east, what remains of Barton has taken on the appearance of a fortress sprawled against the north facing slope of a sand dune, the sort of place one would expect Mad Max to emerge from. Outside of the official settlement is the home of a recently decesed Polish born man named Ziggy who built the foundations of his house with the sleepers of the old railway, laboriously wheelbarrowing each one to his site. Over the years he added outbuildings which he erected from old sheets of corrugated iron, disused sleepers and anything else he could find that had been abandoned by railway workers at the nearby settlement. Though a few hundred metres away a rest house with modern facilities has been erected for telecommunications and railway workers, the man was content to survive with has no phone, no electricity and a kerosene lamp for light at night. The siding was named after Prime Minister Sir Edmund Barton (Period in Office 1 January 1901 to 24 September 1903). Barton has an 1,860 metre loop, spur line and triangle.
Bates: 1,679 km from Perth, this siding named after Mrs Daisy Bates CBE who, in 1917, predicted the decline of the Aborigines of the Nullarbor and who devoted her life to their welfare until she retired to Adelaide, where she died in 1951. She spent many years of her life teaching Aboriginal children at a mission at Ooldea. Bates siding has a 1,822 m loop and spur lines.
Immarna: this siding has a Block Point. A block is a section of track protected by signals. A block point gives entry to a section of line into which only one train at a time is permitted, allowing trains on a single line track such as the Trans Australian line to pass each other.
One of ten cameras installed across the Nullarbor by a team of scientists from Curtin University, Perth. Part of the Desert Fireball Network (DFN) cameras take hundreds of photos every night while a video camera detects meteor movement.
Ooldea: Ooldea is a tiny settlement in South Australia 1,628 km from Perth, 863 km west of Port Augusta and 143 km from the bitumen Eyre Highway that holds a special place in the history of the line. It was here that the two teams who constructed of the line – one workin g eastwards from Kalgoorlie and the other, westwards from Port Augusta – met on 17th October 1917. Ooldea was also the site of a mission for Aboriginal children that was home for many years to Daisy Bates, a woman concerned with understanding and protecting Aboriginal culture. Ooldea soak and its sandhills has long been a place of significance for Aboriginal people. Ooldea lies on the edge of the scrub country and at the eastern edge of the Nullarbor plain. To the north and northwest is ‘spinifex country’.
The permanent water of Ooldea was important in ceremonial and social life, and a focal point for trade and travelling routes. Ooldea was an important camp during construction of the railway, as it is near a permanent waterhole, first discovered by Europeans when Ernest Giles used it in 1875. The railway relied on Ooldea’s water which was pumped away to supply the steam trains which stopped to take on water, and for the houses of the rail workers along the line – it was the only natural water supply on the railway line. Here water bubbles to the surface from what is thought to be a massive underground river flowing from the Musgrave Ranges to the north.
By 1926, Ooldea’s water source had been exhausted and the railway pumping station closed. Ooldea was also important as the railway siding servicing the nuclear testing at Maralinga to the north. The town was dependant on the Tea and Sugar Train for the delivery of supplies until 1996 when the train was withdrawn. The longest straight of railway track in the world starts west of Ooldea before Watson at the 797 km point and continues to between Loongana and Nurina, a distance of 478 km. Ooldea is the local Aboriginal name for a meeting place where water is available. Ooldea has a 1,962 m loop, siding and spur lines.
Watson: The siding was named after Prime Minister John Christian Watson (Period in Office 27th April to 17th August 1904). The Old Railway Station stands near the road to Maralinga. Watson is 1,595 km from Perth. North of the railway track at Watson is the vast and controversial area known as Maralinga which was a British nuclear bomb testing ground in the 1950s. Watson has a 2,593 m loop, siding and spur lines.
O’Malley: The siding was named after King O’Malley, a Canadian born insurance salesman and politician, who was one of the main promoters of the east-west railway line that became the Trans Continental Railway. In 1896 he was elected as a member for Encounter Bay in the South Australian House of Assembly as a radical democrat, opposed to the wealthy landowners who then dominated colonial politics. O’Malley first sat as an Independent in the newly elected Federal Parliament but in June 1901 joined the Australian Labor Party. O’Malley is located just off the Trans Access Road in west South Australia, a distance of about 850km west-northwest from Adelaide. O’Malley had a Block point.
Fisher: The siding was named after Prime Minister Andrew Fisher (Periods in Office: 13th November 1908 to 2nd June 1909; 29th April 1910 to 24th June 1913; 17th September 1914 to 27th October 1915). Fisher is located just off the Trans Access Road in west South Australia a distance of about 860km west-northwest from Adelaide. The Trans Access Road is an unsealed road in Western Australia and South Australia. It goes from near Stoneville in Western Australia to near Ooldea Range in South Australia. Fisher has a 1,905 m loop and spur lines.
Cook: Before World war II, Cook was a thriving community with about 200 residents. Today, Cook is the only place on the line with permanent railway staff; one couple remains to manage the servicing facilities for the Indian-Pacific (today’s Sydney-Adelaide-Perth passenger train operated by Great Southern Railways). The Indian Pacific has only four scheduled stops on its journey from Sydney to Perth: Broken Hill, Adelaide, Cook (the only stop on the Nullarbor Plain) and Kalgoorlie. Organised tours are available at each stop except Cook.
The halfway point on the train journey across the Nullarbor, it is here that the Indian Pacific takes on water, changes drivers and passengers have an opportunity to stretch their legs on terra firma. Cook has a floating population that rises and falls between eleven and three. The hospital and school are closed down, the only sign of life is the small souvenir shop where tourists coo over Cook-inscribed teaspoons and teddy bears. The above ground swimming pool, now filled-in with dirt and turf, is the makeshift golf course. The main street , a dusty expanse between the railway and a line of unoccupied fibro homes has a hand-painted sign warning Cook – last fuel for 868 kilometres as if to say “venture beyond this point at your peril”. It comes as no surprise that few people use this route, because if you get into trouble you are very much on your own. From what the locals at Cook say, the tracks only get used from time to time by Telstra engineers maintaining and checking the east west optical cable which has replaced the Telegraph Line. Since the optic cable was laid, little remains of the telegraph line with the exception of one or two poles every now and again.
Alongside the railway line are the historic gaol cells of Cook, which are, essentially, two very small corrugated iron sheds that look more like outhouses than anything else. Built in bygone days to house criminals caught wandering around on the Nullarbor and held here until the next train arrived, the two cells are matching “his” and “hers”, complete with bars, padlocks and their own “gaol house rock”. The siding was named after Prime Minister Sir Joseph Cook (Period in Office 24 June 1913 to 17 September 1914). It has a 3,939 m loop, low level platform, triangle, sidings, fuel sidings and spur lines.
Denman: has a 1855 m loop and spur lines. The name recalls the Governor General of Australia, Lord Denman (1874-1954), who turned the first sod for the Trans Continental railway at Port Augusta, SA, on 12th September 1912. On 12th February 1913, a like ceremony was performed at Kalgoorlie by the Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, and the line was thus commenced at both ends. Denman is one of the westernmost localities in South Australia. The nearest ocean is the Southern Ocean about 100km south of Denman. Denman is located within the Nullarbor Regional Reserve.
Hughes: the first siding on the SA side of the border, it has a 2567 m loop and spur lines. The siding was named after Prime Minister William Morris Hughes (Periods in Office 27 October 1915 to 9 February 1923; 14 November 1916 to 9 February 1923). Hughes is 1,403 km from Perth.
Deakin: the first siding on the WA side of the border, Deakin has a 1,850 m loop and spur line. The siding was named after Prime Minister Alfred Deakin (Periods in Office 24 September 1903 to 27 April 1904; 5 July 1905 to 10 October 1908; 29 April 1909 to 13 april 1910).
Reid: all that remains is a 1,854 m loop and siding. The siding was named after Prime Minister George Houston Reid (Period in office 17 August 1904 to 5 July 1905).
Forrest: a siding with a 2,500 m loop, which has a back road siding and spur lines for maintenance and equipment storage. A road leads to an airstrip where a few people live, and look after it, as it is a stepping off place for light aircraft travelling across Australia. Its traditional arched hangar and runway can be seen from the train. Though it is not directly on the regular flight path between Perth and the eastern states’ capital cities, the airstrip has been designated as and equipped to function as the main emergency runway for commercial aircraft flying east-west across the Nullarbor, should they encounter situations that require a forced or emergency landing midway through their flight. The airstrip is capable of taking aircraft up to the size of a Boeing 747, having two runways that are both sealed and lighted. Forrest is named after the Premier of Western Australia in the 1890s, Sir John Forrest, who was a major driving force behind the building of the trans continental railway. He was also the first European to make a successful crossing of the Nullarbor Plain on foot (some years earlier, explorer Edward John Eyre followed the coast, touching the edge of the plain at the head of the Great Australian Bight).
Mundrabilla: a siding on the WA side of the border with a 1852 m loop and spur line but no buildings. A house once stood there but it has been demolished, all that remains is the chimney. The siding takes its name from Mundrabilla station, the first sheep station on the Nullarbor, which was established by William Stuart McGill (a Scotsman) and Thomas and William Kennedy (two Irishmen) in 1872. During the 1920s drilling teams were a common sight throughout the Nullarbor at the time, and numerous boreholes were sunk in the hope of discovering water to power early steam locomotive boilers. At Mundrabilla the mother of all boreholes was sunk to a depth of 472 metres. At that depth the drilling team were dismayed to discover that they had reached a bedrock of solid granite – and more to the point, there was absolutely no water whatsoever. A huge meteorite was found in 1911 some 26 kilometers northeast of Mundrabilla Siding on the Trans Australian railway. The 840 kg chunk or meteorite is on display at the WA Museum. Other meteorites from the 1911 shower were found in 1966 and 1979 in the vicinity.
Loongana: a remote siding on the WA side of the border and a former watering stop for steam trains. The locality is noted for its stalactite caves which are common beneath the limestone surface of the Nullarbor. The area is the site of a lime mine and processing plant. The settlement relied on the Tea and Sugar Train for the delivery of all supplies until 1996, when the train was withdrawn. The Indian Pacific train still stops here on request twice a week. The longest dead straight track in the world extends from west of Loongana to west of Ooldea in the east, a distance of 478km. A lime process building is still there. Loongana is an Aboriginal word meaning swift. Loongana has a 2,500 m loop, a siding, and a triangle & spurs that are no longer operational.
Nurina: located 490 km east of Kalgoorlie on the WA side of the border, Nurina was the site of a World war II Prisoner of War camp. It was officially known as the Cook POW Labour Camp No. 3 POW Labour Detachment. In April 1942, approximately 300 Italian prisoners of war were put to work on the Trans Australian Railway to expedite sleeper renewals. These men were placed at six locations where camps had been prepared for them. A Military camp was established at Cook for the headquarters staff. During the twenty months the prisoners of war were engaged on this line, the highest effective strength was 240. Most of the POWs were repatriated to their homelands by the middle of 1947 although some were given permission to remain in Australia. Very little remains today of the camp.
Nurina siding has a 1,945 metre loop a siding with 6 cattle wagons stored there, which have not been moved in years, and spur lines. The siding is today a drop off point for mail to a nearby station that carries both cattle and camels. On 24th December 1975, 14 of the 25 carriages on the eastbound Indian Pacific train derailed due to a collapsed bogie on the leading carriage, between the remote Nullarbor sidings of Haig and Nurina. Three of the 200 passengers were injured, and they were flown from Forrest to Adelaide.
Haig: very little remains here, even the 2,068 metre loop line has been removed. The siding was named after Field Marshal Douglas Haig, (1861-1928), a British soldier and senior commander (field marshal) during World War I. Between 20th to 24th March 1999 there were reports about a UFO sighting on the Nullarbor Plain. Apparently three stranded aliens and their 2km wide UFO were said to have crash-landed 160km North of Haig. A Sydney woman raised more than $50,000 from benefactors and proceeded to Kalgoorlie to go out in the Desert and find the aliens. She was convinced they needed help in the form of lifting and welding gear and water. The next report was said to have brought a Japanese team of UFO hunters to Perth who claimed to have satellite photos showing a strange array of lights in the desert. These later proved to be the lights of the Indian Pacific train. No ev idence of UFOs or alien visitors were ever found.
Wilban: a 2,490 m loop remains. There is also a disused cabin or storage shed made out of railway sleepers upon which someone has painted the words “Wilban Hotel”.
Rawlinna: a remote locality and railway siding 1,001 km from Perth, Rawlinna is the site of the Loongana Mine where lime is extracted from the limestone that is prevalent in the area. The lime is mostly used in the gold production process at Kalgoorlie. The closest locations on the Eyre Highway are Caiguna and Cocklebiddy, more than 100 km to the south. Passengers on the Indian Pacific can alight or disembark here on request. Rawlinna siding has a 1856 m loop, a siding, triangle and some spur lines. There are also a few intact station buildings, a Post Office and phone, barracks and a few homes occupied by lime plant employees and kangaroo shooters. This siding was one of the main depots during construction of the Trans Australian Railway. Rawlinna was the destination of Len Beadell and his Gunbarrel Road Construction Party when they pushed the Connie Sue Highway south from the siding through Neale Junction to Warburton in 1960. Another dirt track to the south to Cocklebiddy is also gazetted as a main road. It was used as a supply route for material arriving by train via Rawlinna for use in the rush construction of the Eyre Highway during 1941-42. This lineside settlement marks the western extremity of the Nullarbor Plain and the end of scrub vegetation for trains heading east. The word Rawlinna is Aboriginal for wind.
Naretha: a regular drop off point for mail to nearby stations and the occupants of an old ANR (Commonweath Railways) guards van. Naretha was also known as the ‘205 mile’ camp. It featured rock piles and a crushing plant for the creation of railway line ballast. A bakery was built at Naretha in the 1950s to provide freshly baked bread for the passenger trains on the Trans Australian line and workers along the route. Naretha is the local Aboriginal name for Saltbush. Naretha has a 1,850 m loop and siding.
Boonderoo: a disused siding; a 1,978 m loop remains.
Kitchener: The name honours Chief of the Imperial General Staff Lord Kitchener in 1911. During his visit to Australia in 1911, Lord Kitchener publicly criticised the country’s bewildering railway gauges. He observed the railway network favoured an enemy invasion, rather than a defence. He stressed the importance of the Trans Australia line in the defence of the nation to the Federal Parliament and urged them to commence its construction without delay. Hence following the introduction of a bill into Federal Parliament by the Minister for Home Affairs, King O’Malley, a vote for the new Transcontinental Railway was passed on 6th December 1911. kitchener is 250 kilometres east of Kalgoorlie. A 1,885m loop and siding remains.
Goddards: this locality consists of a Reporting Point/Block Point. The name recalls W.P. Goddard who explored the area in 1890.
Zanthus: a remote outpost approximately 210 kilometres east of Kalgoorlie. The original stationmaster’s cabin at Zanthus is now on display at Bassendean rail museum in Perth. The Trans Australian Railway was the main route for the movement of Australian troops during World War II. In the photograph, RAAF personnel enjoy a stopover, probably to allow the steam locomotive to take on water, at Zanthus circa 1940. On 18th August 1999 the westbound Indian Pacific train was accidentally directed into a crossing loop and collided with a stationary steel train in the loop. The name Zanthus is derived from the Latin genus name for the Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthus/Anigosanthus), the floral emblem of the stste of Western Australia. Zanthus has a 1,830 metre loop, siding, a triangle and spur lines.
Coonana: The highest point on the Trans line is between Chifley and Coonana (404 metres). Coonana Siding is named after a nearby hill that was first recorded as Coonaanna by W.P. Goddard in 1890. The possible meaning of the word is “hill of ashes”. Coonana has a 1868 m loop and siding ss well as an old steam ash pit.
Chifley: The siding was named after Prime Minister Alfred Deakin Joseph Benedict Chifley (Period in Office 12 July 1945 to 10 December 1949). The name has been in use since 1957. Chifley consists of a Reporting Point/Block point.
Karonie: Sandalwood cutters discovered gold near Karonie in early 1963. Karonie has a 1,852 m loop and an rusty spur line that runs up to an old dam off the main line, once used to provide water for steam locomotives. The line to the dam is still intact but is not used. Cardunia Rocks, 5 km north-east of the Siding, is the name of the water catchment. The rock is terraced by stone walls constructed to channel water to a dam and a covered reservoir. The reservoir was covered to reduce evaporation – which can be as high as 2250 mm per annum – although the roof is now missing. The average annual rainfall in this area is only 300mm. The terracing work at Cardunia Rocks is similar to the constructions at Northam Army Camp – much of it being done by Italian internees from Cook during World War II. The origin of the name Karonie is unknown, but is likely derived from an aboriginal word. Cardunia is an Aboriginal name first recorded by W.P. Goddard during his explorations of the area in 1890.
Blamey: The name honours Field Marshall Sir Thomas Blamey. Born in Wagga, New South Wales, in 1884 and serving at Gallipoli and France in the First World War, Blamey went on to become Commander in Chief of the Australian Army in World War Two. When he died in 1951, 300,000 people line the route of his funeral procession in Melbourne to pay their respects to Australia’s greatest soldier. Blamey, which consists of a 1852 m loop and spur lines, is 712 km from Perth.
Randell: consists of a Block point.
Curtin: The siding was named after the 14th Prime Minister of Australia, John Joseph Curtin (Period in Office 7 October 1941 to 5 July 1945). Curtin consists of a 1978 m loop and spur line.
Gold smelter at Golden Ridge
Golden Ridge: Golden Ridge is the site of an early goldmining settlement. The siding consists of a 1958 m loop and spur line.
Parkeston: Parkeston is a refuelling point for all trains going to Perth or East. Additionally there is a lime processing plant and a power station (gas) for Kalgoorlie. All old train buildings are now gone. A carriage from the Indian Pacific has been detached on an unused siding at Parkeston. It was part of a breakdown train and is now being used as a crew car. As well as a 1,678 m loop there are some yards and a Triangle. A junction gives yard access.
The Nullarbor was inhabited by the semi-nomadic Spinifex Wangai Aboriginal people. European settlers were determined to cross the plain, despite the hardships created by the nature of the Nullarbor. Although Edward John Eyre described the Plain as “a hideous anomaly, a blot on the face of Nature, the sort of place one gets into in bad dreams”, he became the first European to successfully make the crossing in 1841.
In 1866 E. Alfred Delisser surveyed the Nullarbor Plain and noted a marked absence of trees. Contrary to some popular opinions the word Nullarbor is not of Aboriginal origins. In fact the local Mining people referred to the area as “Oondiri” which is said to mean “the waterless”. Delisser derived the term Nullarbor from the Latin “nulla” for no, and “arbor” for tree. Hence the term Nullarbor meaning no trees.
In the 1870s and 1880s vast areas of the Nullarbor were leased to sheep graziers with many sheep stations later being incorporated into the vast Fowler’s Bay run that stretched from Streaky Bay in the East to areas even further west of Nullarbor Station – a distance of over 400 kilometres! Today just about all that remains are abandoned homesteads. Koonalda homestead is one such abandoned site that the traveller can visit and use as accommodation, or as a base to explore nearby Koonalda cave and other limestone sinkholes within the area.
A new state of Auralia (meaning “land of gold”) was proposed in the 1890s which would have comprised the Goldfields, the western portion of the Nullarbor Plains and the port town of Esperance. Its capital would have been Kalgoorlie.
In the 1950s, the Wangai Aboriginal people were forced to abandon their homelands during the British nuclear tests at Maralinga. Since then they have been awarded compensation and many have returned to the general area. In fact, many never left. Due to their isolation it was impossible to warn them all about the testing.