Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Friday, September 15, 2006

Great Australian Trains - the Ghan

Photo: Gordon Smith, Look and See: a pictorial journal of life in rural Australia, Afghan cemetery, Maree

The Ghan (and here) is one of Australia's most famous and iconic trains, travelling the 2979 kilometres between Adelaide and Darwin twice weekly.

Ghan is short for Afghan and is named after the cameleers who helped open up the Australian outback.

From the mid 1880s, thousands of camels were imported into Australia to provide transport. Today the Australian camels reckoned to number between 500,000 and 700,000 are the only feral herds of their kind in the world.

These camels were often guided and cared for by Muslim cameleers. These came from lands as far away as Egypt, Turkey and Persia though most came from from northern India and what today is Pakistan. However, the men were all, almost always incorrectly, called Afghans or simply "Ghans."

Men came on two or three years contracts, but often lived out the rest of their lives in Australia. While some became wealthy, most worked long hours for low pay, forming enclaves in outback towns such as Maree. There they quickly built mosques. Marked by their tin minarets, these became the centre of community life.

The name Ghan came to be applied the trains travelling the line between Port Augusta in the south to Alice Springs in the centre. Construction of this line began in 1879, using camels to carry material and supplies to the men building the line. Following completion of the north-south transcontinental railway between Adelaide and Darwin, the name was transferred to the new passenger service.

The journey between Adelaide and Darwin takes two days, with the train offering a variety of accommodation and seating. I was especially attracted to the special carriages on offer, the Chairman's Carriage, the Prince of Wales Carriage, the Governor's Lounge and the Sir John Forrest Carriage.

As a historian I was also especially attracted to the historic Prince of Wales Carriage, originally built in 1919 to accommodate a royal visit from Edward, Prince of Wales. This beautifully crafted timber carriage was recently refurbished and maintains many original features, including high ceilings of Wunderlich pressed metal and cathedral glass doors. Features include:

  • Accommodates up to 10 guests, allowing for that special occasion or different business meeting
  • 4 Twin Cabins and 2 large single cabins which comprise to form the Mountbatten Suite
  • Lounge featuring ornate wood carvings
  • Full size main bathroom
  • Guests dine in the Gold Kangaroo Restaurant at no extra cost
  • Private charters can be arranged between Adelaide and Darwin.

The cost? A very reasonable $21,300 dollars one way for the full trip! Oh well, I can dream.

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