The Mighty Ghan

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September 25th 2014
Published: September 28th 2014
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The Ghan Leaves for AdelaideThe Ghan Leaves for AdelaideThe Ghan Leaves for Adelaide

We watched the "Ghan" train pull out of Alice Springs Station heading for Adelaide, having left Darwin yesterday. The trip takes 3 days and at this time of year is once a week in each direction. There are two engines at the front; it is 800m long and the last carriage carries all the passengers cars.
I was coughing a lot during the night and the pain is still sharp every time so Barry bullied me into making an appointment for the doctor. Unfortunately, there are none for today and I can’t make one for tomorrow until 8.15 am tomorrow. Odd system.

Barry booked us in for a couple more nights and I noticed the “Ghan” timetable on the counter. The receptionist told me that it was in the station this morning and was due to pull out at 12.45pm. We jumped in the car and headed down to the Alice Springs Station, which is tucked away in the industrial area as if they are ashamed of it. Once we got there, we saw that it doesn’t have a raised platform – just a long bitumen area with yellow lines saying keep clear on it. The seats along the platform and the awnings above them look very new and modern, as does the station building.

We entered the platform (no gates or tickets required) and found ourselves about halfway along the train. I wanted to see the engine (turned out there were two) so we headed that way. Lots of people were pulling wheelie bags
Dining in Luxury Aboard the GhanDining in Luxury Aboard the GhanDining in Luxury Aboard the Ghan

I wish! This is the luxurious restaurant car that we were shown by one of the stewards. There is also a Lounge Car and three classes of passengers carriages, Red, Gold and Platinum.
along the platform and, as they approached a carriage, were met by someone holding a clipboard and checking off their names. Just near the front of the train we saw some people coming out of a carriage which didn’t have the “official” standing there. I said I wanted to see inside and climbed up the steps. We were at the Lounge Car. A Bar Attendant was standing behind the bar and asked if he could help. I told him we just wanted a quick look of it was OK and he said yes and offered to show us the Restaurant Car next door. We jumped at that so he unlocked it and showed us in to a very luxurious room. He explained how all the passengers eat all their meals there and said we could sit at a table and take a photo if we liked. Then he left us alone. I sat down at the very beautifully set table while Barry took the photo. As we left, he apologised that he couldn’t show us the carriages but hoped they’d see us again (as passengers – of course).

We had passed Platinum Class and Gold Class and the last
Women in Aviation TapestryWomen in Aviation TapestryWomen in Aviation Tapestry

Created by pilot Dale Roger-Jones of Malanda. Queensland in 2002 - 2008, this tapestry celebrates the achievements of Australian women pilots. It took 7,000 hours to complete and was worked on by women all over the world.
carriages were Red Class. I wonder what the difference is inside. The journey from Darwin to Adelaide takes three days and only goes each way once a week at this time of year. The train is 800 metres long from end to end. I hope they’ve got more than one restaurant car or someone has a very long walk!

We arrived at the front of the train and admired the distinctive engine, took a few photos and settle down for the ten minute wait before departure time. We could see the engineer inside preparing the train and then he hooted the horn and started. At first the train didn’t seem to be moving at all but Barry said it would need to slowly take up all the slack in all those carriages. Very slowly it crept towards one of the little trees on the platform and we could see that it was beginning to pick up speed. The boom gates had come down at the level crossing and it slowly pulled towards them, with us following at walking speed. By the time the engines had passed the crossing it was going faster but it still took a couple of
Alice Springs Gaol MuralAlice Springs Gaol MuralAlice Springs Gaol Mural

This was in one of the cells in the Men's Block. It was done by an inmate, believed to be in 1984. There is the name McEvoy in the corner.
minutes for the whole 800 metres to go over it. Very frustrating for the drivers waiting at the lights – at least it’s only twice a week, although the freight train is more often.

The last carriage across the road was the one carrying all the cars that belonged to the passengers aboard. Then it was off and on its way.

Feeling hungry, we started looking for picnic spot but couldn’t find anything that wasn’t in full sun so we went to our next stop, the Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame, which is housed in part of the Old Alice Springs Gaol. They allowed us to have our lunch on a couple of plastic chairs under a tree in the grounds, which was nice. We then paid our money and went inside the buildings.

We started with the Pioneer Women’s displays and soon came across an ABC documentary that was running in a loop, about Gaby Kennard who, in 1989 and in her mid-40s, flew solo around the world in a single engine Piper Saratoga, following Amelia Earhart’s route as much as possible (but without crashing and then disappearing as she did). She had a few hair
Alice Springs Gaol and Labour PrisonAlice Springs Gaol and Labour PrisonAlice Springs Gaol and Labour Prison

Opened in 1938, this gaol had segregated cells for men and women, as well as European from Aboriginals. They were integrated in the 1960s. The Gaol was replaced with a newer one in 1988.
raising moments and several critical equipment failures so the journey took her 99 days and she covered 29,000 nautical miles to become the first Australian woman to circumnavigate the globe solo. She had to navigate by dead reckoning, as Amelia had done, when her satellite navigation equipment failed halfway around. Unlike Amelia, she only had one engine so when it kept cutting out when she was changing fuel tanks while crossing the Pacific, it was rather a serious problem. She kept trying all kinds of switching combinations until she finally got it to restart. While crossing the Atlantic, she hit wild storms with lightning going off all around her and even striking the plane. She finally made it with help with repairs on her leaking hydraulic system from the Brazilian Air Force, where she was given the Key of the City, and the US Naval Base, where she was forced to land after her fuel and navigation woes. She arrived back on Australian soil at Darwin, where she was given an enthusiastic reception, and then made her way to Sydney, where they gave her a parade and the Key to the City (couldn’t let Brazil be the only ones to
The Old GhanThe Old GhanThe Old Ghan

The Old Ghan train is now part of the Transport Museum. It sits at the old Stuart Station at Macdonnell Siding.
recognise her courage!)

There was a whole section on Australian Aviatrix with the centrepiece being a tapestry of cartoon like faces of the most famous and accomplished. It was created between 2002 and 2008 by Dale Roger-Jones of Malanda, Qld, herself a pilot, but, for some odd reason, Gaby was not included in it. Quite an oversight!

This Women’s Hall of Fame came about after Molly Clark, (a well-known local figure who had battled great hardship on her cattle station and, after she lost all but the original homestead, picking herself up and creating a new livelihood taking in paying guests for a real “outback” experience there) went to the new Stockman’s Hall of Fame at Longreach, Qld in the late 1980s and was sadly disappointed to see almost nothing on the women. She called a public meeting in February 1993 to gauge interest in a Women’s Hall of Fame and in no time the committee was formed and the idea was up and running. She was very active promoting and fund-raising all over the country for many years and was thrilled to help unveil the plaque for the opening of the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame in its new permanent home in 2007, when she was 85 years old. She died in 2012 and the museum have a whole section dedicated to her achievements and life.

The Hall of Fame featured 140 women from all walks of life and eras who had been the first to accomplish things in their lives or work, such as lawyers, sportswomen, politicians, educators, business leaders and innovators. These included some modern heroes, a few we know in Melbourne, like Christine Nixon, the first female Chief of Police and Joan Kirner, the first female State Premier. There was also Dawn Fraser, the first to win three consecutive Olympic gold medals in the same event (the 100 metres freestyle) and who broke and held 41 World Records over her 15 year swimming career; Evonne Goolagong-Cawley, the first female Aboriginal Australian to gain world prominence in sport - tennis, winning Wimbledon twice, the Australian Open four times and the French Open once during the 1970s and 80s; and Nova Peris, the first Aboriginal Australian woman to win an Olympic Gold in 1996 as part of the Hockeyroos team. Another, earlier hero was Tilly Aston, born 1873, who was the first blind woman to attend university. Unfortunately she didn’t complete her course as she couldn’t get the books she needed in Braille. She left but then established the Australian Braille Library in 1894, to help others achieve what she couldn’t. Overall, it was a fascinating look at a lot of remarkable women who have largely gone unrecognised.

We then looked around the rest of the Old Gaol and Hard Labour Prison, built in 1938 (to replace the 1909 one) where we saw the Men’s Cell Block, with its very sparse cells (a hard bed, a table with attached swivel chair, a toilet and a washbasin) and the Women’s Cell Block, with similar equipment but with the advantage of a matron, Telka Williams, who wanted the women to have something useful to do. She encouraged crafts and learning skills such as typing, that could be useful on the outside as employment. The women helped tile the kitchen and showers, made their own tunics in a colour of their choice (from 5 available) and a style agreed on by the women (an A-line simple shift dress). The Men’s Block did have an amazing mural on the wall of one cell, so they were able to do some things, too, besides the Hard Labour they were sentenced to.

The Europeans and Aboriginals had originally been segregated in different wings but this was stopped in the 1960s – took long enough!

We had a quick look at an Objects as Art exhibition in the Clinic Building. This was a collaborative project by Years 10 to12 Centralian Senior College Visual Arts students. They had to choose an artefact from the museum’s collection (such as a an Art Deco Lamp, an old bottle, an old tobacco tin) and then create an artwork inspired by it on the theme of exploring relationships between people, objects and space. They used a wide range of media to create the works and a few were interesting, but most did nothing to inspire me, I’m sorry to say.

By the time we’d finished, we were too late for the Reptile Centre just opposite so we’ll do that tomorrow. Instead we drove a little way out of town to see what was on the other side and discovered the Transport Museum (closed) and the Old Ghan Museum. The gates were locked but we could see the old Stuart Station (the original name of Alice Springs) with the old Ghan train sitting on rails outside it. The old line had followed the explorer Stuart’s original route up the country from Adelaide but it was regularly stranded when the wet came and washed the lines out or just covered the area to metres in depth. The new line moved to higher, more stable ground and so can now run all the time.

Tne information board we could see explained that the town had been named Stuart after John Macdonnell Stuart but the townsfolk preferred the name Alice Springs, which was the name of the Telegraph Office. It had been called this by the Superintendent of the construction of the telelgraph line across the country, Charles Todd, after his wife Alice. When it was decided to combine the two under one name, in 1932, the Post Office chose Stuart but the townspeople continued to use Alice Springs so they eventually capitulated. Lady Alice Todd had never visited the Alice and there is no spring here either, as had originally been thought. So the town is named for a woman who never came there and a spring that didn’t exist! Way to go people!

We finished this exhausting day by driving past Billygoat Hill just as the sun was setting, which set it ablaze. Very colourful.


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