Day 155: On the Ghan to Alice (Part 1)

A very short stay in Adelaide followed by another epic train journey and, once again, I was only doing half of the coast to coast, from South to North.

I know… no stamina.

The Ghan traverses Australia from Adelaide (my starting point), Alice Springs and ends in Darwin. It takes 54 hours to travel the 1,851 miles with a four-hour stopover in Alice Springs, though I would be interested the desert town considerably longer.

Construction started in 1878 on a route that has a fairly convoluted history with with various sections built at different times and at one point, a stretch to Alice Springs being covered on the back of a camel. The Alice to Darwin extension opened in only 2004.

The Indian Pacific’s name makes sense – a name focusing on the ocean to ocean to connection – where does the Ghan’s name come from?

It’s either an affectionate story or an insult.

Take your pick.

The service’s name could be an abbreviated version of its previous nickname, “The Afghan Express“.

The nickname is reputed to have been bestowed in 1923 by one of its crews. Does it honour the Afghan camel drivers who arrived in Australia in the late 19th century to help the British colonisers find a way to reach the country’s interior?

Or does it reflect the fact that until 1929, the final stretch to Alice Springs could only be crossed by camel?

A contrary view is that the name was a veiled insult.

In 1891, the railway from Quorn (a place not the foodstuff) reached remote Oodnadatta where an itinerant population of around 150 cameleers were based, generically called “Afghans”.

“The Ghan Express” name originated with train crews in the 1890s as a taunt to officialdom because, when an expensive sleeping car was put on from Quorn to Oodnadatta, “on the first return journey the only passenger was an Afghan”, mocking its commercial viability.

Personally, I prefer the story about crossing by actual camel so that one gets my vote because…

From what I’ve seen in Australia (and in New Zealand), naming tended to be very literal… Great Sandy Desert, Stony Beach… Afghan Express.

Departure for me was 12.15pm and I arrived at the Parklands Terminal outside Adelaide at around 9.30am.

Adelaide’s original and beautiful railway station is now a casino.

Obviously, I was ridiculously early but I’d rather have a flat white in the station instead of fidgeting in my hostel.

It emerged that boarding would commence at 11.15am and, in the meantime all coffees, bubbly and orange juice were complimentary.

This is a civilised way to travel.

Check in and boarding followed the same process as on the Indian Pacific, though the platform in Adelaide still isn’t long enough for the entire train to line up against.

It was another beast of a train and I wandered out to find out where my carriage was. It took some time as this looked like another 30-35 carriage train and it was all the way at the back of the train

With time for a glass of bubbly, boarding was announced. There was no rush, dash or panic – the train wouldn’t actually depart for another hour.

And just like onboard the Indian Pacific, I had another perfectly proportioned cabin for one, from which to watch the world go by.

Additionally, this was the first journey of The Ghan for 2020. It doesn’t run in December or January.

This beats worrying about whether I was going to get a window seat. More on the actual journey, the views and the experience tomorrow.

I’m posting while I know I have a signal.

And finally, Journey Beyond have opened another line – Adelaide to Brisbane. These epic train journeys are like being on a land cruise.

Travel is luxurious and unlike air travel across this vast continent, you actually get to see the land.

Flights are cheaper than these rail journeys (though they don’t serve three course meals, offer excursions, provide solo cabins) and I don’t know when/if I will return to Australia so I want to make the most of the journeys and travel by train does help to reduce my carbon footprint.

Categories: Australia, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


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