Early breakfast approaching Alice Springs.

This was meant to be a travel piece, but I was side-tracked by the story of the gold.

Pauline Conolly aboard tHE GHAN

Now there has never been a murder aboard The Ghan (well not that we know of), but there was a heist of gold bullion in May, 1935. 34lbs of ingots from a Tennant Creek mine were loaded onto the train at Alice Springs. They were locked in a safe in the brake wagon.

The Ghan in the days of steam
The Ghan, circa 1930s.

When the train arrived at Quorn in South Australia, the safe was found to be empty.

There was a very large, old fashioned key to the safe, kept on a brass tag and held by the guard.

Quorn railway Station
Quorn railway Station 1930s. (State Library of South Australia)

From The Transcontinental Newspaper 31 May 1935;

The passengers were not considered suspects. This was an ‘inside job’!

WAS A DUPLICATE KEY USED?

Discussing the theft from a safe in a train of a parcel of gold valued at between three and four thousand pounds between Alice Springs and Quorn (S.A) the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner said last night that at no time during the journey was the key of the safe out of the possession of the guard. It appeared that the safe must have been opened with a duplicate key made sometime previously.

That was the official line. However, it was rumoured that whenever the train went into a siding the guard was required to help with shunting. He would remove his tunic and hang it up. The key was always in his tunic pocket….bit silly eh?

Railway gangs were visited up and down the line in search of information, but to no avail. If anyone knew anything they were keeping their mouths shut. And then…a possible break-through.

SEARCH FOR A SWAGMAN…

In the absence of any other clue to the robbery of about four thousand pounds worth of gold from the Alice Springs train, which arrived at Quorn on Thursday, renewed interest is being taken here in the report concerning a mysterious ‘hobo’ with a heavy swag, which is said to have weighed about 50lbs. The man was said to have alighted from the train at Quorn, and then disappeared.

The description has been circulated to police stations. The theory is advanced that he may have been the ‘dummywhom conspirators in the theft employed to carry the gold, of which the others in the plot were later to dispose of.

Two young men reported to police that the ‘hobo’ went to a camping spot, used by tramps, and told others there that he was going into the township to send a telegram to Alice Springs. It is said that when he learned of the presence of detectives in town he showed the utmost haste to leave.

Old Telegraph Station at Alice Springs.
Old Telegraph Station at Alice Springs. I wonder whether a significant message passed through here?

Apparently the young men had obligingly helped the swagman over a fence with his heavy pack.

The gold was never found, despite large rewards being offered.

Swagman
Was a swagman part of the conspiracy?

We had lost a few quid from our own safe on the Ghan, but it turned out to be Editor Des replenishing his holiday money without permission. How he worked out the combination is another mystery!

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