In days gone by you could turn up a week late to catch The Ghan and still be in plenty of time. The Aussie outback train was often delayed by wash-outs, sand-drifts or mechanical failures.
I love this poem from 1952 about a car speeding along the railway tracks in pursuit of The Ghan (then powered by steam) to deliver a passenger. It was published in the Alice Springs newspaper, The Centralian.
Fast forward to June 2009. Chad Vance, a 19 year old student from Alaska, disembarked at Port Augusta to stretch his legs. Unfortunately he lost track of time and when he got back to the station The Ghan was pulling out. On board were all the young man’s belongings, including his passport and cash.
He was so panic stricken that he made a leap for a small, exterior stairway, where he clung on for the next two hours and twenty minutes as the train raced north. Night fell and the temperature plummeted. His tee-shirt and jeans provided little warmth and it became harder and harder to hold on. Eventually a crewman heard his cries for help and pulled the emergency brake. How lucky that was…..it was another three hours before the next designated stop. It’s believed that Chad was saved by his youth, and his experience dealing with low temperatures in Alaska.
In August 1950, Mr R. Christie was working as a fettler on the Central Australian Railway. He went into Alice Springs to have some dental treatment, then boarded The Ghan back to his workers camp at a place called Mount Dutton. Before leaving town he bought some newspapers, which he intended throwing out to some mates working at Deep Well. The Centralian reported what happened next;
When the train got to where he thought his friends were working, Mr Christie gathered his papers together and prepared to throw them from the platform of the rear carriage in which he was travelling. It was then that he overbalanced and fell.
The fall must have dazed him considerably, because instead of walking in the same direction as the train had been going and thus travelling only a few miles to Deep Well, Mr Christie turned and made for Alice Springs and had walked nearly twenty miles during the afternoon and night before being picked up by the men on the section car.
I’ll be hopping on and off The Ghan myself later this week. These stories will bounce around my brain!
FIRST DAY ABOARD—–DARWIN TO THE ALICE