Named after the Afghan cameleers who did so much to open up Central Australia. For many years camel teams supplied the telegraph, railways and pastoral stations with supplies, no matter how isolated or far away they were. They worked the Queensland road, which later became known as the Birdsville Track, as well as the Oodnadatta and Strzelecki Tracks. Afghan camel drivers went as far as Wyndham and Newcastle Waters to cart supplies to stations which had no other means of fast and efficient transport. The camel trains were also involved in the establishment of artesian bores. They plodded down the many tracks bringing supplies and returning with wool or any other product.
Afghan camel teams opened up inland Australia.
When the northern railway was finished it soon became known as The GHAN. This train eventually ran from Port Augusta via Quorn, Hawker, Parachilna, Copley, Farina, Marree, Curdimurka, William Creek and Oodnadatta to Alice Springs. Construction of this narrow gauge line started in 1878, at the hight of the railway boom, in the hope to develop the pastoral and mining potential of the inland.
The railway went through some of Australia's most desolate and flood prone country, often suffering wash-outs with passengers marooned for several days. By 1881 it had reached Beltana. Within two years it reached Farina and by 1884 Hergott Springs (Marree) had become the railhead. After some years the line was pushed further north past Callanna, Alberrie Creek, Curdimurka, Coward Springs, Strangways Springs, William Creek, Anna Creek, Box Creek, Edwards Creek, Warrina, Algebuckina and Mount Dutton until it finally reached Oodnadatta in 1891.
The Mixed Ghan at Puttapa Gap.
Oodnadatta remained the railhead for the next forty years. In an effort to advance the line and get construction going once again, it was stated in 1895 'that the interior was not all desert, but had extensive areas of good land fit for cultivation and a variety of tropical products'. Unfortunately it was not until 1929 when the line was extended to Alice Springs, and where it has remained until 2003.
The Central Australian Railway never lived up to the many promises made, or the financial success which had been envisaged. Unfortunately, the flash floods and the extreme climate made the line anything but reliable. It ran for the last time in October 1980 when the new line via Tarcoola was completed. This marked the end of an era and a significant chapter in South Australia's railway history.
Even so the Ghan provided an important transport route into Central Australia. With the help of the many Afghan cameleers it provided a much needed service to many of the isolated cattle and sheep stations. The Afghans and their camels served the people of the inland until well into the twentieth century, when they were superseded by other means of transport. Now the camel and its driver had lost it economic value and became a nuisance and a pest.
In 1925 the South Australian Government passed the Camel Destruction Act, giving police the right to shoot any camel found trespassing or without registration disk. On many occasions they were just shot as vermin. In 1935 the Marree police shot 153 camels in one day!
The good news is that after 125 years, when almost everyone had given up hope, the line is being extended to Darwin and will be operating by the end of 2003.