Pichi Richi Railway

Another gem from my friend Gerry's photographic treasure trove. This one is a loco from the Pichi Richi Railway in the town of Quorn in the State of South Australia. Quorn is about 190 miles due north of Adelaide. 

 A steam locomotive on the Pichi Richi Railway. Number 25 is a Commonwealth Railways Class NM 4-8-0. This is the type of locomotive which operated the Ghan until diesel locomotives took over in 1954. Number 25 itself was retired in 1964.                        Photograph by Gerry Coles

A steam locomotive on the Pichi Richi Railway. Number 25 is a Commonwealth Railways Class NM 4-8-0. This is the type of locomotive which operated the Ghan until diesel locomotives took over in 1954. Number 25 itself was retired in 1964.                        Photograph by Gerry Coles

Here is a bit of historical context from the Pichi Richi Railway web site:

"The railway from Port Augusta through the Pichi Richi Pass to Quorn opened in 1879, and was part of the first stage of the Great Northern Railway that was intended to link Port Augusta with Darwin. The Ghan name originated in Quorn in 1923 when the Great Northern Express was dubbed The Afghan Express by railwaymen. In 1929 this line reached Alice Springs.

The East-West Transcontinental railway across the Nullarbor Plain was completed in 1917, and the Pichi Richi Railway became part of the East-West route for the next 20 years.

Quorn was a vital railway junction, especially during World War II when military, coal and other traffic placed sizeable demands on the railway.

Washaways in the north and the incapacity of the railway to handle expanding traffic saw a new standard gauge railway constructed from Stirling North to Brachina, and the Pichi Richi Railway was closed to regular traffic in 1957."

Now one might ask: Why was it called the "Afghan Express" originally? The railway website offers an explanation:

"Between 1870 and 1920 approximately 20,000 camels and between 2000 and 4000 cameleers landed at ports around Australia to support a vast network of camel train routes that spread out across inland Australia.  Camels arrived in their hundreds on ships from Karachi and Bombay and excited crowds flocked to the wharves to see the animals unloaded after their long sea trip. 

The camel was ideally suited to Australia's desert environment; horses and buffaloes died through lack of water.  But if camels were to be used, experienced handlers were indispensable and so men, from what was then an undivided India and Kingdom of Afghanistan (today Pakistan, India and Afghanistan) were 'imported' by British entrepreneurs along with the camels – collectively the men were known as "Afghans" or "Ghans".

Cameleers undertook what was needed to be done when a country is being opened up – accompanying exploratory expeditions, carting wool to ports or railheads and barrels of water to drought-ridden areas, and transporting mail, construction materials and stores at a time when railway construction was in its infancy. 

Many rest stations opened up across the country where camel teams converged as they moved from one state to another, and centres such as Marree became established, opening lines of supply to isolated communities further inland or further north.

By the mid 1890s, the "Ghans" were becoming a 'problem' resented by those who believed that they threatened the working conditions of white Australians.  Along with Chinese goldfield workers and Pacific Islanders employed in the sugar cane industry , the Afghans became targets of anti-Asian sentiment as the colonies approached Federation.  This eventually led to the passage of the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, known as the White Australia Policy.  The Menzies and Holt Governments effectively dismantled this policy between 1949 and 1966 and the Whitlam Government in 1973 passed laws to ensure that race would be totally disregarded as a component for immigration to Australia. 

The Afghan cameleers led hard lives in this country, and their wives and children were at first prevented from entering Australia, a restriction not lifted until the late 1920s.  Some married and raised families with Anglo-Australian or Indigenous women.  Today their descendants take pride in the pioneering role played by their ancestors and kinsmen in Australian history." 

The modern "Ghan" runs between Adelaide and Darwin, about 1850 some miles. The trip takes three nights and four days through the center of Australia.

 Adelaide in the South, Darwin is in the tropical North and Alice Springs is right in the middle of the country. 

Adelaide in the South, Darwin is in the tropical North and Alice Springs is right in the middle of the country. 

The train is operated by Great Southern Rail, the same company that operates the Indian Pacific. 

 The "Ghan"                                                                                                                                                                     Photo by australiantraveler.com

The "Ghan"                                                                                                                                                                     Photo by australiantraveler.com