Chapter 1
The Ghan

5th January 1933

This is started on the morning we left Adelaide to go north on the train. The party consists of:
Professor H.W. Davies
Dr.H. Wardlaw
Maurice Joseph
Arthur Murch (artist)
Hugh Barry
Stanley Larnach (animal collector)
& myself (John Pockley)
We left Adelaide early in the morning under a mild volley of press photographers and news men and ran out into the wheat belt quickly. The day, at first cool, started to warm up before we got to Terowie, where we made our first change of trains, by then it was a scorcher. The country consisted of eternal wheat fields, all in the process of being harvested, with a resulting dust that soon penetrated to every part of our carriage.

At Terowie, lined by high stacks of bagged wheat, we had a lunch of sorts and changed over to a narrow guaged train. The carriage contained just one compartment with the seats facing each other. We found it much more comfortable to sit on the step outside, in spite of the dust.

The largest station on this stretch was Peterborough, where the Broken Hill ore shipments come down. There were a large number of trucks carrying stuff that had been through the preliminary processes, most of them seemed to contain some lead.

Quorn Station (33.934 kbytes)

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The end of the afternoon's run came at Quorn, where we again changed trains, though the guage, mirabile dictu 1, remained the same. This time the change was to a really swish train, considering, complete with dining car, sleeper, observation car etc, on which we will go right through to Alice Springs. As we had an interval of about one and a half hours at Quorn we walked over to the pub and had tea.

Quorn Main Street (30.253 kbytes)

Coming back to the train we were greeted by the mayor of Quorn, one Richard Thompson. He proudly claims to have the world's record for mayors, having been in office for 27 years. His main claim to fame seems to be the possession of a very ornate autograph book containing the signatures of Dukes, Duchesses, test cricketers, and, now, ours. His parting gift was a hardback of the Back to Quorn Week which provided us with much amusement in the weary hours to come as 'his worship the Lord Mayor of Quorn' seems to have produced it solely as a means of self-advertisment.

Mayor Thompson (16.778 Kbytes)

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We went away from Quorn in the late evening, skirting the Flinders ranges, and getting out of the wheat belt pretty rapidly, as far as we could see before dark.

Early to bed. First day of the Barry and Pockley moustaches.

6th January 1933

Woke this morning at an interesting stage in the scenery; the country was very flat and covered with a low salt bush with a few scattered and stunted trees. It was not long before we saw a few herds of camels. Their moth-eaten, outline could be seen grazing far off. Shortly afterwards we ran into Marree where there were a few Afghan camel owners getting a team in for their waggons. We were running a good bit late as the train had developed a hot box during the night.

At nearly every little stopping place was a water tank, usually supplied by artesian water where the engine liquored up, and sometimes the carriages as well. At the end of each carriage were hung a couple of water bags of simple design but very sensible pattern.

Train watering (36.457 kbytes)

All day the country stayed flat, being mostly stony plains with a few Gidgee trees on the water scours. This type of country is interspersed with red sandy areas and in the few places where there are fences they are usually buried partially or completely by the shifting sand dunes for several miles.

An interesting feature of the run was the salt lake country, culminating in Lake Eyre. The casual mirages we had been seeing became mighty manifestations of unlimited expanses of water and this, combined with the white of the salt in the 'lake', gave the impression of a sea of breaking waves.

The country remained the same practically all day. Once we passed a fairly large outcrop of rock and loose stones, and at Coward Springs we came

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upon a minature oasis with palm trees growing beside an artesian water hole of perfectly clear water.

Coward Springs (26.010 kbytes)

The water bubbled out of the bottom and ran away to be lost in the desert a mile or two away. There were several hundred head of cattle grouped together within a few miles of this hole and along with one other wild steer, an emu and many rabbits, they were the only animals we saw all day, apart from the black fellow's horses and the inevitable eagles, lizards and FLIES.

Everywhere one looks at any time of the day, one sees willy-willies out on the plains, sometimes towering up a conservative 1000ft into the air, narrowing as they go, like an inverted cone.

Willi-willi (40.660 kbytes)

So far the weather has been quite moderate and except for the sand, everything is very comfortable, especially as dress is a very secondary consideration.

A game of bridge to-night and so to bed.

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7th January 1933

Woke this morning at a little railway station about 17 miles from Charlotte Waters. By the time we were up and about the train had pulled in and we were met by the local cop, (now of the Federal variety) two cattle men and three black stock boys.

Cattle in distance (38.950 kbytes)

The country here is still more stony than that further south. It is practically dead flat. The average rainfall is only about three inches. There is scattered grass of a sort, as well as a little salt bush. Properties up here are many hundreds of square miles in area and all the beasts one sees are in the pink of condition, although one sees literally hundreds of corpses along the track and even rabbits killed by the heat and lack of water. We spoke to the cop and cattle men, who were, on the whole, very decent types and heard them praise that part of the country very much. They said that Kidman leases a lot of the gibber plain at 4 shillings a square mile and only brings in stock when it rains. They seemed very amused at the fact that someone had got run over by a car in the Alice. These men come from up to ninety miles away to greet the fortnightly train and to collect supplies.

There are very few stations at which the train stays for less than twenty minutes and it often stays for up to an hour at some. At one there was a very pretty girl2 of about nineteen who had come in ninety five miles with two pack-horses for the station goods, mail etc. All along the line the train acts as a paymaster to the gangs of government maintenance men. It also brings them their stores and the result of the second test.


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Isolated Station (42.343 kbytes)

This stretch of country was a real revelation. It was entirely flat and covered with stones, there was no apparent vegetation, no trees, no visible stock, no anything. The scenery was the same from both sides of the train and here one got an insight into the dimensions of space.

open country (39.897 kbytes)

Gradually, as we go north toward the Finke river, the country appears to improve. Grass is still in isolated tussocks, but the number of dried watercourses increases and a few trees make their appearance. The country is also becoming more hilly, and at the moment we are travelling through more minature forests of stunted trees, mulga for the most part.

The Finke, as we expected, was just a half mile of sand surrounded by precipitous hills of stone, the railway passes the point where the river comes out of the mountains. From here the country immediately became bare sand hills, covered with spots of salt bushand parakeelya, mixed with stunted

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mulga. The parakeelya is just about the only source of water for the stock for months at a time, but they seem to do very well in this country. Here the train passes through Heavitree Gap in the Macdonnell Range. The ranges appear tremendous after the miles of flat plain and seem to be made almost completely of loose stones. In some of the low outcrops the strata are perpendicular and where there is any vegetation it seems to be mostly dead mulga.

Heavitree Gap (20.761 kbytes)

Heavitree Gap, as seems to be common to all the passes through the mountains, is enclosed by steep precipices that fall right down to plain level, passage through the gap is made at the same level as the plain without any climb at all. Huge white gums grow at the base of the cliffs and along the dry creeks and river beds in great numbers. They are beautiful trees, dead white, exuding a red gum, and any recent wound or blaze is almost scarlet.

The train was running about one and a half hours late when we approached the Alice about sunset. As we passed through the gap a party of natives came running toward the train with much noise, a mixed looking lot. We were told afterwards that many of them had come into the Alice from great distances just to see the train for the first time.

The other side of the gap opened out into a flat valley surrounded on all sides by the spurs of the ranges. And there was Alice Springs. The train whistled all the way for the last mile or so and the first sight of the town showed us all the inhabitants tearing across to the station to look and to see. As the train drew in a multitude of eyes appeared, white and black, staring as hard as possible at every one on the train.

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1: In three subsequent versions of this journal F.J.A.P. sometimes expanded on the original (pencil) manuscript. In order to distinquish these, all departures from the original are in italics.

2: FJAP recalled that this intriguing woman had ridden alone for nearly a week to meet the train. Usually this was a man's job but the men on the station were attending to some emergency. She had taken the trouble to change her clothes and on entering the train was asked if she would like anything."Gin and Tonic" she replied. The men were agog. After the horses were loaded she was off again.

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