Old Ghan Railway Route
The Ghan is one of the world's great rail journeys. From Adelaide you can sit in an armchair in air-conditioning and watch the outback pass your window. But nothing could be further from the origins for this rail line. The first Ghan was named after the Afghan cameliers who helped open up the outback. It started in 1879 when the first 40 kilometres of track were laid between Port Augusta and Quorn. Over the next 50 years, it was built in stages through the Flinders Ranges, Maree, Oodnadatta and finally Alice Springs in 1929. Building this iron strip through to the centre was epic and maintaining it on the edge of Lake Eyre with its sandy soil and habit of flooding was a constant job. A second line was built and when it opened in 1980 the Ghan was re-routed through Tarcoola and the old Ghan line was left to the elements. However it's a fascinating journey of discovery to drive along the Oodnadatta track looking for the old line.
Between William Creek and Lake Eyre a section of line stands proud - not all the sleepers are here though, some are now part of the dining room extension of the William Creek Hotel. Some of the lines were ripped up and machinery taken for scrap but in other sections sleepers lie in order like soldiers on parade. Spikes litter the ground near a boiler section built at Port Adelaide last century. There are enthusiasts who are helping preserve what is left. At Coward Springs south of William Creek, Greg Emmett and Pru Coulls have created a camp ground out of what was an old siding. They are patiently restoring the buildings. "This oasis at Coward's Springs is amazing and it comes as the result of the Ghan Line being put through last century. About one hundred years ago they sunk a bore here with the idea that it would provide the water for the steam trains heading north but because of the salt and the water, the original castings rusted away and so the water from the great artesian basin just poured out over this are a and has created this amazing wetland in the middle of a harsh, arid environment."
Locals have long known about the natural spa bath among the reeds at Coward Springs. A different sort of wetland appears at Mound Springs where a natural outlet of the Great Artesian basin has created a dam which gives life to birds, animals and snakes. Another railway siding - Curdimurka - further along the line toward Roxby Downs, hosts its bi-annual outback ball that raises money for the Ghan Railway Preservation Society. The Old Ghan Route begins at the Pichi Richi pass at Quorn and continues via Maree and up the Oodnadatta Track where there are camping facilities at Coward Springs on the edge of Lake Eyre. For more information you can email email@example.com