T-Team Series (5)–Oodnadatta: The Ghan, Telegraph and History

On a Mission to Ernabella

Part 1

[The last few months I have revisited The T-Team with Mr. B: Central Australian Safari 1977 which is a prequel to Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981. In preparation for its release later this year, I will be sharing posts of this adventure.

Here’s how it all began…]

 1977, August, mid-winter and I was excited. Dad had never taken me camping. Then, when I turned 14, he decided to take the risk and allowed me to join the T-Team on a Central Australian safari. Dad’s friend Mr. Banks and his son, Matt (not their real names), joined Dad, my brother (Rick) and me on this journey of adventure. I had gathered from Dad’s reluctance to invite me on previous adventures out bush, that he had some reservations how I would cope…

In this episode, as the T-Team reach Oodnadatta, transport up north for the early Australian pioneers is explained…]

Full Steam Ahead North

The first rays of sun peeped over the horizon. Dad attacked the pot of porridge, beating the oats and water into submission. Such a racket woke us. But, when we refused to rise, he stomped around the campsite. There was no choice but to get up and line up for breakfast.

Dad dumped the sloppy oats on our metal plates and then darted around the site as if still charged by hyperactivity from the night before.

*[Photo 1: Trying to wake up © C.D. Trudinger 1981]

‘With all the effort to rouse us, David, you’ve made the porridge more like oat soup than porridge.’ Mr. B had a sour expression on his face as he sipped his porridge. He finished a mouthful and added, ‘I dare say, ol’ chap, what’s all this running around?’

‘I want us to get to Ernabella today,’ Dad said.

‘Can’t we just take it easy? I’m still adjusting to the inferior sleeping arrangements.’ Mr. B massaged his back as if emphasising the pains that he endured.

‘We only have two and a half weeks and a full schedule,’ Dad replied. ‘We have to keep moving if we want to fit everything in.’

‘I mean to say, when you invited us on this camp, I didn’t think it’d be a boot camp.’

Dad ignored Mr. B’s comment and continued to collect the plates and utensils on the tarpaulin.

With Dad’s urging, we packed up, piled into the Rover and then flew out onto the bumpy road by 7.20am. Back then in 1977, in that part of the outback of South Australia, all roads were unsealed, and just wide ruts in the red sand. Even the main highway, the Stuart Highway, was yet to be bituminised in South Australia.

*[Photo 2: Unsealed roads of the outback © M.E. Trudinger circa 1956]

As we approached Oodnadatta, Dad said, ‘I think we’ll get petrol here. It’s a long way still to Ernabella, and then when we go to Mt. Woodroffe, so we need supplies. We don’t know if we can get petrol at Ernabella or how much it’ll cost.’

We rolled into Oodnadatta, a town where its handful of houses and the hotel lined the main road.

Dad pointed at the trainline running parallel to the road. ‘See that railway track? That’s the Ghan Railway.’

‘Was that the train Mum took to go to college as a boarder in Adelaide?’ I asked.

‘That’s the one, although, there’s no train on it at present.’ Rick always had to correct me.

‘It looks ancient.’ I replied and then added the escape clause to avoid the shame of being wrong. ‘Sort of.’

‘Been there for almost 100 years.’ Dad said with authority. ‘The trains used to only go as far as Oodnadatta until 1929, when they extended the line to Alice Springs.’

*[Photo 3: Mum (3rd from left), her mother and sisters first trip on the Ghan © S.O. Gross 1939]

Matt pointed. ‘What are those stobie poles doing so far out bush?’

‘That’s the telegraph, ma boy,’ Mr. B said. ‘Before they had these poles and wires here, people in Australia could only communicate by post.’

‘When did that happen?’

‘Er, um…’ Dad said. ‘Just over a hundred years ago, I think.’

‘The telegraph started operating in 1972, and the railway track, known then as the Great Northern Railway, was opened in 1878, to be precise.’ Holding open the strip map and guide, Rick sniffed and continued reading. ‘It got called the Ghan later after the Afghan Cameleers who used to trek up north before the trainline was built.’

 ‘Trust Rick to have to be so exact.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘Pity we missed the 100th anniversary of the Ghan, or whatever it was called back then.’

*[Photo 4: Telegraph Station © S.O. Gross circa 1940]

Dad parked the Rover by the petrol pumps, near the hotel, where we climbed out of our vehicle’s comfort zone and into the heat. I blew my nose. Red dirt stained my handkerchief. I stretched my legs that ached from sitting cramped in the rear cabin of the Rover.

Dad pumped petrol into the Rover’s tank, and Jerry Cans. Dad wisely carried extra petrol in Jerry Cans to ensure that we didn’t run out of petrol; such were the long stretches of desolate land where towns and petrol stations are scarce.

*[Photo 5: The Ghan at a distance © S.O. Gross circa 1940]

Rick and I walked across the road. The few people we saw loitered in the shade. An emaciated dog sauntered out of the bushes.

‘I really feel like we’re out in the desert here,’ I said.

‘Yeah, the people look exhausted,’ Rick said.

Dad yelled, ‘We’re ready to go!’

‘Can’t we get a drink?’ Rick asked.

‘It’ll be dear, here,’ Dad said. ‘We have cordial.’

As Dad, Rick and I sipped cordial from our plastic cups, Mr. B and his son stepped out from the hotel. They each clutched a can of soft drink. They slurped their drinks with relish.

‘I finalised the bill,’ Mr. B said.

‘Thank you,’ Dad replied.

*[Photo 6 and Feature: Camel Train © S.O. Gross circa 1940]

© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2022


Want more?

More than before?

Join the adventure with the T-Team, click on the link below:

Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981 

One thought on “T-Team Series (5)–Oodnadatta: The Ghan, Telegraph and History

  1. Pingback: T-Team Series—Oodnadatta: The Ghan, Telegraph and History | leeannemarieblog

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