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


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T-Team Series–Mt. Liebig


 Thursday, August 27, 1981

[Extract from Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981]

Part 1—First Leg of the Journey

By the time we left camp to climb Mt. Liebig, the sun peeped over the horizon, and the nose-shaped hill leading up the mountain glowed in crimson.

*[Photo 1: Mt. Liebig at dawn © C.D. Trudinger 1981]

 Dad looked at his watch and said, ‘The time is 7:05 am.’ I imagined him continuing with “Captain’s Log, Star Date the 27th of August 1981…” But Dad’s focus switched to negotiating the lumps and bumps of the make-shift road ahead.

 We parked near the foot of the range and then hiked through the second gully from the north-eastern edge of mountainous waves jutting up from the plain. We trekked up and down four ridges until we arrived at the base of the gully nearest Mt. Liebig. The lads bounded up the gully while I lagged behind with Dad.

[Photo 2: The terrain around Mt. Liebig © C.D. Trudinger 1981]

 My father seemed to be dragging his feet. He looked left and right, and every so often screwed up his nose.

 ‘You won’t find it,’ I said.

 Dad kicked a spinifex clump. ‘No harm in trying.’

 ‘You lost the quart can last time we climbed four years ago, way before the gully leading to the summit. Besides, we went a different way.’

 ‘Oh, I thought it was around about here… You never know.’

 Dad scanned the prickle bushes, loose rocks and red sand for his beloved quart can. How Dad survived the intervening years between 1977 and now, without his quart can, I’ll never know.

 ‘I remember that ghost gum,’ Dad said and pointed at the gum as if its pure white bark set against the blend of purples in the cliffs shadows held special powers to cause Dad’s quart can to materialise.

*[Photo 3: Suck on lemons for refreshment © C.D. Trudinger 1981]

 We rested under the ghost gum, eating apples, sucking lemons to find strength to continue, but we failed to locate Dad’s trusty old quart can. Dad gazed over the valley of silver slopes of grass, his mouth downturned, and his glasses fogged over. He missed that quart can. He stood and patted his pockets. ‘Ah, well! We better keep on going.’

One by one we hauled our packs on our backs, and loaded up as pack animals, we picked our route over rocks, loose stones and sharp spinifex spears. My brother wore home-made vinyl shin guards. Much had changed since we last hiked up here in 1977; boulders had fallen down, the spinifex grew in more abundance, and effigies of burnt trees dotted the terrain. Single-file we mounted the steep ascent until we reached the pair of five-metre-high walls at the top of the gully.

Dad shaded his eyes and squinted up the barrier of rocks to the west. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. Some of the ledges on the cliff had crumbled.

*[Photo 4: The tantalising Trig © C.D. Trudinger 1981]

 My brother sprinted up through a gap in the boulders. We waited for his return and signal to proceed.

 The wind whistled through the alley of cliffs. I looked through the crevice between the rocks. No sign of My brother.

 ‘I hope he’s alright,’ I said.

 More minutes passed. We sat poised to move at any moment as if sitting on spinifex, yet we remained calm, mesmerized by the emptiness of the landscape, and the silence.

*[Photo 5: Down the Gully from where we had climbed © C.D. Trudinger 1981]

I looked through the gap again and asked, ‘What’s taking him so long?’ Then I slumped onto a large stone. Visions of my brother falling off the cliff plagued my imagination.

 ‘I’ll go up and have a look,’ David R (our guide) said, and then he disappeared through the hole.

 More minutes ticked by. I glanced at the hole that had swallowed up David. ‘What’s happened?’

 ‘Just be patient.’ Dad seemed content to sit staring at the scenery. ‘They’ll come back.’

 But they didn’t. Instead, the hole drew in older cousin (C1), followed soon after by younger cousin(C2). I peered into the tunnel of no return.

 Dad hovered at my back. ‘Don’t go up there.’

 ‘Why not?’ I replied. ‘Everyone else has.’

 ‘Let me see,’ Dad said as he nudged me away. He crawled further in the hole and traced the granite wall inside with his fingers.

 ‘Don’t you leave me behind.’ I saw Dad place his foot in a crag and lever his way up to a ledge. ‘You tell someone to come back and help me, you hear.’

 Dad called back. ‘Don’t you move.’

 Easy for him to say. ‘Yeah, okay, but don’t forget about me.’

[to be continued…]

© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017; blog update 2021

Feature Photo: Dreams to climb Mt. Liebig © S.O. Gross 1946


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T-Team the Younger–Chambers Crusaders

Flinders Trekking with the T-Team (4)

The Four Chambers Crusaders

[Last few days filled with cold weather and rain. But today the sun has come out just as in 1984, after the rain in the Flinders Ranges the sun emerged offering a beautiful day for the T-Team The Younger to explore Chambers Gorge…]

Doris sidled up to me and asked, ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’

I shrugged. ‘Sort of…maybe…um…not really.’

‘Come on, you can tell me. I bet you have.’

‘Nah, just a lot of bad luck.’

‘Oh, like what?’

‘Nothing…no one,’ I replied. ‘What about you? Are you and Barney…?’

‘Are you kidding? No way!’

That shut down the conversation in romance and we hiked along in silence. Up the gorge. Towards Mount Chambers.

[Photo 1: Hiking up Chambers Gorge © L.M. Kling 1984]

‘Cor!’ Barney exclaimed. ‘What’s all this rubbish? It’s like Chamber-Pot Gorge, not Chambers Gorge.’

‘I wish people would clean up after themselves,’ Doris remarked.

I gazed at my brother, Rick who was racing ahead. He seemed oblivious to the discarded soft drink cans scattered on the dry creek bed, plastic stranded in the sand, and toilet paper fluttering on prickle bushes.

‘Where are all the campers?’ I asked. But for all the litter, there seemed a distinct lack of people that morning as we trekked to Mount Chambers.

Barney sniggered, ‘I guess the rain the previous night had flushed them out of the gorge.’

‘Not literally,’ Doris added.

‘I remember our mate Mel saying how when he and his family camped in the Flinders, at the first sign of rain, they packed up their belongings and were gone.’ Barney clicked his fingers. ‘The rivers in outback Australia can flood, just like that.’

[Photo 2: Flooding of the Finke River, NT © S.O. Gross circa 1950]

‘Yep, they don’t call it flash-flooding for nothing,’ Doris said.

‘We survived,’ I reminded them. ‘We’re not floating down Chambers Gorge in Rick’s Charger, are we?’

‘We got to higher ground,’ Barney said.

Doris smiled. ‘We were lucky.’

‘Yep, I guess we were,’ I sighed and thought, I wish such luck translated to romance.

More silence as we trudged along the creek bed, the dry creek bed; all the rain from last night had been absorbed into the sand. The gorge had narrowed, and Barney had disappeared; absorbed by the copper brown cliffs and pale yellow shrubs.

‘I heard there’s some rock carvings on Mount Chambers,’ Doris said.

‘That should be interesting,’ I muttered. ‘Just my luck, Rick would’ve left us behind, and we won’t find them.’

‘He won’t.’

Sure enough, as we rounded the bend in the gorge, there Rick and Barney sat, perched on a tree stump.

[Photo 3: Stumped © L.M. Kling 1984]

‘Do you know where we are going?’ I asked.

Rick pointed. ‘It’s that mountain up there.’

The T-Team stuck together as we hiked down the narrowing gorge. The cliffs towered over us, too dangerous to climb.

Rick gazed up at the cliffs. ‘I think we’ll have to go round and climb up the hill.’

The rest of us groaned.

‘If we keep going this way, we’ll get stuck,’ he insisted.

‘Oh, alright,’ I sighed. ‘Don’t want to get stuck.’

‘Okay, everyone,’ Doris gestured to us to line up, ‘Gretchen time.’

I took a photo of Rick and Doris’ Gretchen pose to mark the end of the hike in the creek before we commenced our climb.

[Photo 4: Gretchen © L.M. Kling 1984]

So, after back-tracking, the T-Team laboured up the slope. My shins ached from the steep gradient. While Rick sprinted up, my two other companions struggled up the slope. Before Rick would vanish over the lip of the hill, I had to take a photo of this priceless moment. I raised my camera.

Doris turned. ‘No, that’s a boring! Come on everyone, let’s dance.’ She waved and hollered, ‘Rick! Come on, dance-photo time.’

Rick, Doris and Barney took their dance poses and I snapped a couple of shots.

[Photo 5: Let’s Dance © L.M. Kling 1984]

My brother then pointed at some caves. We took the slight detour and well-deserved rest break. Near the caves we ate our scroggin (nuts, dried fruit and chocolate), and admired the Indigenous rock carvings.

[Photo 6: Rock carvings © L.M. Kling 1984]
[Photo 7: View from the cave © L.M. Kling 1984]

Refreshed and energy restored, the T-Team of Chambers crusaders, marched up the hill to the summit of the mountain.

Doris chuckled, ‘Remember Mount Ohlsen Bagge when Mel kept saying to his girlfriend, ‘Just five more minutes’?’

‘Ha-ha, five-minute Mel,’ Barney snorted.

‘Yeah, didn’t help much, his girlfriend gave up halfway up,’ I said.

‘She had asthma,’ Doris said.

‘I know,’ I said, ‘Promising that you have only five minutes to go to the top, doesn’t help much if you can’t breathe.’

[Photo 8: Future memories of Mt. Ohlssen Bagge with the K-Team: L.M. Kling 2007]

Mount Chambers didn’t seem as high as Mount Ohlssen Bagge, and by lunch time, we had reached the cairn of stones that marked the summit. The T-Team gathered around the stones and I took a photo as proof of our achievement.

[Photo 9: T-Team triumph over Mt. Chambers © L.M. Kling 1984]

Then, after a light lunch of more scroggin, we began our descent. Half-way down, I observed Barney hunched over, backpack on his back.

I laughed, ‘Hey Barney, let me get a photo of you; you look like a tortoise.’

‘So do you,’ Barney shot back.

Doris tucked her pack under her T-shirt and Rick did the same.

I set up the camera on my tripod and following Doris’ example, the T-Team became the four hunchbacks of Mount Chambers.

[Photo 10: The hunchbacks of Mt. Chambers © L.M. Kling 1984]

Then, discarding our packs, we transformed into the T-Team Crusaders again.

[Photo 11: The Four Crusaders of Mt. Chambers © L.M. Kling 1984]

While trekking down to the plain, Doris spotted a white Holden Kingswood with two strapping young fellas attached to it. Being the bush, and the guys being the only other humans in the vicinity of Mount Chambers, Doris approached them.

I followed.

We had a good yarn with them. They were from Melbourne on a road trip. We swapped addresses.

Some months later, one of them actually wrote to me. So, on a road trip with my Dad to Melbourne, I caught up with this fellow. But, just my luck, by the end of the meeting, I realised that he was interested in Doris, not me. In hindsight, now, lucky for the future Mr. K., or more appropriately, God’s plan for my life.

© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2019

Feature Photo: Indigenous Carvings Chambers Gorge © L.M. Kling 1984


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T-Team Next Gen–Alice Springs and Things Eternal

[In 2013, the T-Team, next generation embarked on their pilgrimage to Central Australia. Purpose: to scatter Dad’s ashes in his beloved Central Australia, in Ormiston Gorge.

Over the next few weeks, I will take you on a virtual trip to the Centre and memories of that unforgettable holiday in 2013, with my brother and his family; the T-Team Next Generation.

This time, the T-K Team once again return to Alice Springs as they begin their journey back home.]

In Search of Gas

While Anthony packed the Ford, I prepared a “thank you” card for our friends. I found a photo of a rock formation near Mt. Liebig, then I painted a frame around the photo, and finally, sketched Mt. Sonder from memory in the middle of the card.

[1. Painting : Mt. Liebig © L.M. Kling 2013]

After placing the card with gift money enclosed, on the kitchen bench, I joined Anthony to pack the last few items of mine in the Ford.

[2. Painting: Mt. Sonder © L.M. Kling]

Anthony checked his expert handiwork at packing, and then said, ‘Ready to go?’

‘Yep, let’s go over to the FRM store and say goodbye to our friends.’

We bid our Hermannsburg friends farewell, promising to catch up with them when they returned to Adelaide. After more storytelling by P, and some souvenir shopping by us, we were ready to farewell Hermannsburg.

[3. Photo: Just a reminder that Hermannsburg once had a cattle station to employ the locals © C.D. Trudinger circa 1955]

Following a few more stories from P, then a phone call to my brother who said they were about to leave Alice Springs, we were set for this town.


‘I just want to check out the graveyard,’ I said.

‘Do we have to?’ Anthony sighed. ‘There’s nothing there.’

‘I just want to see who’s buried there.’

‘If we have to.’

Anthony trekked after me as I trudged over to the graveyard that looked more like a neglected paddock of red sand than a cemetery. We gazed at the iron crosses of the early missionaries such as Kempe, and a sad tombstone of a Latz baby of 10 weeks.

‘Vogelsang, who’s he?’ I asked.

Anthony shrugged. ‘Probably a missionary here, since he’s buried here.’

[4. Photo: Standing where my mum stood.  Funeral of Hermann Vogelsang storeman / gardener at Hermannsburg mission from 1938-1940 © courtesy M.E. Trudinger 1940]

With plans to fill the Ford with fuel both petrol and gas, and then lunch at Emily Gap, we commenced our drive back to Alice Springs.

‘What about we take a slight detour and have a look at Serpentine Gorge,’ I said, with hope in my voice.

Anthony seemed not to hear my suggestion, but pointed, ‘Look! Another cabin car. Must be lots of workmen going out to do roadworks.’

‘So, we’ll leave Serpentine Gorge for another time when there’s not the threat of roadworks.’

[5. Photo: Serpentine Gorge, for another time © C.D. Trudinger 1958]

1pm, we rolled into Alice Springs making a beeline for the petrol station.

‘We must fill up with gas before we start on the journey back to Adelaide,’ Anthony said.

‘Might be a bit difficult,’ I pointed at the LP Gas bowser, ‘it says “Out of Order”.’

Anthony topped up the Ford’s petrol tank and we steeled ourselves for the hunt for LP Gas. We reckoned in a country town such as Alice, most fuel stations lined the main roads leading into and out of the town. So, down the Stuart Highway we travelled, in search of a service station which offered gas. Prophetic of a future without LP Gas, our search proved elusive.

[6. Photo : Farewell to the Governor General as he departs from Hermannsburg © S.O. Gross 1954]

Anthony gripped the steering wheel. ‘How are we going to get back to Adelaide?’

‘I’m sure there’s a station that sells gas somewhere in Alice.’

‘How far do you want me to go? Adelaide?’

‘Don’t be silly,’ I said. ‘Turn around and let’s go back into the town.’

Anthony grunted in protest at where he could safely do a U-turn, then did a U-turn. Approaching the radio station, I spotted a white van with a trailer.

‘Guess who I’ve found,’ I pointed at the van with the T-Team spilling out of it.

‘Do you want me to turn around?’ Anthony asked.

‘Yep, Rick may know where a service station is that sells LP Gas.’

[7.Photo and Feature: Proof. Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip at the opening of the Flynn Memorial Church Alice Springs © S.O. Gross 1954]

We spent some twenty minutes touching base with the T-Team. Rick gave directions for a LP Gas-friendly service station within Alice Springs and we were on our way to this fuel stop of promise, and then out to Emily Gap. Meanwhile the T-Team visited their friend who worked at the radio station.

[to be continued…]

© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2021


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