During World War II, The Ghan transported almost 200,000 troops from Adelaide to Alice Springs, where the line then terminated. Most were then trucked to Larrimah, where they were put on another train to Adelaide River and then back onto trucks to Darwin. To commemorate its connection to this war service, Great Southern Rail – the company that operates The Ghan – now runs a special Anzac Tribute train over the Anzac weekend.
Story By Mark Muller
In 2013 some 250 people, many of them veterans, undertook the journey. During the four-day trip from Darwin, passengers visited the Adelaide River War Cemetery, had dinner in Katherine Gorge, attended the dawn service in Katherine, explored Alice Springs and also experienced the Pichi Richi steam train – an original troop carrier – on a side-trip through the Flinders Ranges from Port Augusta to Quorn before rejoining The Ghan and embarking on the final leg to Adelaide.
In all, three nights are spent on The Ghan as it crosses the continent. Entertainers are on board, and historians give talks about the part the train played during the war, and about Australia’s wider role in the conflict, with a particular focus on the communities through which the train passes.
For WWII veterans Ray Hart and Lysle Roberts, it is an enjoyable journey, leavened by the sadness of remembrance, and the solemnity of the dawn service itself.
Ray was a wireless telegraphist with the 110 Mobile Fighter Control Unit in Darwin. “It was our job to communicate with the pilots – to let them know where they had to go,” Ray says.
Lysle, who flew Spitfires out of Darwin for 457 Squadron, remembers his first journey on The Ghan in the war as being an entirely different experience. He says conditions were “primitive”. “But you didn’t worry about that then – we were young and it was an adventure,” he says.
The 2014 Ghan Anzac Tribute departs Darwin on Wednesday, April 23. For more information, see
www.greatsouthernrail.com.au or phone 1800 703 357.
This story excerpt is from Issue #94
Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2014