Sunday, 20 August 1995

Old Ghan Railway

An early start over a hot cuppa for yours truly as the sun made its way skyward, allowed me the luxury of some planning time with the documentation I had gathered prior to the trip. In the twelve months preceding our departure, I had written to tourist information centres in all of the places
on our proposed route, indicating our intention to travel through their area and the type of activities we would most like to pursue. I listed bush walking and National Parks as the top of the interests list, but also included local history and general sightseeing.

Using this information and some gathered upon arrival at our excellent camping venue, I was able to piece together a plan of attack. This was confirmed with the other half of the planning team, once her cup of tea had taken effect. Our plan, therefore, was to see those things we considered to be of value in the city on this, our first day and then go to the places of interest outside of the city on the subsequent days.

Chief among the "things to do and see", was a trip on the Old Ghan Railway.

Ablutions completed and breakfast destroyed, we travelled to the southern outskirts of Alice Springs to where the Old Ghan Railway Preservation Society Inc. had set up their headquarters at the old Sturt siding. Sturt was the original name of Alice Springs, but it was changed to the current one in the early part of this century. The Old Ghan Railway Preservation Society is a group of volunteers who love trains and want to save the old carriages from extinction. They have set up the old siding in heritage colours and have included an interesting museum on the history of the Ghan and train travel in the Territory.

Using an old section of track, they run train rides on two days a week, with the tourist dollar supporting the continuation of their activities. They have been told on numerous occasions they will have to close down, but their enthusiasm and perseverance prevents it from happening.

Tickets purchased, we wandered up the length of the train to look at the old carriages and shoot some video footage. With this task virtually completed, I was concentrating on shooting the connection of the locomotive to the rolling stock, when the friendly engineer came along and invited me up onto aflat car to assist him start the electric generator. The train is pulled by a diesel locomotive these days and the generator provides electricity to the carriages.

With little instruction, I was soon turning the crank handle preparatory to the switch being thrown to "kick" the engine. In my dim, dark past, I had previously cranked an engine and had suffered a nasty wrist sprain when it kicked and tried to separate my hand from my arm, so I was carrying negative baggage in trying to complete this task. When instructed to "go like hell" I duly did and as the engine kicked, I pulled the handle from its mounting place. The rotating shaft caught the handle as it came away and sent in smashing into my face, where it was stopped by my lips and behind them, my teeth. Reeling back, it did not take me long to realise I was shedding more than the sweat under the arms, but also a goodly amount of blood from the mouth.

Inspection revealed a split lip and numb teeth and the need for medical attention that could not wait until the return of the train in two hours. So with my career crank starting record standing at 0 for 2, 1 was soon driving back into Alice Springs seeking the hospital, with a large lump of serviette-encased ice on the spreading skin of my upper left lip.

Meanwhile, Sue and her frantic children boarded the train and had their ride. With Chris stepping brilliantly into the breach and recording videofootage of the trip, all was not lost in terms of keeping the audio/visual record intact. From all reports - and following a check of the footage my excellent offsider shot - it was a bonza trip and they enjoyed the experience. The restored amenities were excellent, with great fascination being expressed in the kitchen area. Highly polished stainless steel was abundant and an operational fuel stove was also on display.

The first class carriages held the most interest for the children, with more than one self-created role play taking them back through the years to when train travel was the quickest and most civilised form of transport.

When the trip ended, the Ghan Railway Preservation Society Inc., insisted on buying Sue and the children lunch, as I had not returned from my waiting vigil at the Emergency and Accident section of Alice Springs Hospital. In all, I had a two and a quarter hour wait until I was seen by a physician, most of the wait being caused by a near constant stream of ambulances which always seemed to materialise just as it seemed likely I would be called forward. As with all of these types of places, there were some sad cases and the wait was made the more difficult because of the suffering I witnessed on the faces and in the actions of the relatives who were attending their loved ones.

When treatment finally came, the verdict was I needed a stitch and a tetanus shot. The stitch was done without local anaesthetic, as I was warned this could be worse than the stitching, particularly for only one stitch. I was stoic, but the tetanus shot was my undoing. The feeling of that cold lead weight being pushed into me shoulder muscle was too much for me and I must admit to letting out a small whelp. The consolation of the kind nurse made it all worthwhile !

My return to Sue and the kids - late as it was - heralded great relief among all concerned. The OGRPS Inc had treated them very well and even insisted on refunding our fares and offering us free tickets on the next ride, to be held the following Wednesday. We reluctantly accepted the refund, but our departure for Uluru would prevent us taking up the offer of a second trip !

After assuring them - particularly the very upset engineer - all would be fine, we said our goodbyes and made our way into town.

It was well after lunch and I was feeling hungry ... until I tried to eat! Sitting on seats on top of Anzac Hill overlooking the city and with the imposing McDonnell Ranges as a backdrop, I found I wasn't feeling as good as I had hoped. We caught the views and left and soon afterwards, we were heading for home, where I crashed for some sleep: shock having caught up with me. Sue did a sterling job of putting up with both myself and the kids during the remainder of the afternoon.

Day turned to night - as is its custom - and we wrote the day off, ready to start afresh in the morning.

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