The Ghan memorial in the Alice Springs Railway Station remembers the Afhans and commemorates the arrival of the standard guage rail in 1980.
Waiting for the Ghan to depart at the old Stuart Station could be enhanced by a quick game of two-up.
In the foyer of the railway terminal is the imposing memorial, by sculptor Gabriel Stark,
commemorating the Afghan camel trains which transported goods to Alice Springs until the
railway arrived from Oodnadatta in 1929. Furniture, roofing materials and even pianos came by camel
to the centre until then.|
The new train retains the affectionate nick-name 'The Ghan', after the hardy Afghans who spent long periods with their cumbersome charges traversing the desert and long distances to supply the needs of the growing 'Stuart' town. Many descendants of these early Afghan operators still live in Alice Springs, and a section of the Memorial Cemetery holds some of their ancestors.
The arrival of the train did not solve all the problems of the growing community. Frequent wash-outs, and impassable rivers like the Finke often delayed the train for weeks at a time after rain.
I remember in one year of the mid-seventies a competition was held to 'Find the Ghan' by the local Alice Springs Star Newspaper. Contestants had to nominate which hour, day, month and year the train would eventually arrive. It took 3 months before a large collection of townsfolk congregated for a breakfast at the Gap put on by the paper to welcome the train back to Alice. Startled passengers wondered why there was such a fuss.
I also remember one day receiving a report the 'Ghan' had fallen over just south of Heavitree Gap. I quickly went to the spot around 500 metres south of the gap and, sure enough, there was part of the train lying on its side, only a couple of kilometres short of its destination.
The original station was in Railway Tce. and the line entered the town parallel to that street. The area now occupied by Murray Neck's shopping complex housed railway staff and the goods yards.
In the late 1970s I went to Manguri with then local MP for Braitling, Roger Vale to inspect the line and see how it was progressing. A detailed story on the building of the line will be found elsewhere in these pages but is quite large. There are many photos of all aspects of the construction.
Roger became one of the driving forces behind the formation of the Ghan Preservation Society which now operates the museum south of town at MacDonnell Siding. See Story