Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sepia Saturday: Hello

Ghan workers tapping in to the telephone line in central Australia 1942. [Photo: D Kendall]
This photo needs some explanation.

The place is central Australia near Alice Springs. The year is 1942 - it's the middle of the war. Our friend Don was an Australian soldier stationed at Darwin when he and a mate were told to find their own way south to Melbourne and report for duty at the Air Force base at Point Cook because their applications to transfer to the RAAF had been accepted.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? The problem was that Darwin is a long way from Melbourne, especially in war time. It's 3,800 kms and the population is very sparce for most of the way. The road was really just a track for most of the way. They had very little money and the army provided them with a few food vouchers and travel passes but they had to organise their own route.

So, they hitched rides to Alice Springs on various army transport vehicles, then they went by train to Adelaide, and then by another train to Melbourne. It was all a bit of an adventure for two young lads.

The Ghan railway route today.
 In 1942 the old Ghan route (brown dotted line) from near Adelaide terminated at Alice Springs.
In 1872 a major engineering feat was completed. It was called the Overland Telegraph Line and it connected Darwin to Port Augusta in South Australia. It allowed much faster communication between Australia and the rest of the world. The building of the Overland Telegraph was fraught with difficulties but that's a whole other story.

The famous old Ghan was a narrow-gauge railway that opened in 1927 as 'Central Australian Railway'. It ran north to Oodnadatta in 1891 and then to Alice Springs in 1927. Its nickname derives from the Afghan cameleers who were so important in the the early days. (That's another big story, and so is the story of the difficulties encountered in the building of the Ghan railway.) The new Ghan is one of the great railway journeys of the world - all the way from Darwin to Adelaide in comfort. The old Ghan was a different story as weather and the environment played havoc with the infrastructure so travellers never quite knew when they would arrive at their destination.

For the purpose of this blog suffice to say that the telegraph line was extremely important and so was the Ghan, and that they followed the same route for much of their journey through the tough Australian landscape.

In 1942 Don and his mate travelled south from Alice Springs on the old Ghan and in Don's photo we can see that some of the workers on the Ghan are in the middle of nowhere tapping in to the telegraph line to set up some sort of temporary communication.

This post is in response to Sepia Saturday's theme photo of electrical linesmen in Tasmania.


  1. I hope the fellow holding the pole is wearing shoes rather than being barefoot - or does that matter with a telegraph line? I got the shock of my life once when I stood on a damp cement floor in bare feet & touched the door of a clothes dryer that was running. I 'came to' picking myself up off the floor on the other side of the room! Not fun! But what a trip those fellows made in order to become members of the RAAF.

  2. Very nice of Don to share his photos with you, and this one is perfect for this week's topic. I'd never thought about the origin of the Ghan Railway name before.

  3. Love the clothes. They're gorgeous.. An interesting part of the development of communications in Australia.

  4. Thanks for giving the background of how those guys eventually got where they were going. And I want to hear more of those stories about how the lines were built!

  5. Fascinating. I hope Don has kept notes of his travels in 1942. Must be interesting to hear about how they got around. Now I have to find out more about the cameleers.

    1. Hi Helen. Yes, I interviewed him, scanned his photos and typed up his diary then put it all together in a little booklet and sent a copy to the Australian War Memorial.

  6. Great photo to use, Lorraine. Reminds me of all the backpackers lining up to use a particular phone box in Budapest in the late 1980s, that one could, if you knew the right code, get you free calls home to wherever you wanted in the world.

  7. It's so interesting to see the latest technology when it was the latest technology.

  8. I'm glad you said they were connecting to lines because all I kept thinking was why "Y"?

    I'm sure you don't have the cell phone commercial that used to be so prevalent here in the US, but I keep imagining the fella on the phone saying, "Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?"


I love to read your comments. Thankyou for your interest.



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