Last night I’d programmed my body clock to rouse me well before sun rise so I could be on my way bright and early. This time the clock worked and I was up and breakfasted on coffee and toast with marmalade jam well before 0500 hrs.
I packed the Landcover in record time and started my navigational preparedness for the day. First up, I programmed the Magellan with the old Ghan Railway coordinates at the point where I wanted to meet it.
On the image below, the vertical black bars you can see on the screen represent the strength of the data from the satellites the GPS is receiving. The numerals around the concentric circles are identifiers for the satellites.
By pressing the NAV button on the left of the instrument, I can scroll through various screens until I reach the one where I key in the destination coordinates and any way points I may be interested in.
Then, after returning to my map, I oriented my compass to the same destination point and recorded the direction by the numbEr of degrees onto the compass card. I’m really attached to this compass, it’s been my constant companion for over 50 years and has never let me down. Probably one of the reasons I’ve never been really lost.
Now, in addition to following the directions by GPS, I can sight along the bearing line on the compass, identify significant landmarks and drive towards them. Few obstacles can defeat the Landcover, except fences. Although uncommon where I’m travelling a fence does cause an immediate stop and creates the necessity to find an opening. It’s an absolute no no to cut a fence, it’s not only irresponsible, it’s also illegal.
In addition to my trusty 1:250,000 maps, I also carry the Australian Gazetteer. No wonder it’s heavy, it has a total of 1017 pages and the volume measures 130 cm( 11 and 3/4 inches)wide, 21.5cm(8 and 1/2 inches) high and 8.5cm(3 inches) thick. Not a back pack item, that’s for sure.
Well, after about another half hour fiddling around I was underway not long after 0530hrs and it wasn’t long before I came across one of the local inhabitants.
This camel is one of over a million wild camels that inhabit inland Australia’s arid zones. They were first brought to Australia in there 1800s with their Afghan cameleers to provide goods transport to the then inaccessible inland outposts. Would you believe we now export them as racing camels to the Middle East. Our camels are disease free and outstanding examples of their place in the animal kingdom.
It was from the Afghan cameleers that the fledgling Port Augusa to Alice Springs railway got its name, The Ghan.
Now it’s time for a little bit of history. Construction of The Ghan railway commenced in 1878. It was a 1060cm line, more commonly referred to as three foot six gauge. Once the steam trains started running they rapidly gained a reputation for arriving at their destination late. Not by an hour or so, the lateness was measured in days.
Dust storms often covered the track with deep sand, occasional floods washed away the lines and bridges and numerous other incidents caused delays. Each train had a large flat bed car attached behind the locomotive. This car was loaded with rail lines, sleepers, tools and other bits and pieces needed to repair the damaged lines. Both the crew and conscripted passengers were required to carry out the repair work.
Anyway, the line was closed in 1980 after a new line was constructed, eventually stretching from Adelaide in South Australia to Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory.
The new line and its rolling stock are still named’ The Ghan’ and the old Ghan line where I’m headed is now popular with outback tourists like myself.
Well, it wasn’t too far into the day’s run when I came across this abandoned truck just rusting away, all alone. What great yarns it could tell. Just looking at it I could see it had lived a hard life and certainly earned its keep.
After a few more hours there I was, at the start of the run along the abandoned Old Ghan railway line. This solitary stand pipe had served the locos and their passengers and freight well and stood as a solitary monument to those bygone days:
Everything out here gets dusty and when changing camera lenses there is always the chance of the demon dust getting on the camera’s sensor or onto film, if that’s your choice. You can see the spots on this image, it’s clumps of dust on the sensor and sometimes even the built in sensor wobble and shake can’t dislodge it. ‘Them’s the breaks’, as the saying goes.
The trip proceeded without incident, apart from the almost compulsory punctures and without my onboard air compressor I would certainly have been up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
The following selection of images will give you of an idea of what’s to be seen along the line, it’s well worth the effort and it’s a great glimpse into the great Australian outdoors.
As I got closer to my camp site for the night, my path was crossed by another camel, it seemed to be a fitting end to my run along the old Ghan line. I’m not sure if the camel was grinning at me as it wandered past:
Finally, after changing direction and leaving the line, I arrived at Chamber’s Pillar to camp for the night. The pillar was a navigation aid for the early explorers and is easily spotted in the basically flat surrounding country. I set up camp in the early afternoon, no one else was there and I enjoyed the solitude.
As you have gathered, today I was never lost, misplaced or even bewildered by my surroundings.
Tonight as I snuggle into my sleeping bag laid out in my sway, I’ll think about the next few days and the real reason I’m heading for Alice Springs. The following image should give you a clue so stand by for a post about it at some future time. Hoo roo for now.