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The Adelaide Darwin railway line passing along the edge of Lake Hart north of Port Augusta in South Australia. | by denisbin
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The Adelaide Darwin railway line passing along the edge of Lake Hart north of Port Augusta in South Australia.

On the Indian Pacific train you depart Aelaide 6:40 pm reaching Port August at 11pm; then Tarcoola 4:20 am; the siding of Bates at 7:40am. We have a brief stop at the former township of Cook at 9:45 am. We should reach Forrest in Western Australia about 1:54 pm; Rawlinna at 2:26 pm and Kalgoorlie at 7:10 pm.

 

As a condition of entering the federation of Australia WA Premier Sir John Forrest insisted on a transcontinental rail link with the eastern states via Port Augusta. Work began in 1912 and was completed in 1917. Water for the steam engines was obtained from bores across the Nullarbor but the high salt content meant steam engines rusted out very quickly. Coal was shipped from NSW and transported across the Nullarbor to tiny rail sidings and left in stockpiles to fuel the steam furnaces. It was a costly and relatively slow way of crossing from SA to Perth. The journey involved several changes of gauges from Adelaide with the first at Terowie where the 5’3” rail gauge line ended. The 3’6” gauge from Terowie meandered north through Quorn and down through the Pichi Richi Pass to Port August. Here was another change of gauge to the new standard line across to Kalgoorlie. At Kalgoorlie a further change of gauge occurred back to 3’6” the main gauge used in WA. The first train to cross from Sydney to Perth without a change of gauge was in 1970. The first air-conditioned train to cross to Perth from Port Pirie was in 1951. The original trip from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie took 42 hours but was later reduced to 29 hours by 1936 when the new direct line from Adelaide to Port Pirie opened. Today we travel the same section in 19 hours from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie.

 

Map of the proposed state of Auralia based on Kalgoorlie when WA hesitated about joining the Australian Federation in 1901.

Nullarbor.

This flat limestone plain is the largest area of karst landscape, with numerous subsurface caves, in the world. It stretches 1,200 kms from near Ceduna to near Norseman in WA. On it southern border high limestone cliffs face the Great Australian Bight; to the north the limestone plain becomes the Great Victoria Desert, a typical sandy desert. Nullarbor comes for the Latin “nullus” meaning not any and “arbor” meaning trees- hence no trees. However, this does not mean the Nullarbor lacks vegetation (or interest). Around 800 species of plants including saltbush and blue bush grow across the Nullarbor or its edges. Wildlife is plentiful but water is not. Somehow Edward John Eyre managed to cross the inhospitable landscape with the help of his Aboriginal friend Wylie in 1841. The pair was saved by a French whaling ship on the coast near Esperance. After receiving food and water Eyre and Wylie continued overland to Albany to complete the crossing from Streaky Bay. Eyre was award the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society in London for this incredible journey. After the journey Eyre took up land in SA and became Protector of Aborigines near Blanchetown (Moorundie).

 

The Characters of the Crossing.

The stations/sidings which you will probably not even see as they whizz by include a list of many of Australian

Prime Ministers and the eccentric Daisy Bates. In order, after Tarcoola which we pass through during the night, the sidings are: Barton; Bates; Ooldea; Watson; Fisher and Cook where we stop for a short time. Beyond Cook where the line is straight for a very long distance the sidings are: Denman; Hughes; Forrest (which has the major airport); Rawlinna, Chifley; Curtin and finally Kalgoorlie.

Barton. Sir Edmund Barton, 1829-1920, was an Australian born NSW scholar and politician. A staunch federalist he became the first Australian Prime Minister in 1901. He was the driving fore behind the writing of the Australian Constitution. He pushed for the White Australia Policy and got an act to repatriate Kanaka workers from Queensland. He resigned in 1903 to become a judge of the High Court of Australia.

Bates. Daisy Bates, 1863-1951, was an eccentric Irishwoman who migrated to Australia in 1884. She married in 1885 but seldom lived with her husband. After a five year trip to England she returned to Australia and took up living with remote Aboriginal communities, firstly in the Kimberlies and then at Ooldea in SA. She lived at Yalata or Ooldea from 1915 to 1934. She favoured segregation of full blood Aboriginal people, maintained they practised cannibalism and was unpopular with academic anthropologists but she had many articles written in newspapers to popularise her ideas and her work. She died at Prospect and was buried in North Road Anglican cemetery.

Ooldea. Ooldea has been an Aboriginal camping place for aeons as it has permanent water. Ernest Giles the explorer was the first white person to discover the water here in 1875. Ooldea became the rail siding for the Maralinga nuclear testing site and it was the home of Daisy Bates for many years.

Watson. John Christian Watson, 1867 -1941, was the third Prime Minister but served for only four months in 1904. He was Australia’s first Labor Prime Minister and he favoured protective tariffs. He retired from federal politics in 1910. He was known for his “Viking style” beard!

Fisher. Andrew Fisher, 1862-1928, was Prime Minister three times, 1908-9; 1910-13; and 1914-15. He was a founding Labor politician. Whilst PM he oversaw the establishment of the Australian Navy, the founding of the Commonwealth Bank, the founding of Canberra and the splitting of the Northern Territory from SA. He was also PM when a start was made on the Transcontinental rail line from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie in 1912. Not surprisingly the first few rail sidings across the Nullarbor are named after Labor Prime Ministers, except for Barton, our first Prime Minister. The conservative/national/free trade Prime Minsters generally have sidings in WA towards Kalgoorlie!

Cook. This station and tiny township was not named after Captain James Cook but Prime Minister Sir Joseph Cook, 1860-1947. Cook was the sixth PM in 1913-14. He began as a Labor politician but in the federal sphere switched away from protectionism to free trade. He served as a Liberal free trade Prime Minister. Cook agreed to the British request for troops to support them in World War One in France and Turkey.

Denman. Sir Thomas Denman, 1874-1954, was a British military man. He was appointed as Governor General of Australia in 1911. He conducted the founding ceremony for the establishment of Canberra in 1913. Denman interfered in federal politics and supported the PM who wanted complete Australian control and autonomy for the Australian Navy. Denman publically supported this. He was recalled to England in May 1914. Throughout the 1920s he supported Australia’s point of view in debates in the British House of Lords.

Hughes. William (Billy) Hughes was the first long surviving Australian Prime Minister as he was in power from 1915-1923. This record was not beaten until 1957 by Sir Robert Menzies. Billy Hughes lived from 1862- 1952. Hughes’ other record, being the longest serving member of parliament has not yet been surpassed. He was a politician for almost 52 years! Hughes served in earlier Labor ministries but split the Labor Party in 1917 by proposing conscription for the World War One war effort. He was expelled from the Labor Party! But he won the next election in alliance with the National Party. In 1923 he had insufficient parliamentarians to form government but he remained in parliament as a member of the United Australia Party which later became the Liberal Party. He died whilst still a parliamentarian aged 90 years.

Deakin. This siding is right on the WA/SA border. Alfred Deakin, 1856-1919, served as Prime Minister three times in the first few years of federation from 1903-4; 1905-8; and 1909-10. Alfred Deakin was a protectionists and finally Liberal in parliament. He was a great leader in the federation moment, a former Victorian Premier and is credited with starting the nation building process for Australia when he was Prime Minister. He was a scholar and a lawyer.

Reid. Sir George Reid, 1845-1918, was Prime Minister in 1904-5. He was a devout exponent of free trade and a Liberal but the other Liberal Alfred Deakin would not support him and his free trade policies. He went on to be leader of the Opposition against the Labor governments that followed him.

Forrest. Sir John Forest, 1847-1918, the first Baron Forrest of Bunbury, was an explorer, surveyor and politician extraordinaire. He was born at Bunbury in WA and became the founding Premier of WA when partial self-government was granted by Britain in 1890. Forrest led the explorers who did the first west to east crossing of the Nullarbor from Perth to Adelaide in 1870. He was the first Western Australian knighted in 1891. He served as Premier of WA from 1890 to 1901 during the decade when the population exploded with the gold discoveries at Kalgoorlie. He acted for the establishment of a water pipeline to Kalgoorlie; he unilaterally rejected Britain’s control of WA Aboriginal Affairs and summarily ended it; he took government control of the Great Southern Railway to Albany; he repealed a section of the state Constitution which stated 1% of all tax royalties must be spent on Aboriginal people. From 1901 to his death in 1918 he was a member of the federal parliament aligned with non-Labor politicians. Although he supported federation he fought hard for rights for WA including the building of a transcontinental railway from Port Augusta. Forrest’s reluctance to join federation until concessions were promised for WA led politicians and others in the goldfields to propose a new state called Auralia to enter the federation, even if the rest of WA did not. The capital of that state would have been Kalgoorlie. Once Forrest finally committed WA to join the federation this proposal for a separate state of Auralia was dropped. The Forrest siding or settlement with only a couple for residents is known for its airport. It has the largest runway outside of a capital city in case it is needed for emergency or military use. Light aircraft use the airport as a refuelling stop across the Nullarbor.

Rawlinna. This siding is named after the local sheep station, the largest in the world, with an historical homestead. Up to 80,000 sheep have been shorn in one year on Rawlinna Station.

Chifley. Joseph Benedict Chifley, 1885-1951, was a Labor Prime Minister for Australia after the Second World War from 1945- 1949. Ben Chifley introduced the Snowy Mountains irrigation scheme and founded the Australian National University in Canberra. He was no longer PM in 1951 but still a parliamentarian when he died in office in Canberra. He lost the 1949 elections on his proposal to nationalise the banks of Australia.

Curtin. John Curtin, 1884-1945 was the Labor Prime Minister for Australia during most of World War Two from 1941-45. He died in office in July 1945 just six weeks before the end of the War. His great contribution was to reject British proposals for the deployment of Australian troops to protect their interests and to put them under the command of General Douglas MacArthur from America who used our troops in South East Asia and New Guinea to protect Australia from invasion by the Japanese.

 

Kalgoorlie.

Gold was discovered here by Patrick Hannan and the city emerged overnight in 1893. The finds were so rich that it is still known as the richest mile on the planet. Thousands swarmed to the gold fields but deep shaft mining meant casual prospectors were soon just mine employees and most left the goldfields. By 1898 the town had a population of around 2,000 but only 500 were women. Once a railway line from Perth reached the town the population grew. The water pipeline reached the city in 1903 offering coastal amenities to outback residents! It was this small population of about 5,000 in 1900 that were in favour of joining the federation of Australia and creating a new state called Auralia. The port for this new colony would have been Esperance. The mine continued giving its riches to the mining companies. When it began in 1893 gold worth £421,000 was produced in WA. By 1900 the value of gold found in WA was worth £6,000,000! And the boom still continues in WA with nickel, oil, gas and iron and Kalgoorlie has the largest open cut mine in the world.

 

But relations on the gold fields have not always been cordial. Kalgoorlie is known for the 1934 Race Riots as mobs against Greek, Italian and Slavic mobs rioted, attacked and burned Greek and Slavic owned properties. Extra police were sent from Perth to quell the riots. The riot broke out on a Saturday night, a traditional night for drinking and violence. Foreign owned hotels were burned and residences lived in by foreigners had their windows smashed in both Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie. This was and still is the Wild West! Unlike the eastern states WA has always had more land than people and even into the 1970s virgin farmland was being granted or sold to new comers for little money. One of the last large cereal farming areas developed, which would have been in the state of Auralia, was at Esperance in the 1970s.

 

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Taken on June 15, 2010