Truth and myth of The Ghan

Submitted: Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 10:35
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The Ghan was named by rail workers, as a private joke to The Commonwealth Railways Commission George Thomas Gahan. There was never intention to link any Afghan cameleers with this railway. Every one knew at the time that cameleers were not from any part of Afghanistan, but they were from India - Pakistan. Cameleers were regarded in time of building and opening the railway link to Stuart (Alice Springs) just little above Australian aborigines and no person with right mind would name anything after them ..... definitely not a railway.
What else you have been lied about in Australian travel and history?

Even this link try to distort truth:

The Ghan
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Reply By: Member - mechpete - Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 12:00

Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 12:00
hey Danna
thanks for the post , I for one didn,t know that an many others
probably don,t know
cheers mechpete
AnswerID: 599217

Reply By: Notso - Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 12:29

Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 12:29
I wouldn't take that as gospel either!

Plenty of so called explanations around as to where the name came from!
AnswerID: 599219

Reply By: TomH - Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 13:43

Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 13:43
This seems to contradict the OP

Strange then that as its symbol it has a picture of a Camel on the rolling stock.
The linked article actually says it is not known how it was given its name and asks a question about it.
It does NOT confirm what is said above in any shape or form.
If you have documentory evidence of this I suggest you post a valid link to it.
AnswerID: 599222

Reply By: ExplorOz Team - Michelle - Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 15:06

Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 15:06
I don't quite agree with your statement "everyone knew that cameleers were not from any part of Afghanistan but from India".
This statement from the Australian Government website - History section (SITE LINK)...
quote "The cameleers were collectively known as 'Afghan' cameleers. While some were originally from Afghanistan, others came from countries such as Baluchistan, Kashmir, Sind, Rajastan, Egypt, Persia, Turkey and Punjab, so spoke a variety of languages. Their common bond was their Islamic religion and the fact that they were almost exclusively young or middle-aged men." end quote.
But yes I agree they were not highly regard people at the time. Another quote from the same page - quote "Almost all of the cameleers who came to Australia during this period faced enormous hardship. While their skills were needed and mostly appreciated, they were largely shunned by the European communities. Indeed, racism and anger towards them was rife."... end quote.
I haven't done any detailed research about the history of the name of the railway.
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AnswerID: 599230

Reply By: Member - Boobook - Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 15:07

Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 15:07
The train to Oodnadatta and was called the Afgan Express. It was built and run by SAR. It later changed its name to the Ghan and then was taken over by CR in about 1928.

Thomas Gahan didn't become commissioner of CR until about 1928, 2 years after the Ghan was named under SAR stewardship.

Personally that adds up more than a train being named after a commissioner for a railway that didn't even run it at the time.

There is no doube that it was called the Afghan express in the early 20's. That is a short jump to the Ghan.
AnswerID: 599232

Reply By: Ron N - Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 15:53

Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 15:53
I think the site below gives the best outline of the origin of the name of the 'Ghan.

Pichi Richi Railway - the Ghan story

It's not hard to believe that when the first train on the Northern line arrived in Alice Springs, it was regarded as a replacement for the Afghan cameleers - and as such, deserved the moniker as "the (railway) 'Ghan".

However, the above site states that a plaque in Alice Springs - unveiled in 1980 - outlines clearly that the 'Ghan train derived its name from an event in Quorn, when the first sleeping car service was introduced between Terowie and Oodnadatta in August 1923 - fully six years before a train steamed into Alice Springs.

It would be interesting to study the Trove online newspaper resources to find when the 'Ghan name first found its way into the newspapers.
In that era, popular nicknames soon found their way into the print media.

If the train was being referred to as the 'Ghan between 1923 and 1929 in the papers - then that would back the story on the Pichi Richi website, and the history plaque in Alice Springs.

Cheers, Ron.
AnswerID: 599234

Follow Up By: Ron N - Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 16:49

Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 16:49
I've just done some quick research on Trove - and surprisingly, there is not a single mention of the 'Ghan train, anywhere in NT or SA newspapers, before 1935.

In 1935 and 1936 articles, the train is regularly referred to as the 'Ghan - and in the first (i.e. - the earliest) January 1935 article about the 'Ghan that I found - it says the name is the common nickname for the train - but says nothing about when it was first named, nor how it came about.

Every single reference to "['Ghan]", earlier than 1935, is referring to Afghans.

Accordingly, it appears that the name wasn't bestowed on the train until much later than the Pichi Rich website claims.

I feel pretty sure, that if the 'Ghan nickname was in use by 1923, it would have showed up in newpaper articles - particularly the "local news" articles - by at least 1925.

The "local news" articles were not professionally written and contained plenty of slang and local terms.

It seems highly unlikely that a common nickname for the train would be totally absent from the press articles for 12 years, before it started to appear in the newspapers.

The 'Ghan - news article 1935

The 'Ghan news article - 1935

The 'Ghan news article - 1935

The 'Ghan news article - 1936

Cheers, Ron.
FollowupID: 868425

Follow Up By: pop2jocem - Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 20:28

Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 20:28
It sounds a bit like the origins of the name for that famous vehicle the Jeep.

I have read various versions ranging from being named after some magical cartoon character to a sort of slang term for the initials GP.

There was another take on that but the old memory banks are not what they used to be.

Which is the most likely/popular?? Beats me


FollowupID: 868438

Follow Up By: Member - J&A&KK - Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 22:39

Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 at 22:39

In US Defence Stores list:

Vehicle General Purpose = VGP = Jeep however see below


Helicopter Utility Model One = HU1 = Huey

Cheers John
FollowupID: 868450

Follow Up By: Member - Boobook - Thursday, Apr 28, 2016 at 06:46

Thursday, Apr 28, 2016 at 06:46
There are many references to the "Afghan Express" in newspapers the early 1920's

here is one example

It doesn't make any sense to me that a train officially named 'The Afghan Express' in the early 20's with obvious links the the cameleers ( including in this article) would change its name because of a commissioner of the CR. At that stage you even had to complete the trip from Oodnadatta to Alice by camel.

Read the old Newspaper article written 6 years before Commonwealth Railways were involved and re- read the OP's statements. Here are a couple.

"There was never intention to link any Afghan cameleers with this railway."
"...and no person with right mind would name anything after them ..... definitely not a railway."

How do those observations explain the official name of Afghan Express?

There are no other trains named after commissioners in Australia to my knowledge, they are generally named after the geography or local significant features or events

The Vinelander
Trans Australian
Indian Pacific
The Gulflander
Southern Aurora
fairly complete list here

Note none on this list are named after a person. While individual locomotives ( eg Harold W Clapp - B60) are frequently named after people ( one is even named after a football player Gary Ablett), to my knowledge this doesn't happen for trains in Australia.


FollowupID: 868458

Follow Up By: Ron N - Thursday, Apr 28, 2016 at 09:42

Thursday, Apr 28, 2016 at 09:42
Good work, Boobook! I couldn't find earlier mentions of the train name, because I was searching only for the abbreviated word - 'Ghan - and it now becomes obvious that the name regularly used earlier was "Afghan Express" - for about a decade, it appears - before it became shortened to just "the 'Ghan".

Cheers, Ron.
FollowupID: 868469

Reply By: Dion - Thursday, Apr 28, 2016 at 22:01

Thursday, Apr 28, 2016 at 22:01
The factual article from the Pichi Richi Railway (PRR) website was relayed to PRR by our first Life Member, Mr. George Williams, who was one of the SAR, railworkers in Quorn on 30th August 1923 when the first sleeping car train to Oodnadatta came into Quorn. George Williams also authored a couple of books about the Central Australian Railway (it's correct title, not the Ghan Line or Ghan Railway) from Port Augusta to Alice Springs, in which he relates his first hand account of the events in Quorn in August 1923.
The reason there was time in Quorn for evening prayers, was the way in which the train had arrived from Terowie before venturing onwards to Oodnadatta. The line from the east from Terowie into Quorn and also the line to the north to Oodnadatta are at the same point in the yard. After arriving from Terowie, the locomotive detached from the head end, to be replaced by another locomotive. The Guards Van was removed from the rear end and then placed onto what was the head end, which now became the rear end for the trip north to Oodnadatta.
The sleeping car Alberga, is one of three identical sleepeing cars that were built for the Broken Hill express (Terowie to Broken Hill). The other two cars are Coonatto and Nilpena. All three sleeping cars are now in Quorn at PRR, Nilpena in original condition and Alberga and Coonatto bastardised into workers camp cars by the SAR for use on the Eyre Peninsula division.
The SAR ran the Afghan Express for a further 2.5 years until the Commonwealth Railways (CR) took over operation of the CAR. The CR then built there own carriages at Port Augusta for the Ghan. Out of 11 carriages built in the late 1920's for the Ghan, PRR has 10 in it's collection. Five of which are used on it's Afghan Express, the other five are used for members accommodation when at Quorn. PRR is still utilising a 1920's built steam loco (NM25), which was built for the CR to operate on the CAR to haul these carriages, on the last remaining operational section of the former CAR.
AnswerID: 599286

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