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Full Circle

Day 134: Alice Springs

Michael Palin - Full CircleThe original railway was a disaster. Laid on the sand without a properly surveyed permanent way, it was susceptible to flash floods and the stress of dizzyingly high temperatures. Trains were constantly subject to delay, the longest recorded delay being three months. Now it's safer, more efficient and considerably more predictable. The new line, opened in 1980, is primarily for freight, but the old Ghan name is still attached to the eighteen silver-ribbed coaches which convey travellers in varying degrees of luxury from Alice to Adelaide in twenty-two hours.

At the functional, unromantic modern station metal steps are set out at each doorway like a long line of Zimmer frames. Our three-thousand horsepower diesel engine is called City of Port Augusta and will, we are told by our informative Train Manager, reach a top speed of 110 kilometres an hour.

Colony wattles, desert cassias and witchetty bushes provide sparse cover as we roll over old, tired landscape, ribbed with low red ridges like some primaeval seabed. The Finke River, which we cross two hours out of Alice, is described as the oldest river bed in the world. It's a damp patch in the sand today.

Sunset is a violent crimson slash in the western sky. By the time it's over we have slipped past Kulgera and into South Australia.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 134
  • Country/sea: Australia
  • Place: The Finke River
  • Book page no: 192

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