Saturday, 23 September 2017

The Railway

On 19 January 1878 Sir William Jervois symbolically turned the first sod on the new Great Northern Railway (later called The Ghan in honour of the Afghan cameleers who opened up the interior of Australia) at Port Augusta. The line reached Hawker in June 1880, Beltana on 2 July 1881, Maree on 6 January 1884, Oodnadatta on 7 January 1891 and finally Alice Springs on 2 August 1929.

Cutting Sleepers in the Warrioota
Workers cutting sleepers in the Warrioota creek near Beltana.

Nearly 1,000 people were employed in the line's construction.   65 iron bridges were constructed between Pt Augusta and Beltana.   The Warrioota bridge had 7 spans of 40 feet and the Sliding Rock bridge had 10 spans of 40 feet.   A railway dam was constructed to provide water for the steam engines, and a sleeper cutting operation worked for nearly 25 years in Warrioota Creek.   Beltana was a "changeover station" with one crew working the Beltana to Quorn section and the other from Beltana to Marree.   A standby locomotive was also stationed at Beltana and the freight platform was equipped with a crane and turntable.

Historic Railway Station
Beltana Railway Station

The town flourished during the construction of the line, and the population was permanently boosted by a Station Master and his family and pumpers, porters and fettlers.  Sadly, travel on the train was too expensive for the ordinary settler, so the service was almost exclusively used by station people, drovers and miners to move stock and ore.   In 1926 the railway freight shed was turned into a giant restaurant when nearly 5,000 people came in a special train from Pt Augusta to attend the Great Northern Athletics Association Exhibition and Sports Day.

When the demand for coal from Leigh Creek increased in the early 1950s, the old line was found to be too steep in places for the heavy coal trains and a new standard gauge line was re-routed 11km to the west of the town to enable it to cross flatter country.   In 1956 the Beltana railway station, its freight shed, line, crews and railway paraphernalia became redundant.