The Ghan train journeys from Darwin via Alice to Adelaide which is an impressive way to travel through the unending sands of central Australia. For us the journey began in great Aussie style with all the luggage being transported incrementally from check-in to the train in the boot of an employee’s car. The reason spread like wild fire down the customer queue, apparently “the luggage truck was stolen”! Standing around with the midday sun beating relentlessly down on us we massaged in sun-cream as the Aussies from Adelaide mocked the laid-back attitude here in Alice.
Our carriage awaits for the 19 hour journey from Alice Springs to Adelaide
Immaculately dressed attendants stood at the doors of each carriage, or so I thought until we reached our attendant and realised the previous carriages were for premier service. Still our red service attendant was very friendly and helpful. Our seats had plenty of leg room which helps J relax and there was a lounge, dining carriage and bar for the red service passengers to use.
Informative announcements were made about local landmarks we passed along the way. Landmarks including the ‘Finke River’, a statue of the ‘Iron Man’ and the all important boarder crossing. With my nose against the window I stared into the ever decreasing light to see the boarder crossing between the Northern Territory and Southern Australia.
The first human settlement and the first water we saw since leaving Alice was at Port Augusta. Known as ‘The Gateway of Australia’ due to the fact that all transport from East to West and from North to South goes through here. Heading South the landscape makes a dramatic change into lush green fields surrounded by tree-lined hedgerows, crowned with wind farms and scattered with vineyards and livestock. It was reminiscent of my childhood home in the rolling hills of Somerset!
After breakfast we resided in the lounge as I took photos of the new green landscape. Here we met an elderly couple who took an interest in our journey around the world and our creative endeavors. Peter wrote agricultural articles for ABC radio. Shortly after we were suddenly joined by a chatty man who was rather perturbed to have earlier been mistaken for ‘Doctor Death’! This was Franco. Franco had been visiting the Aboriginal communities North of Alice and traveling through the outback in an old Toyota Corolla! This appeared to us as a crazy thing to do, and it was. Franco had been bogged in red sand for 18 hours using meditation and rationing to survive before being rescued by a passerby! Over the coming hours we discussed politics, housing and the stock market with all those in the carriage.
Innocently inquiring about the area where Franco lived, he invited us to stay, in exchange for some help in the garden and some odd jobs around the house. True to his word Franco collected us the following morning from another Annie’s Place (in Adelaide) and took us to his home in Hyde Park (an affluent part of town). We were impressed by his openness and trust as he gave us a key to his home and left us there for the duration of the afternoon whilst he ran errands. We made ourselves at home and in return tidied and cleaned in his absence.
That afternoon we visited to Adelaide Central Market, a tourist highlight in the LP (Lonely Planet). Franco was obsessed with the price of everything here. Though we later discovered he lectures in Accountancy at the University which explained his strange behaviour. There was an amazing array of goods and a buzz in the air from all the sellers shouting their wares. Everything was for sale including garlic sticks, kangaroo steaks, crocodile fillets and Blood-Russian tomatoes. ‘Zuma’ is THE cafe to go to around here. You’re right on the doorstep of the food court in Chinatown, where J bought a book! That evening Franco shared with us a simple supper and his delicious homemade strudel, which he nicknamed ‘Frudel’. By 9pm I was rather concerned about our sleeping arrangement as Franco had not yet found any bedding for us. Relying on the kind nature of his neighbours we were bestowed all the bed-linen and blankets (Manchester) we desired. Our night on the sofa-bed was most comfortable.
Wednesday saw us helping in the garden which made me very happy. I weeding an extremely overgrown vegetable and herb garden as James mowed a jungle of a lawn to discover an unseen path underneath! That evening we visited his parents for supper, though Franco cooked for us (then cleaned out the chicken coop) whilst we tried to converse with his Italian speaking parents whilst they were watching TV, strange! Thursday was tree planting day, this time under the guidance of Franco’s green-fingered friend. Sadly the wild rocket came a cropper during the weeding, oops! During moving some rocks James uncovered a Redback spider to his horror. We had all been gardening without gloves and this discovery made us all much more cautious.
As promised that afternoon Franco gave us a private viewing of his Aboriginal Art collection at Father Christopher’s house. The artworks were breathtaking and well worth seeing. He certainly has an eye for art and James and I were happy to listen to the story about each artwork. Tea with the vicar was as you would expect, lots of tea and lots of delicious cake.
In town we took a tour along North Terrace, home of the Parliament buildings and the art galleries of South Australia, until the heavens opened.
Adelaide itself is an interesting city built by Colonel William Light who controversially wrote:
“The reason that led me to fix Adelaide where it is I do not expect to be generally understood or calmly judges of at present. My enemies, however, by disputing their validity in every particular, have done me the good service of fixing the whole of the responsibility upon me. I am perfectly willing to bear it; and I leave it to posterity, and not them, to decide whether I am entitled to praise or to blame.”
The centre of this city is based on a grid format of wide street, civic squares and a particularly unique and lovely wide green belt surrounding it that makes up a third of the city area. We liked Adelaide as it is compact enough to walk around in one day, but scratch beneath the surface and you will find gems of creativity and personality that are hard to find elsewhere in Oz. The Aboriginal art exhibitions, recommended to us by Franco, were great examples of the culture and heritage here and well worth the trip.