Quorn and Pichi Richi Railway

About 40km north of Port Augusta (300km north of Adelaide) is the town of Quorn.   It was once a major railway junction town and has a couple of main streets lined with beautiful heritage buildings from the mid to late 19th century making it a worthy stop for anyone interested in a bit of history.    Because the town’s buildings have been so well preserved with few modern buildings along the main street, it is also frequently used as a filming location for period movie and TV shows.

This flying fox cash management system was used to transfer payments, dockets and change from several points around the shop to a central cashier.  It has been restored to working order by the current owner who now runs a cafe in the building.

Quorn railway station today and a few years back

A group of volunteers have come together to maintain a collection of heritage rail vehicles in working order as well as the section of the old railway line from Port Augusta to Quorn which runs through the Pichi Richi pass in the Flinders Ranges.  This track was once once part of the rail link, conceived in the 1870s, to span from Adelaide to Darwin.   However it took about 125 years before the track finally reached Darwin in 2004.   It was built as far as far as Alice Springs as a 3’6 narrow gauge line traversing some formidable desert areas over a period of 50 years, but was considered uneconomical to continue the line to Darwin until 1997.    After opening it became known as the Ghan, named after the Afgan cameleers who used to offer transport services in the region.    The old Ghan railway line through Quorn was replaced by a realigned standard gauge line that bypassed it and other towns east of the Flinders Ranges in 1957 (which was in turn replaced again in 1980 by another line about 200km to the west.    Today only the 40km through the Pichi Richi pass remains in use.

Athough today’s Pichi Richi Rail tourist service runs a steam driven service, due to raised fire risks, this only operates during the winter months.   However we were able to enjoy a sundown ride on a 91 year old diesel powered rail car and carriage along what is probably the most scenic 20km of this route.

The 1926 Brill diesel rail car features a 5 speed crash gearbox and was originally used on the Adelaide suburban lines

Although capable of 50 miles per hour, we were briefly able to hit 18 on a short straight section before we reached the turnaround point at Woolshed Flat

old guard with new comms device
The whole operation is run by volunteers – even rail maintenance.  Here the volunteer guard looks out the back to assist the driver while reversing the train.  Although the train dates from the 1920’s, I think the UHF two way radio is not quite authentic to that period.

Inside the rail car (LHS) and passing through a cutting on the Pichi Richi Pass

pichi richi steam train
A picture of a steam driven Pichi Richi Railway in wetter times.  

Back in Quorn, we enjoyed a final day relaxing as some rainy weather was forecast – with potential for heavy falls we did not want to end up cut-off by flash flooding at some remote camp site.   In the end, Quorn received only about 2mm of rain although some parts 100km to the north got over 30mm.   However we did get some time to further explore town and its immediate surrounds.    We also set up the TV in the caravan (for the second time on this trip) to watch a DVD of “The Shiralee” – a 2 part mini series staring Bryan Brown and Noni Hazelhurst that was filmed in the area in 1987.

shirallee film poster

Interesting plants in the botanic park in Quorn

Australian Ringneck Parrot and flowering gum trees in Quorn

An old wheat harvester and grey crowned babbler

While plants in the botanic park shown above look OK, they are being watered.  Outside town the normal signs of the current drought abound – especially since we have just reached the end of a hot dry summer.    Even tough spinifex grass that normally gives the red plains a nice yellow polka dot appearance is often dead and grey.    Sadly the 2mm of rain in Quorn wont do much to help, however as we headed north to areas which got more rain we started to see green shoots appearing just 2 days after the rain – but that is a subject of a future blog.

even the spinafex is dry
Although this spinifex grass looks dead, apparently it does recover after rain

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s