The Iron Roads of the Australian Outback – the legendary Commonwealth Railways were built through some of the harshest landscapes on Earth. They were railways like no other, where men and women battled extreme temperatures, flash floods and maddening isolation to keep the trains running.
This publication is the culmination of 25 years of Outback exploration, research, photography and interviews by author Nick Anchen. The result is a diverse book which brings to life both the beauty and harshness of the Australian Outback, through a collection of fascinating and historic images, along with the memories of former Commonwealth Railways employees.
Following an introductory chapter on the vastness and grandeur of the Australian interior – highlighted by the memoirs of 1950s flying doctor Macarthur Job – the book delves into the story of the Central Australia Railway. This was the line built through the ‘back of beyond’ – the forbidding desert country of South Australia and the Northern Territory. It was here that operators of famous trains such as The Ghan battled searing heat, dust storms and raging floodwaters to keep the trains running. The chapter includes stories by well known Ghan conductor ‘Aspro’ Lyons, and ‘Piano Playing Chef’ Paddy Greenfield – along with enginemen Wolf Markowski and John Theel, both of whom worked trains on this famous railway.
The story of the North Australia Railway – ‘The Line to Nowhere’ – is the tale of a ramshackle railway which came alive during the dark days of World War II. The memoirs of wartime engineman Jim Prentice are eye opening, as are the hair raising accounts of surviving Tropical Cyclone Tracy, as told by rolling stock foreman Bill Donaldson. The Trans-Australian Railway was built across one of the harshest and loneliest environments on Earth – the vast Nullarbor Plain. Stories from enginemen Jack Slattery and Ron Howrie, along with Nullarbor resident and roadmaster’s wife Cathy Beek, tell not only of the rudimentary living conditions and maddening isolation, but of the great camaraderie amongst the railway people who kept trains such as the Trans-Australian and the Tea and Sugar running.
As well as examining the ruins and relics from the long-closed CR narrow gauge lines, the book also includes a chapter on the much-loved Pichi Richi Railway – the last surviving portion of that great Transcontinental Railway dream from another age.