Following in the (train) tracks of the ‘slow TV’ movement in Norway – where viewers have binge-watched everything from salmon fishing, to sweater knitting and a real-time train journey, not to mention a week-long television broadcast of reindeer herding – Australia’s SBS network will air a 17-hour broadcast of the Ghan train journey across Australia this weekend.
The famous passenger train journey traverses the country’s Red Centre, connecting the capital cities of South Australia – Adelaide – and the Northern Territory – Darwin – the wild Southern Ocean to the tropical Timor Sea. The three-hour edit was a runaway success with Australian TV viewers, prompting a national conversation via social media, leading SBS to program an uninterrupted 17-hour version (an edit on the 54 hours the train actually journeys through Australia’s desert heartland) from 2.40am this Sunday.
The 3000km route was ‘opened up’ by Afghan cameleers arriving from the 1860s with their ‘ships of the desert’ and paving the way for the first telegraph cable to connect Australia with the rest of the world in 1872. During the construction of the line cameleers carried food and supplies to the construction teams working on the Overland telegraph. The cameleers were collectively known as ‘Afghan’ cameleers but not all were from Afghanistan, others came over on three-year contracts with their camels from Kashmir, Egypt, Persia, Turkey and Punjab and spoke a variety of languages.
The name ‘The Ghan’ honours their legacy developing Australia, where little remains of that era but the remnants of makeshift mosques in the desert, and the world’s largest wild camel population.