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Port Augusta to Darwin: The Ghan

Michael Portillo ventures down under to ride aboard the legendary Ghan Railway. At Bond Springs Cattle Station, Michael discovers the story of cattle king Sidney Kidman.

Michael Portillo ventures down under to experience one of the world’s greatest rail journeys aboard the legendary Ghan Railway. His 1913 Bradshaw’s Guide tells him 'a transcontinental railway is being constructed' and he traces its route from the southern harbour of Port Augusta to the port of Darwin on the north coast.

Along the way, Michael uncovers the history of the ambitious project, which stretches nearly 2,000 miles across Australia’s red centre, and learns why it took nearly a century to complete.

Steaming through the Flinders Ranges, Michael travels on the Pichi Richi heritage railway - the only remaining part of the Old Ghan line in operation - before boarding the luxurious modern passenger service at Alice Springs bound for Darwin. Nearly a kilometre in length, the Ghan is hauled by two locomotives and three power vans, contains four kitchens, five restaurants, five bars and 23 carriages of accommodation.

In the Outback city of Alice Springs, Michael meets the indigenous Arrente people of the region around their campfire, where he hears dreaming stories and shares their bush-tucker. He learns first-hand how their grandparents were mistreated at the time of his guidebook, when state policy required that children be taken from their families to be assimilated into white society.

Orphaned joeys Tilly and Max are pleased to see Michael at Brolga’s Kangaroo Sanctuary in Alice Springs. Max enjoys a cuddle, while a hungry Tilly wants to be fed.

Close by, at Bond Springs Cattle Station, Michael discovers the rags to riches story of the early 20th-century cattle king Sidney Kidman, and meets the family who today run one of his former ranches. Fellow passengers aboard the Ghan take Michael by surprise on his journey between Alice Springs and Katherine, where he alights to explore the traditional lands of aboriginal groups along the exquisite Katherine Gorge.

Arriving in Darwin, capital of the tropical Northern Territory, on the eve of ANZAC day, Michael joins Australians to mark the anniversary of the First World War battle that defined their nation.

59 minutes

Last on

Tue 12 Nov 2019 08:00


Music Played

Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes

  • 00:12




Role Contributor
Presenter Michael Portillo
Series Editor Alison Kreps
Director Dave Minchin
Production Company FremantleMedia