The Old Ghan was a magnificent feat of engineering, taking steam trains through an arid landscape from Adelaide to the centre of Australia. It was built and ran from 1884 to 1983. On Arabana land from Marree to Oodnadatta, that Aboriginal people helped survey then work upon the railway line. They were fettlers, gangers, locomotive engineers, yardmaster, train inspectors, train cleaners, shunters. They got equal pay from the 1920s, unlike most other Aboriginal people. The railway helped them stay on country, transact traditional business but also leap into modernity. Their story belies the assumption of universal dispossession and exclusion.
Dr Michael Duke has worked with Aboriginal people from the 1980s. For this book he travelled the length and breadth of Australia to discover information on the Old Ghan and talk to Arabana people about that aspect of their lives.