The Indigenous history of Australia's railways


There is growing recognition of the role Indigenous Australians played in constructing Australia's epic railway journey, The Ghan.

The Ghan is Australia's quintessential outback railway, taking passengers three thousand kilometres across the desert from the top of Australia to the bottom.

The metal tracks it runs on were laid by an army of Indigenous workers back in the 1950s and 60s, and these days one woman remains the sole link to that history.

Indigenous Australian Millie Cardona works onboard The Ghan as it crosses north to south straight through the heart of Australia.

She is part of a somewhat untold history of Indigenous workers on the railways.

Her father was a Torres Strait Islander born in Darwin, her grandmother from West Arnhem Land, and she is just beginning to explore those connections.

A recent exhibition in Queensland, which catalogued the history of Indigenous workers on the railways, highlighted the important contribution of the workers but also the inequites that existed for those workers.

"Torres Strait Islanders were able to get award wages working on the mainland but innate racism prevailed", said Geraldine Mate from the Workshops Rail Museum.

"We're thinking of a time where the context was that Aboriginal people were only supposed to be suitable for certain types of work. There was this idea that people were under surveillance. You know you couldn't just choose to work in the railways, you had to have permission to go, you had to tell people where you were going and actually have to even have your travel plans signed off on. It's not just what your average white Australian had to do at that time," she said.

Source SBS

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