"OODNA-BLOODY-DATTA!!" Oodnadatta by tiabunna

Oodnadatta Travel Guide: 21 reviews and 44 photos

A 'historical' look at South Australia’s far north

“Oodna-bloody-datta!!” was my reaction when, on leave after returning from a year in Antarctica, I received the telegram advising me the Weather Bureau were posting me there until I returned south to Macquarie Island. They sure had a sense of humour in Head Office, as they shuffled the chess-pieces who were the field staff!

To explain my reaction, the name ‘Oodnadatta’ has much the same resonance in Australia as ‘Timbuktu’ does worldwide. It’s one of those near-mythical places, past the legendary black stump and out in the ‘back of beyond’, with an image of “good to know it’s there – but who’d want to go?”

Let’s go back in time a little. In 1863, what later became the Northern Territory was placed under the care of South Australia: in those days, Australia was a collection of competing colonies. Central Australia had been reached by the explorer John Stuart in 1862 and later the Overland Telegraph Line was built northwards along his route. That led enthusiasts in SA to propose a north-south railway and, in 1876, work on the project began, following the telegraph line. It was a trifling distance of 3000km across some very tough desert country, but it seemed realistic to the population of under 250,000!

Eventually the new line reached Angle Pole (now Oodnadatta) on 7 January 1891, six and a half years after leaving Hergott Springs (now Marree). And, for many years, that was as far as it went – the funds had run out about 1000km north of Adelaide! Travel past Oodnadatta was by camel trains driven by “Afghans”, leading to the train becoming famous as “The Ghan”. Finally, after Federation, in 1908 the SA and the Australian Governments stitched together a deal: SA would relinquish its claim to the Northern Territory, the Commonwealth would take responsibility for the railway and would develop it to Darwin at some time in the future.

Work on the railway extension was delayed in part by World War 1 and it was 1929 before trains were able to steam northward to Alice Springs. And that was where the railway again stopped, though Oodnadatta (Oodna to the locals) retained its role as an important station and administrative post. In 1972, the Australian Government agreed to build a new railway to the west of the old route, which had been built with light tracks and had various problems (not least, unlikely enough, from flooding). The new track to Alice Springs, bypassing Oodna, opened in 1980 and later was continued to Darwin: over a hundred years after the genesis of the idea – the train still is called “The Ghan”, but there the resemblance stops!

Time may have flown since my time there but, apart from the few manmade components, this country is timeless! So these are ‘historical’ photos from 1967, and from a subsequent trip in 1971 when we returned to visit my father-in-law, who at that time still was the Aboriginal Patrol Officer there. Yes, I managed to get myself engaged in Oodna-bloody-datta!

Update of photos

Update 7 Feb 2007 Since creating this page, I have been unhappy with the way the photos appeared much duller in VT than in the originals. From advice in the VT Tech Forum, I now have a 'workaround' to correct the photos and have updated the photos throughout this page. The photo at left shows the heading photo as it was previously.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:The desert country does grow on you
  • Cons:Definitely not everyone’s cup of tea!
  • In a nutshell:To my surprise, I actually wanted to stay longer.
  • Last visit to Oodnadatta: Dec 1970
  • Intro Updated Feb 7, 2007
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Reviews (21)

Comments (27)

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Oct 26, 2013 at 12:45 PM

    Oodnadatta looks like it could be on a planet way out there somewhere. Your geology certainly is diverse and wonderful variety

  • iandsmith's Profile Photo
    Jun 24, 2010 at 3:20 AM

    You'll always have the top five page on this place! Road or private plane the only way to get there.......like, there was another choice? Very interesting again!

  • junecorlett's Profile Photo
    Jun 6, 2009 at 2:16 AM

    Peccie sounds like quite a character George. Wonderful stories you have here.

  • craic's Profile Photo
    Jun 4, 2009 at 7:33 AM

    what a fascinating page

  • lynnehamman's Profile Photo
    Apr 7, 2009 at 3:15 AM

    George- your special talent for making the most mundane places seem attractive is worthy of 10/10. Or 5 stars.It may have a funny name- but it sure has appeal! Beautiful photos and now I know where the Ghan gets its name from. Thanks-great page.

  • thedouglas's Profile Photo
    Jan 23, 2009 at 1:53 PM

    What a lovely page George, and well written as always! Another chunk of little known Aussie geography and culture! Loved your final memory of your son's big day out!

  • jumpingnorman's Profile Photo
    Nov 30, 2008 at 9:23 AM

    Enjoyed these this tips on Oodnabloodydatta -- even if I'll probably never go there...hehehehe --- the general store is an institution - That is FUNNNY!

  • angiebabe's Profile Photo
    Oct 22, 2008 at 4:57 AM

    Fantastic page here thx 4 sharing yr experiences which these days are precious!esp census collecting just after Aborigines were given the right of Australian (terra nullis!!) citizenship!!but thats another story eh!

  • balhannah's Profile Photo
    Aug 22, 2008 at 2:15 PM

    Didn't know about this place, certainly looks interesting in the photos.

  • JLBG's Profile Photo
    Jun 14, 2008 at 9:27 PM

    For the French, the equivalent of Oodna should be Foum Tatahouine, in southern Tunisia or Petaouchnok, an imaginary place “further than what is easily accessed”. For the Occitans, imaginary Pamparigouste would do the same. Fascinating place, Sahara like!

tiabunna

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