A performance paper on motion and stillness, time and travel – on a train.
‘The Ghan’, a train that bisects the continent of Australia from Adelaide to Darwin, is a major Australian tourist attraction. It is its own destination, a journey and an arrival, a moving window on an apparently untouchable landscape and a distance-eating juggernaut.
This paper will braid together lines of thought about motion and stillness, time and travel – social, economic, geological, political and spatial – prompted by taking the train in 2014.
A passenger on the Ghan in the 21st century finds herself, in spite of the constant busy-ness of her own body, a relatively fixed point within a (19th century) vehicle travelling at speed across an ancient stillness – time, speed and motion in fugal and continually shifting relation to each other – from Adelaide to Darwin in two sleeps. As she sleeps and wakes on the train, her fingernails continue to grow and Australia moves northwards ‘7cms every year, towards Asia’. They take the same time.[i]
She has read Raftopoulos’ argument that: ‘Lightning strokes that are measured as simultaneous from the railway embankment, are also measured as simultaneous from the moving train’.[ii] She has seen the map that locates the Indigenous language groups who, for 50,000 years, have inhabited the country the train travels over.[iii] She wonders how they would measure a lightning strike?
Before Federation, the nascent state of South Australia had large colonial and economic ambitions in relation to Asia, many of which were tied up with the construction of the rail line to Darwin. Perhaps, she thinks, they should simply have waited for the continent to arrive in its own time.
It is unlikely that these parallel lines of enquiry will meet – that’s not how railway tracks work after all – but perhaps the simple acknowledgement that these multiple temporalities, subjectivities and spatialities are co-present through this journey is enough for now.
[ii] Raftopoulos, Dionysios G.