[f_minor] urgent need HI HO, TIM !!! - Attention Tim!!!

Robert Merkin bobmerk at earthlink.net
Thu Dec 30 09:05:58 EST 2010

You must have heard the lore associated with the original Ghan, whose tracks were only informally associated with the sand they were laid on. One trip to Alice dragged on and threatened to set the record, and a very pregnant woman complained to the conductor that she feared her time was approaching, and, if possible, would prefer to give birth in the Alice hospital. The conductor was startled. "Madame, you should not have boarded this train in that condition!" The woman replied, "When I boarded this train, I was not in this condition!"

My Ghan was modernized but the final leg from Alice to Darwin was still just a dream.

GG would have loved the Ghan. At night we stopped at two or three open platforms, each for at least 15 minutes, one for a full hour, probably to off-load freight for a sheep station. There can't possibly be clearer night skies anywhere else on the planet. Burke and Wills recorded that sleep was impossible from the brightness of a full moon. Like GG I'm a night owl; the freight cars were far from me, and no other passengers got off and took in the view on the platforms. That interlude was the dictionary definition of solitude. For those moments, the only deal you can make is with yourself, with your thoughts.

And he couldn't have had the same experience in the Canadian wilderness. The tilt of the Earth points to a denser view of the Milky Way, a few billion more stars, and the mind just knows the constellations are strikingly different; for a northern hemisphere guy, it's an experience like night on an entirely different planet.

Our piano was the world's Afterthought Upright, and if it had been tuned once every three years, I'd have been surprised. A unique noise comes out of such forgotten, abused pianos; a fine Steinway can't reproduce the sound the ear expects in a rough wilderness saloon or pub. Weill's "Mahagonny" calls for this kind of piano throughout, and it exudes a rich but rarely accessed part of the musical spectrum; it brings forth memories a perfectly tuned perfect grand simply can't. I think GG would have had a ball with the Ghan piano.

I've so wanted to come back, first to take the India-Pacific, and now to take the new Ghan all the way to Darwin. At night on the Winnipeg-Churchill train I had the eery sensation GG's ghost was sitting in the bar car with me, grinning from ear to ear. I'm sure he haunts the Ghan, too.


  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Timothy Conway 
  To: Discussion of the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. 
  Sent: Thursday, December 30, 2010 1:07 AM
  Subject: Re: [f_minor] urgent need HI HO, TIM !!! - Attention Tim!!!

  Hello Bob,

    Hey, I been to Adelaide! Loved it! From there we took the Ghan to Alice to see Halley's Comet (in the previous Millennium). We camped in the MacDonnell Range where the Chamberlains camped the night before the dingo etc.!  When Ozzies in the Ghan bar car realized we were Yanks, they played and sang "Waltzing Matilda" 300 times for us on the tinny little piano! Sure made the time fly!

  My wife and I did the Ghan, Darwin to Adelaide, a few years ago. As we left Darwin, the train shuddered to a halt and a nice man came to tell us that our carriage had faulty air-conditioning and we would have to move up front to the spare one, which meant tramping through private carriages (on the Ghan you can hitch up your private carriage, at a cost, and bring along your own chefs, champagne, guests, bands, etc -- millionaires only, I should think). On no account were we allowed to tramp through the private carriages again. When we got to the spare carriage we found that it had its own Ghan-staff chefs and barmen and because we were isolated from the rest of the train (which is about 2 miles long when they have a full load), we didn't have to worry about regulation eating-times, and the bars stayed open all night. We could also order special dishes, if the chefs had the ingredients. It was one of the best train trips we have ever done.

  I wonder if GG would have joined such a trip, isolated for 36 hours from the world except for about 40 passengers, and be cajoled into playing a few bars of this and that, maybe give a lecture or two, complain about the ambient noise of the train but perhaps ad lib a bit of Villa-Lobos [sp?] and those other guys who emulated trains in their compositions (Honneger?). I doubt it, but who knows?

  -- Tim


  Tim Conway
  Geraldton, Western Australia


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