Marree is a landmark South Australian town with a history synonymous with the Australian outback.
First explored by E.J.Eyre in 1840 and again, 19 years later, by J.M. Sturt, Marree was originally given the name Hergott Springs after one of Sturt's assistants.
In 1870 the South Australian government committed to The Overland Telegraph Line, a 3200km cable from Port Augusta to Darwin and then the rest of the world. A maintenance camp was established at Marree for workers on the line and the famous Afghan cameleers. Often ignored historically these men were more often than not born in Kashmir, Rajastan, Egypt, Persia or Turkey but because of their middle-eastern look and Muslim belief they became collectively known as the Afghan camel drivers. These men and their camel teams played an enormous role in Australia's evolution from a colonial backwater to a functioning nation with modern infrastructure. The Overland Telegraph Line, Railway network, exploration parties and the pastoral industry all have an enormous debt to these men. If you see a feral camel in the Australian bush then it is a direct descendent of the animals that arrived with the Afghan cameleers.
Marree became a major staging post for these men and was jokingly called 'Little Asia'. The Afghans lived as they did in their homelands, practising their religion and adhering to their own customs. It was usual for them to live separately from the 'white' settlers and the Marree Afghan quarter, which also housed the native aboriginal population, was known as Ghantown. Death was no different than life and Afghans and their families were buried in segregated cemeteries.
Marree's history lies in transportation and the railway also played a pivotal role in the town. Original fettlers shacks can still be seen in the streets and are the oldest buildings in the townsite. Thousands of cattle were shipped onto trains from nearby stations and Marree was an important stop for 'The Ghan' - the famous transcontinental passenger train that still runs from South Australia to Darwin in the Northern Territory.
Today Marre is home to less than 80 residents and one lone hotel remains to remind of a resplendent past. The Marree Hotel was built in 1883 and originally named the 'Great Northern'. It is a two story, sandstone monument to a bygone era which was described in 1885 as "palatial in appearance and comfortable inside".
Apart from a legacy that represents all the histories of the region - including the explorers, pastoralists, Afghans and railway men, Marree is often used as the staging post for the crossing of two famous outback routes, the Oodnadatta and Birdsville Tracks.
Lake Eyre lies just to the north and scenic flights can be organised from town.
If you're searching for a definitive outback town then you could do a lot worse than beginning at Marree.
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