When electronic musician Nick Bertke and his team were obtaining the sounds and images for the now famous television advertisement promoting The Ghan, they stumbled across Jos Engelaar, who has been working with Great Southern Rail for the past 14 years.
"My business partner said to me, 'Nick that guy looks great, with the moustache. He looks like he's been working on here for years.' We then spoke to him for about ten minutes and recorded the interview. I see my job as to find the musical notes in the human voice. My focus is not to create lyricism but to produce an emotional effect. For every minute of speaking, I generally find five or six actual notes in normal spoken English. I try to get a good few minutes so I can put together a vocal symphony," said Nick.
For Dutch-born Jos who left his homeland in 1983, on the other hand - one minute he's working as the Hospitality Manager for the railway network and the next he's enjoying nationwide recognition from his starring turn in the ad that is currently running on television networks across the country.
"I was with the camera team on the train and they asked me if I wanted to be part of it. Of course I wanted to be part of it. Although they explained the unique style of the ad, I was still surprised when I saw the end product. People have seen the ad and they keep asking me, 'What did I say?' I joke with them and tell them I had to learn Swahili for this. In reality I was just doing an interview. What you see on the ad, is my answers to questions they asked me."
Great Southern Rail, who are responsible for four iconic rail journeys throughout Australia - The Ghan, The Indian Pacific, The Overland and The Southern Spirit - approached Nick, who goes by the pseudonym of Pogo, to apply his unique music-making style to two advertisements that would position these rail journeys as contemporary explorations of the fantastic Australian outback.
"I've been making music from all sorts of things since I was 14. I've remixed everything from Alice in Wonderland to the Terminator Films and World of Warcraft. This has gotten me a fair amount of work and I've developed a production company that I'm running with my business partner. We were approached to apply the same treatment to these rail journeys to help promote the trip. They wanted me to do my thing; to remix the two greatest train journeys in Australia – The Ghan and The Indian Pacific," said Nick.
"We put together a shot list of sounds and images that we wanted to capture. The train tracks were on that list. We went everywhere that had to do with sound to capture the sounds that you find on these journeys to use as percussion or as music. We didn't expect to get so close to a camel though. In Alice Springs we found this camel that was making all these noises for no apparent reason. It was a beautiful surprise."
The first Ghan journey departed Adelaide in 1929 carrying over 100 passengers and supplies bound for Alice Springs or Stuart as the town was then called. After years of contending with the elements and termite damage, the original rail tracks were decommissioned in 1980 in favour of a new standard gauge rail line. It was always the intention that the line would continue from Alice Springs all the way to Darwin. In February 2004 this became a reality with completion of the tracks that now cover the 2,979 kilometres crossing the country from Adelaide in the south to Darwin in the north and vice versa.
Jos remembers that inaugural complete journey, which takes three days and two nights, with fondness.
"I have to say my best experience was the very first journey that left Adelaide for Darwin. That was an amazing trip and a half for me. We had half the world looking at us, because they made it clear to the world what was happening. The south/north was happening. It was spectacular and will stay in my mind forever," said Jos.
"However all trips are special to me. When guests speak to me they say, 'You must get sick of it.' But I don't, everyday is new. I meet different people all the time. At the end of the trip, they hug me because they've had the time of their lives. That's what really keeps me going. I was on holidays in Europe last year and I was walking in Venice when an American couple came up to me. I had to ask them, 'Where do I know you from?' They remembered me from a trip they took on the Ghan a year before. It's great when people keep those memories in their minds."
While Nick and his production team were focused on their task of filming the line that was named after the Afghan camel drivers who explored Australia's interior in the 19th century, Nick was mesmerised by Katherine Gorge.
"You definitely enter production mode when you do these things. But Katherine Gorge was a highlight for me. Floating through Katherine Gorge on the boat was serene; the absolute silence, the vistas - to record that in 4K was a tremendous opportunity. There was so much to film there. We also took some Aboriginal fellows with didgeridoos to Katherine. That was quite amazing. We recorded the didgeridoo up close and we recorded the reverb from the gorge. There were incredible acoustics in the gorge itself. It was one of those beautiful things that just happens."
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