The township of Quorn was established in the traditional homelands of the Nukunu people, and just south of the homelands of the Wartabanggala division of the Barngarla (aka Parnkalla) people, in preparation for building the Port Augusta and Government Gums Railway northwards. The site was surveyed by Godfrey Walsh in 1878, and named after Quorndon in Leicestershire, United Kingdom.
Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society acknowledges Aboriginal people as the First Peoples and Nations of the lands we live and work upon and we pay our respects to their Elders past, present, and emerging. We acknowledge and respect the deep spiritual connection and the relationship that First Nations people have to Country.
The narrow-gauge railway line from Port Augusta, through the Pichi Richi Pass, to Quorn opened in 1879 and was subsequently extended north to Government Gums (Farina) in 1882, Marree in 1884, Angle Pole (Oodnadatta) in 1890, and Alice Springs in 1929. This railway line later became known as the Great Northern Railway and finally the Central Australia Railway.
The name Pichi Richi is believed to come from the region, which was a traditional centre in the production of a mixture of leaves of the pituri plant (duboisia hopwoodii) and ash, chewed as a stimulant by the First Nations people.
Quorn became an important railway crossroad in 1917 when the Trans Australia Railway between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie was opened and all rail traffic passing between Sydney and Perth, and Adelaide and Alice Springs passed through Quorn. Quorn’s role as a crossroads was lost when a standard gauge railway connection was opened between Port Pirie Junction and Port Augusta in 1937, meaning east-west trains bypassed Quorn.
During World War II, Quorn was a vital service point for trains heading north to Alice Springs which carried over one million troops heading to Darwin and on to Papua New Guinea. Train services through Quorn peaked at over 50 per day during, and immediately after, World War II.
The Quorn branch of the South Australian Country Women’s Association (CWA) played a vital role in feeding the troops, and the Branch Convenor, Pearl Hastwell, was made an MBE in the 1944 King's Birthday Honours "for voluntary services in connection with the Country Women's Canteen at Quorn under the auspices of the Country Women's Association of the State of South Australia".
In the 1950s, the need for more coal to be brought south for a second Port Augusta power station led to a decision to build a new standard gauge railway line on the western side of the Flinders Ranges from Stirling North to Brachina, then following the original narrow-gauge route through Leigh Creek to Marree. This new line bypassed Quorn and took away railway traffic through the Pichi Richi Pass, and much freight traffic through Quorn. The last Ghan ran through the Pichi Richi Pass and Quorn on 11 August 1956, and the last train in the Pichi Richi Pass in 1970.
The Commonwealth Railways moved their workshops to Port Augusta, with the loss of much local employment. The only railway services left operating through Quorn were freight between Peterborough and Hawker. As a result, Quorn’s importance diminished, and eventually, in 1980 this last section of the railway was completely closed.
In 1973, the Commissioner of the Commonwealth Railways, Mr. Keith Smith, invited a group of railway enthusiasts to discuss proposals to preserve the unique bridges and stonework that formed the railway through the Pichi Richi Pass. The Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society was formed at that meeting. Although the original intention was to just preserve the railway structures through the Pichi Richi Pass, the Society soon acquired operable railway rolling-stock and locomotives and today provides a tourist railway service through the Pichi Richi Pass from Quorn to Port Augusta.
The town and region are popular with filmmakers and more than forty films have been made in Quorn and surrounding areas, including The Sundowners, Sunday Too Far Away, Gallipoli, The Shiralee and Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner. Quorn has many current attractions including the native flora Powell Gardens, unique heritage architecture, the Quorn Silo Light Show, and is known as the Gateway to the Flinders Ranges.