The Michael Portillo-hosted Great Railway Journeys franchise has been a big hit for SBS for a number of years. The series started criss-crossing the UK, expanded to Europe, then North America and India.
The program has been a magnet for viewers at SBS filling many key slots across the schedule, but always performing best at 7.30pm.
In 2017 in an interview with Mediaweek, Portillo admitted Australia was on his radar for a series:
Portillo said he has had many requests for an Aussie TV adventure. “I have been there a couple of times and I would very much like to film there. It is not my decision and I don’t know what might be the complications.” He added he thought it likely they would shoot here one day.
A year later in 2018 it was revealed Portillo and his six-person Great Railway Journeys team was filming in Australia.
In 2019 SBS confirmed at its Upfront event that Great Australian Railway Journeys would be screening in 2020.
Now the broadcaster has confirmed the series goes to air next month beginning Tuesday February 4.
The six-part series is usually accompanied by a guidebook and this time Portillo will be using a 1913 edition of Bradshaw’s Handbook to the Chief Cities of the World.
The series will travel over 9,000 miles from Canberra to Melbourne, Sydney to Broken Hill, Newcastle to Brisbane, Port Augusta to Darwin, Kuranda to Townsville and Adelaide to Perth.
The adventure begins with the Pichi Richi heritage railway – the only remaining part of the Old Ghan line in operation – before Portillo boards the luxurious modern passenger service at Alice Springs bound for Darwin.
Next on his list is a 125-second thrill on the steepest railway in the world at Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, followed by an overnight journey on one of the world’s longest trains, the luxurious Indian Pacific Railway.
In Melbourne, The Puffing Billy takes him through the rainforest of the Dandenong mountains, while in Queensland he reveals the engineering expertise of the 1890s as he inches his way across the Stony Creek Bridge on the Kuranda Scenic Railway.
Side trips along the way include a visit to the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, the remote Australian Red Centre and the tropical rainforests of Queensland. Portillo hears Dreaming stories from the Indigenous Arrernte people, goes sheep shearing in Victoria, strikes gold in Kalgoorlie and swims over coral at the Great Barrier Reef.
Michael Portillo said: “Australia is a wonderful country to explore by train, offering epic journeys across the continent on the Indian-Pacific and Ghan railways. With my 1913 guidebook, I investigate convicts, koalas, kangaroos and camels; trace the history of European settlement along with its impact on the Indigenous peoples; and look at the new multi-ethnic Australia coming to terms with its past.”
The six-part series is produced by Boundless (part of Fremantle).