Alice Springs

We flew to Alice Springs on the morning of the 18th. It was a complicated lift-off because the bus that was to take the group to the airport didn’t show up. (The driver slept in. He’s been let go.) Jeanette, our tour leader, did an impressive job of commandeering two large taxis and getting us to the airport and checked in, virtually at the last minute. Having an experienced guide with excellent judgement and contacts makes a trip of this complexity possible. I can’t praise her enough.

She got me a window seat on the plane, so I could watch the amazing landscape of central Australia flow by. I expected it to be much more featureless than it is, but from the air you can see the beach lines of the ancient seas, lakes and rivers, with ranges of hills and huge systems of dunes. This is a photo from the approach to Alice Springs’ airport.

Once arrived, we toured the Old Telegraph Station, visited an ANZAC memorial, checked out the downtown area, and had dinner at the Casino. The Old Telegraph Station is exactly what the name implies, an old telegraph station – one of the repeater stations that connected Adelaide to Darwin. It was nice to see, but virtually everything there is reconstructed. It’s historic importance is based in the fact that telegraphy connected a continent (and country) in a way that physical mail couldn’t. It was just one of the stations that made it possible. Maybe it is that one that survived longest, and that may be because after it wasn’t so much needed for a telegraph station it was used as a facility to house half-caste children of white men and Aboriginal women who had been removed from their families to be raised by the government as White.

The Old Telegraph Station

Alice Springs was made famous by Neville Shute’s popular book A Town Called Alice. It became the seat of Northern Territories government during World War II when Darwin was badly damaged by bombing. There is now a “secret” facility called Pine Gap here, part of the satellite monitoring system and weather monitoring system, operated by the US government (CIA, NSA, and Defense) and the Australian government.

We had lunch at the Telegraph Station, which was nice, but served outside, so there were flies. Maybe you heard of the bush flies of the Outback of Australia. They are small, like fruit flies. They don’t bite but they are always trying to get into your eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. The proper name for the bush flies is Musca vetustissima. They are dung flies (deposit their eggs in dung) so are associated with cattle and sheep agriculture. Bush flies provoke what is called the Aussie Salute, which is the swatting away of flies around the face. If you are bothered by flies in the face, you can wear a bug net over your hat.

One of the flies!

Alice Springs has a population of about 28,000 people. There is a river, the Todd River, that runs underground most of the time, but surfaces and leaves pools after rains (which are not frequent.) The town is to the north of the MacDonnell Ranges, and is the largest city of the Red Center. The original inhabitants of the are the Arrernte people. There are a number of Arrernte communities and family lands around the town. The Alice Springs area has been continuously inhabited for about 30,000 years.