Australia’s Red Centre: Alice Springs

November 10:  An early morning flight out of Canberra took me to Adelaide and then into the heart of Australia, known as The Outback or the Red Centre… only this year, there was a whole lot more green, benefitting from over 1100 mm of rain in 2010 (~43 inches). Still, the aerial views showed an incredibly red landscape, and I could really see how vast and dry this continent is and give credit to those early explorers like Ross and Eyre who explored it. More importantly, I have to absolutely admire the Aborigine people, who have survived for over 50,000 years here, memorizing landscapes and weather patterns… a necessity when average temperatures in the Northern Territory range from 3 – 35 C (37 – 95 F) and rain is scarce.

I was pretty excited to arrive in Alice Springs, but I gotta be honest with you – Alice made me a little nervous!  There’s a lot of history in Alice, a pioneer town known for its Aborginal art scene, but it is also the temporary home to unshaven backpackers, sedentary Indigenous people, and rough-and-tumble miners, with an occasional  American or European tourist or short-stay visa worker thrown in the mix. The town is deserted at dark, and I was told that it’s unsafe to walk alone. Still, I made the most of my time there and I really enjoyed the company of the people I did meet.

Friday was hot, like 32 – 38 C hot. That’s 92 – 100 F for your Americans.  On days like this at home, I would got to the movies or to the mall or find something to do in the basement.  However, I had to explore!  In the morning, I walked to the Telegraph Station along the now-dry Todd River.  A nice (long) trail leads you from town to the station.  (The walk itself, surrounded by red rocks, reminded me of hiking in Phoenix.)  I arrived at the Telegraph station at around 10 am, an hour after I started walking; the heat was intense and I drank most of my water.  

Telegraph Office in Alice Springs (1872 - 1932)

Opened in 1872, the Telegraph Station connected Australia with the rest of the world, eliminating its communication isolation.  Now a message could be transmitted in a matter of hours rather than months.  The historical precinct itself consists of the Post and Telegraph Office, Station Master housing, barracks, a battery house, and ancillary outbuilding needed to keep a small settlement in operation.  Very nearby is the original Alice Spring waterhole, Mparntwe, in the local Aboriginal language of Arrernte.  I crossed the riverbed to see it. Interestingly, Alice Todd, for whom the town is named, never did.

An hour later and 15 degrees higher, I made my way to Anzac Hill, courtesy of Clive, one of the employees at the Telegraph Station. (It was too hot to walk back, so a taxi was called, but it never arrived.)  Thank you, Clive!!!  Here you can see the town in all directions. 

View of Alice Springs from Anzac Hill


On Australia’s Remembrance Day, it seemed fitting to reflect on both Australia’s and America’s sacrifices for freedom. Over 102,000 Australians have died in wars around the world, including over 61,000 in World War I alone.  Gallipoli is probably the most famous of these battles, but the battles on the Western Front resulted in more deaths.

Anzac Hill Memorial, Alice Springs


I also visited the Pioneer Women’s Museum, where I learned about famous Australian female firsts.  The building is the old Alice Springs Gaol (from 1938), and even though it was closed in 1996, it smells a bit like a gym locker room.  Still, I think this place is worth a visit because it does give you a good history of both the gaol’s prisoners and the women who worked Australia’s land.

After a hot walk back to  town, I stopped at Soma for an iced coffee and at the Mbantua Art Gallery (where a portion of the proceeds go back to the artist) to  buy some souvenirs adorned with Aboriginal artwork, and then I headed back to the hotel. I took a few hours for lunch and to relax by the pool before I met Clive for dinner at The Rock Bar.  Pleasant conversation made the dinner fly by and I soon had to leave to attend the Sounds of Starlight didgeridoo concert. Andrew Langford, Hayden, and Paul presented an amazing synthesized didgeridoo concert – a visual and audio sensation that transported us to another world.  If I closed my eyes, I could imagine myself flying over the desert of Central Australia, surrounded by red dirt and stars. It was a fantastic show and I bought the CD, with autographs, and dated 11-11-11.   Cool, huh? The 1.5 days in Alice Springs definitely ended on a high (key of G?) note!  (That’s for you, Pat McCurdy fans!)

An early morning bus ride took me 5.5 hours southwest to Uluru. More on that portion of this trip can be found here.


Other links:
Other craters in Australia
Aboriginal origin of the Macdonnell Range
Information about the traditional land owners of this area, the Arrernte
Australia’s telegraph Repeater Stations
Video: View of Alice Springs
Video: Sounds of Starlight

Funny quote:
“Alice Springs is close to every beach in Australia” (Colin, AAT Kings bus driver)

Thanks to Sam Lorkin at Escape Travel for coordinating the logistics of this trip.