Monday, 29 June 2015

Alice Springs, Australia - The Ghan Adventure continued

Alice Springs from Anzac Hill

The morning dawned with a glorious outback sunrise and before long we had arrived at our second destination, Alice Springs. Alice, as it is commonly known, is in the geographical centre of Australia, midway between Darwin and Adelaide.  It is a
desert town, now primarily involved in tourism, with a population between 20,000 and 28,000 depending on the season. It is also home to the outback Flying Doctor service.

The Ghan stretched out through the middle of town

 I had imagined Alice to be dusty, dry and slightly shabby so was pleasantly surprised to find it a fresh, attractive, tidy town.  After a drive through the township our coach took us up to the top of Anzac Hill, passing memorials to every war Australia has been involved in, for a magnificent view over the township and to the majestic MacDonell ranges beyond.

Murals celebrating the history of transport in and around Alice adorn walls in the town.

A road train (truck with many trailers) passes through Alice
Alice began life as a service town for the surrounding farming stations and grew in size during World War 2 when thousands were evacuated there from Darwin which was under attack by the Japanese.  Nevil Shute wrote an acclaimed  book, later adapted as a play and a movie, called A Town Like Alice.  This brought fame to the town although Alice itself hardly features in the book.

The dry, dusty, waterless Todd River

Two popular real dinkum Aussie events are held in Alice annually; the Camel Cup where jockeys on camels race each other,  and the Henley-on-Todd regatta, a boat race on the completely dry Todd river where contestants carry their boats and indulge in mock battles armed with flour bombs and water cannons.  It sounds like a lot of fun and  is a hugely successful fundraiser for the local Rotary Club. It is also the only boating regatta in the world which is cancelled if there is water in the river as happened in 1993.  The river does occasionally have water in it but it is usually only briefly after heavy rain in the wet season.

Next we headed 4 kilometres out of town to the Telegraph Station. Dating from 1871 the telegraph station is the site of the first European settlement in the area.  The station was established to send messages between Darwin and Adelaide and also became the first line of communication between Australia and England.  It is located beside the Todd River and the springs, now dry, which Alice is named for.  The station site boasts beautiful warm golden, stone colonial buildings with wide verandahs and it was a delightful surprise to find tables set out for us complete with white linen table cloths and a buffet lunch befitting a wedding reception. Lunch was delicious but here, for the first time, we experienced the famous Aussie flies and by the end of lunch had become quite adept at the "Aussie Salute".  After lunch there was time for an exploration of the property and surrounds before heading off to our next adventure which must wait until my next post.