A Town like Alice

October 26 - November 1

Alice Springs, Northern Territory Although Alice is in the middle of nowhere it acts as a base for many of the facilities which are needed to service the cattle stations and Aboriginal communities which are literally out in the middle of nowhere, a long drive down dirt tracks to get to them and from where people can't just nip out for a pint of milk but have to plan their trip to Alice so that they bring back all the supplies they need for the next few months. As we were at the supermarket one time we saw a couple loading up there four wheel drive with supplies - it must be a long drive home for them, as they were carrying three spare tyres - I can't imagine that you carry that many spares unless you've had cause to use them! They were buying stuff in huge amounts - flour by the box load rather than bread, and loads of other basic supplies to keep them going between trips to the 'big city' (pop. 30,000).

Alice Springs is overlooked by the East and West MacDonald Ranges. We went exploring the West MacDonald Ranges one day and found more red rock, chasms, dry gorges and freezing cold but beautiful water holes in the middle of the barren countryside. Best of all, when we looked carefully among the rocks, in small nooks and crannies we spotted the rare black footed wallaby, a small rock wallaby that shelters among the rocks during the heat of the day. They can't be that rare if we spotted them though.

Alice Springs, Northern Territory Alice was an interesting place, a real oasis in the middle of nowhere and a great place to spend a few days finding out about the history of such Australian lifelines as the Flying Doctor Service and The School of the Air. The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) was the brilliant idea of Reverand John Flynn who set up the first one in Queensland in 1928. The RFDS in Alice has been around since 1939 and has about three planes constantly ferrying emergencies as well as prebooked patients around. Although they receive some government money they make a significant amount of their money from successful fundraising. The School of the Air allows children in remote areas to get an education and is done via radio lessons, video and the internet - in fact every school kid is provided with a computer - how good is that? They also get visits from their teachers and they all have to travel to Alice once a term to meet up with their classmates. The School of the Air in Alice was the first in the country starting in 1951 and originally broadcasting from the RFDS base it covers an area of 1.3 million squre kilometres! Once the children reach their early teens they are expected to go to boarding school.

The other important invention to impact on Alice was the building of the telegraph wire which stretched across the country from Darwin in the north to Adelaide in the south right through the centre of the country. Built in the early 1870's the telegraph station was the reason that Alice Springs existed as a town in the first place. Next to the Telegraph Station is Alice Springs, a Todd River waterhole, but pretty much dry when we saw it, discovered by an overland telegraph line surveyor, in 1871 and named after the wife of Charles Todd, the South Australian Superintendent of Telegraphs. The telegraph enabled fast, direct communication between Britain and Australia for the first time.

Alice was also a vibrant place, it is well known as an innovative place for Aboriginal artwork and there are a number of galleries with the dot paintings, traditional and modern styles and it also has a great atmosphere for nightlife. Bojangles was a kicking bar to dance the night away in to great blues and rock bands. One night we didn't have to venture far for an interesting evening. Throwing our steaks on the barbie at our apartment we got chatting to a rowdy group of people on the wrong side of 40, 50 and 60, some more grey than others and some with the rounded bellies of middle age - yes the ones that Richard and I have ten years early. They were all having a laugh and knocking back the beers and of course the rowdiest one turned out to be a great grandmother. The last thing you would think they were was competitive sportsmen and women. But it turned out they were, given most of them were darts players! but they were all competing in the unofficial Masters Games - sporting events for the older person and it was their last night - they had actually won a few medals and were due to have a gruelling 15 hour mini bus journey back to Darwin leaving at 4am the next day. It didn't stop them staying up with us and if my headache was anything to go by the next day it would have been an unpleasant journey for all of them.

All too soon it was time for part three of our road trip from Alice Springs to Broome

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