The 2010 VT Meet group took the Discover a Town Like Alice Tour by Tailormade Tours on the afternoon of 20 Aug 2010. It took about four hours and we visited five places: the Mbantua Gallery and Cultural Museum, the Royal Flying Doctors Service, the Alice Springs School of Air, the Old Alice Springs Telegraph Station, and Anzac Hill. John was our excellent driver and guide. For a group we got a discounted price of 59.25 AUD (normally adults are 79.00 AUD and children 2 - 14 years are 60 AUD). The price included all entrance fees, along with complimentary pick up and drop off from all hotels. See the next several tips for information on where we went on the tour.
The history of Alice Springs revolves around a single piece of wire that stretched from Darwin to Adelaide and carried the all important telegraph messages. Perhaps in these days of instantaneous communication with anywhere in the world via satellite and other types of transmission, the idea of the telegraph does sound totally alien – men sitting at desks pounding out messages one fingered on their Morse keys to be relayed to another operator about 250 km away and repeated over several hours across Australia. I used to be in the Scouting movement many years ago and did learn Morse code. Later for a short time I was in the Citizens Military Forces (CMF and now called the Army Reserve) and in the signals section – I became a signaler and as such did know and use Morse code – although I was very slow.
To give you an example of how long it would take for a message to be transmitted from Darwin to Adelaide, the most proficient Morse operators could send/receive messages at about 40 wpm (words per minute). The first paragraph above is 140 words and therefore would take 3.5 minutes to send/receive. The line was 3200 km from Darwin to Adelaide and had 11 repeater stations plus a ‘terminus’ at each end. Thus the above paragraph would have taken 3.5 minutes x 12 = 42 minutes to be sent and received.
The Alice Springs Telegraph Station is located 4 km from Alice Springs Township and is a well-preserved monument to those who constructed the line, which was completed in 1872 and to those who sat on keyboards receiving and sending messages across the void of desert until its closure after 60 years in 1932. The subsequent history of the station - it became a church mission dedicated to caring for and educating Aboriginal children. One of many panels in the interior of the building states, “They just take you out of your mother’s arms.” Sad times and the basis for ‘SORRY’ as expressed in Federal Parliament.
With my own experiences using Morse code, I was particularly fascinated with the post and telegraph office where much of the earlier equipment was on display and, importantly, in full working order. They even had a taped message and the all-pervading sound of dit, dah, dit etc but at a very rapid rate – the sort of rate that an experienced operator would be able to send/receive messages.
On an interpretive panel, a poignant reminder of the hard work read, “Every word of the world news passed through the Alice Springs telegraph office.”
Sadly our time at the Telegraph Station was very short and I would think you should allow 3 + hours to really enjoy – and far more if you are an ex-signaler. On the off chance that you are, I hope you remember the ditty we used to sing out in a bawdy mess room fashion after far too much beer, “Dit dah dit said the signalman, merry, merry men are we . . . “
To help you with research here are 2 links - Australian Overland Telegraph Line and Morse code
I could really get myself into trouble with the girls here, so I’ll try really hard to be good and not make any sexist jibes along the way – although it may prove to be an impossible task!
I was expecting lots of interesting interpretive panels on the hardships of the early pioneering women and how they toiled in the heat, dust and flies of outback Australia – and yes there were those panels and so much more.
The tales of our pioneering women are in the main fascinating and one of so many panels read: “Fanny Ross, one of the first English speaking women at the heart of Australia, had her piano transported from South Australia by bullock wagon, which took 3 months and cost £100 ($200) in freight.”
Perhaps picking out that story amongst the hundreds may be a little unfair, but a girl has to do what a girl needs to do and if that happens to be playing her piano well so be it.
There was a lot more than the stories if pioneering women from the early days of settlement in the outback of Australia.
Many of the panels centered around those women who achieved ‘firsts’ in their chosen fields; politicians State and Federal featured quite prominently and titled ‘A woman’s place is in the house’ (Parliament house); ‘Not just a pretty face’ was just a little taste of those pioneering women in films and started with the actor Beatrice Day who starred in possibly the worlds first feature film and made by the Salvation Army ‘Soldiers of the Cross’ (1900).
There was a large collection of domestic appliances from various times, including many different types of irons as used in ironing clothes – which did seem quite odd for outback women, but then again a girl has to do what . . . never mind – LOL
Hopefully you can read one of the panels as per photo above – “weep while you sweep” and looks at how radio has played a part in the lives of women since the 1930’s
The remainder of the old jail (old English word is gaol and pronounced the same as jail) has been retained and would have been punishment in itself to be incarcerated during the heat of summer (+45 c many days) and the bitterly cold of desert winters (-5 c many nights) – but then again if you do the crime then you do the time and hopefully won’t come back again, which reminds me – why put all those great displays about women in a kitchen of a former jail? There must be some sort of connection!
Very interesting experience and suggest allow at least 2 hours depending on interest.
The third stop on our Whistle Stop tour of Alice Springs was the iconic Control Station for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The Flying Doctors are very dear to the hearts of Australians and in particular the outback and rural areas. Their web site has a great slogan – “The furthest corner, the finest care.”
Sadly all we could visit was the new theatrette where a very interesting video of the work of the Flying Doctors was shown on a large screen.
We made a quick dash through the museum and would have loved to have spent time looking and experiencing the interactive displays, but had to make a choice – something to eat or the museum. Without food we may have suddenly become patients for the famous flying doctors, so eat we did.
They do have an on-site café located in the historic veranda area, but the café operates Monday to Saturday and we visited on a Sunday. However as said on my introductory page on Alice Springs, it was the ladies auxiliary to the rescue with freshly made up sandwiches, cakes and coffee – strangely I did not see any scones which I would have considered to be very much in keeping with the traditions of country women.
Funny thing about us humans – when ever there is a high point like a hill, mountain, tree, tall building, whatever we’ve got to climb it and have a good look around. Just wondering if it’s the same genes that get monkeys to do the same thing. Charles Darwin may have pondered that question too, but then again he might have been searching for a tree, mountain, what ever to have a good sticky beak.
Almost in the centre of Alice Springs is the stark small hill with the ANZAC memorial on top – and the view is great with a sweeping panorama of the town and the nearby Mac Donnell Ranges. From the hill The Ghan can be seen and the length almost takes up the entire town – see photo on travelogue attached to The Ghan tip
Anzac Hill is the only point of height within Alice Springs itself. This means that you can get a great view over Alice Springs from the top and also, the sunset from here is great. Once at the top, you can enjoy the view over to the McDonnell Ranges.
Atop Anzac Hill you will find a war memorial to fallen soldiers.
Frankly, I was vaguely aware that there were twitchers around, i.e. people who watch birds. Until I got a little into it though I never realised just how many there were. They're everywhere!
So it was that I found myself at Alice Springs Desert Park. This excellent facility has walking trails, aviaries, picture theatres, souvenir shop, restaurant and toilets.
It was said by no less an authority than Sir David Attenborough, “there is no zoo or wildlife park in the world that can match it". That's a big statement from someone so eminent.
When you pay your fee ($20 at 2010 rates - cheaper for concessions) you also qualify for a free audio guide that will explain much about what you are seeing, both geologically, naturally and historically.
This is a quality attraction and well worth your while if you have any interest in any of the preceding.
There are different times allocated to other specialities and I heartily recommend the Nature Theatre when you will see wild birds of prey come in on cue. It's very well done and very informative.
You'll see rare and endangered species as well as those more common and it's not only birds that are on display. Animals such a bilbys and other can be viewed - great for families.
NATIONAL PARKS TRIP
When I booked into Annies for my accomodation..I discovered that from here I could organise and book my trip to The National Parks of Uluru Kata-Tjuta (Ayers rock and Olgas)and Watarkka (The Kings Canyon).. The trips go very regularly..they are for three days and two nights..The transport is a 20 seat bus..that was reasonably comfortable..The trip..leaves early morning and the bus tows a large boxed trailer that carried all camping equipment ,food and personal packs..The driver, guide and cook was a jovial personality that made the trip enjoyable..everybody got to know each other quickly and the group was made up of more than a dozen nationalities..everybodys choice of music was pretty continuous.
DAY1...first day was the drive to Watarkka (Kings Canyon National Park) .most of the afternoon spent here...different walks are taken here depending on the grades of fitness..This is really a marvellous Canyon to see..from here we drove to Curtain Springs (where we viewed Mount Connor and a marvellous sunset) coomonly called "fool a ru" as upon first sight everyone thought that it was "Uhuru" We all camped in the Bush under the stars for the night.(this was outside the National Park)..everybody got togeather and got firewood for the evening..then, dinner...clean up and campfire chat and drink...also Curtain Springs is the only place to buy alcohol out herebecause the aboriginal areas forbid the sale of alcohol
DAY 2 The next morning was early start.. breakfast and the drive to The Uluru National Park and directly to Kata Tjuta ( the Olgas)..I enjoyed this most of all...once again the walks here can be extreme. They are long an arduous.although it was winter it was hot.So,after the day exploring this amazing Unesco Cultural site we dove then to Yulara. Yulara is the complex within the National Park and run by the National Park administrators..all sorts of accomodation are available here. All is expensive!!
.we once again camped for the night under the stars.(the night sky is to be beleived here)we had good cooking amenities here and plenty of firewood at site....also good clean shower and toilets..(great).(see note at end).
DAY 3...once again an early start ..breakfast, clean up and out to the Uluru ( Ayers Rock).. and what an impressive sight this is..all day is spent here with many doing various activities...climbing...walking and viewing..Plenty of time to do and see what you choose..also visit to the Aboriginal Cultural centre here ..lots to see..and various shops in the complex.Aboriginal art and all sorts of hand crafted wooden souveniers here . The drive out in the evening saw us all setting ourselves up for the "sunset photos" I was quite surprised that the hundreds of cars and busses that just seemed to come from nowhere..after the sunset we set out for our return trip to Alice Springs.I was also surprised to see so many tables set up for dinner with lovely white table cloths and beautifully set out with cutlery ,crockery, and champagne glasses.all being fussed over by immaculately dressed waiters in white shirts , black trousers and black bow ties..I remember thinking..Boy! some people really travel well..!!!
This was a really enjoyable camping trip and I could not fault it for the cost....The food wasn't too bad really although simple ..mostly pasta and the like..although we had a BBQ breakfast second day.(I was the cook).it was GO GO GO as we covered a lot of miles in the three days..about 1000 kilometers all up round trip.
The bus was relatively comfortable and made stops when neccesary at truckstops.
I hired my sleeping bag and swag at Annies for about $30.00.
National Park entry fees were extra 25.00
The all up cost for everything was just under $320.00 which I thought was a really good deal...considering what was done and seen in the three days..when I first arrived I wasn't sure of what travel group I would take ..This was a good choice for budget travel..this would be hard to beat..yes..I would do it again it was great..as for the sleeping bag and "swag" for the unfamiliar..it was comfortable ..even as the nights were very cold..
SPECIAL NOTE..Remember also this is a National Park and wildlife are in abundance here.
.I awoke to find a Dingo with four others trying to drag off my shoes..after a well aimed shot with my waterbottle he left...it could have been different.
.ALSO...always make sure you 1..take a torch...2.. have plenty of water with you at all times..
3.have sunscreen..4.a good hat...5 some lip balm..6.good walking shoes..
Learn about the history of the Old Ghan when you visit the Old Ghan Museum and Heritage Railway.
We enjoyed a trip on the heritage rail in the Year 2000 after completing our tag along tour from Quorn which travelled the route of the Old Ghan train. We were actually on the track for a while.
This is when we bought our Old Ghan train caps which we renew every 2-3 years and wear everywhere. These caps suit us both and are a great help for 'meeting people' .
You can still buy them ...2010....Look at almost any collection of our photos and we will be wearing the caps in some of them.
For your cap write to : PO Box 8099 Alice Springs 0871 AUSTRALIA
About $20 now plus postage. Denim or black.(2011)
As far as I know you can still take the heritage rail trip in part of The Old Ghan.
I did a 3-day camping tour with The Rock Tour company in 2010 - a trip that filled up to maximum and was handled beautifully by the tour guide Sasha.
We got to experience a lot of things while taking care of ourselves - cooking and cleaning with her help and we even got to change a flat tire on the tour bus. Massive amounts of fun!
In all seriousness Sasha was a fantastic tour guide who knew the area well enough to drive around without navigation (I was totally lost) and seemed to know a lot of the aboriginal tales and folklore surronding the spiritual sites we were visiting.
The tour itself was self catered and well organised - we never felt we were being pressed too hard for time or effort. We got to relax and we ate well and we saw lots of cool things, so I've got absolutely no problems recommending it to everyone on here.