There is a lot to see in Alice Springs without even venturing out of town. Yesterday, we spend the entire day visiting local museums.
We began with a short drive north along the Stuart Highway to the historic Telegraph Station. This was established on the Todd River, near the springs that give the town its name. It is is still largely intact. Then waterhole is dry at the moment and I assume that the original settlers would have drawn water from the nearby well when this occurred in the old days. In the original telephone office, telegraphers would take the signal coming down the line from Darwin to the north and re-transmit it again down the line to the south. The simulation of the incoming signal (in morse code) was exceptionally fast it sounded just like static to me. It must have taken a high level of skill for the operators to be able to read it by’ ear’ and make sense of the message. It’s all very primitive compared to our modern satellite communications of today.
There is a classic view of Alice Springs from Anzac Hill which has become the town’s war memorial. Again, there has been a lot of work and development done here. On the short and steep road up to the hill there are new signs that provide the name and dominant medal of all the conflicts in which Australians have fought and around the edge of the top of the hill are plaques describing each of these conflicts.
I remember attending a Vietnam Veterans Day Service here in 2003 along with ten or twelve local men. We accepted their kind invitation to jon them for drinks afterwards at the local RSL. My Dad served here in WW2 and on my last visit, I remember calling him from the top of the hill to ask him about the location of his camp at the time. I remember him telling me to face left at ‘9.00 O’Clock’ and look for a blue sign. Well, the sign had long gone, but not Dad’s memory!
One of the great icons of the Australian Bush is the Royal Flying Doctor Service. I reckon they do a fantastic job in providing medial care to people living in remote locations. The service was begun by the Rev John Flyn, a Methodist Missionary, in the 1920’s. Now they run over 90 aircraft and provide free transport, bush clinics and many forms of medical care over the vast majority of the continent. Their new Pilatus aircraft have a range of 3,200 kms and can fly up to 30,000 feet to avoid bad weather. They can land on short bush airstrips and on roads. In some places, major highways are occasionally marked as emergency airstrips. These planes are capable of transporting critically ill patients long distances to major cities for acute care. Like most people, I made the mistake of thinking that these planes (manned by a pilot and flight nurse as well as a doctor in emergencies were just flying ambulances. In fact they are equipped at the same level as the critical care ward of a major hospital.
We’ve come a long way since the days when people would call the Flying Doctor on a radio powered by by pedal generators, but each remote mine or cattle station still has a standard medical chest in which medicines can be prescribed according to number by a doctor at the RFDS Base many kilometres away. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about the fantastic role that this excellent service plays right across the country. The RFDS centre here in Alice Springs is brand new. It has a terrific visitors centre and museum. It’s well worth a visit and your financial support.
On the opposite side of the street to the Royal Flying Doctor Base is a very interesting reptile park. This private collection has around 40 species of snakes, skinks, lizards and even a salt water crocodile. They have a pet goanna named Ruby that wanders around the floor which I accidentally kicked as I was walking towards a python that had caught my eye on the other side of the room. I hope I didn’t hurt it but it scurried away quickly and hid in a corner. The owner of the business will call and collect reptiles that may have invaded your home. His is a handy telephone number to know!
Down by the airport is a collection of transport museums. One is home to the old Ghan Train that now stands still and silent in the long disused MacDonnell Station and Siding. The rather quaint stone station building has become a railway museum.The name ‘Ghan’ is derived from the original Afghan camaliers who came to Australia in the pioneering days when camels were thought to be an ideal form of transport for our desert environment. Many of those camels escaped and became feral. It’s not commonly known that Australia now has the largest herds of wild camels in the world. We even export them to Arabia!
In the siding, and on the original narrow gauge track, is a locomotive, dining car and lounge car from the old train. The original Ghan train was run by the government Commonwealth Railways Corporation. Its services stopped running in 1980. This exhibit is now looking very dilapidated and unless you are a train buff, you could bypass this museum and not be missing much. The new Ghan railway, from Adelaide to Darwin, is now a standard gauge railway and the track has been repositioned to a new route that is less vulnerable to floods and washouts.
Next door is much more interesting museum and well with paying its higher entrance fee. It’s the National Road Transport Hall of Fame. It has a wonderful collection of old trucks and classic cars. Many of these were important in opening up the outback, carrying necessary supplies and defending the country. Some, such as the Landrover that was used in the search for Lasseter’s Reef are very historic. You can see anything here from old fire engines to road trains to early commercial vehicles. They have ben sourced from almoner the country. It’s a wonderfull place to visit. Be sure that you set aside a good few hours to se it all properly.