We had a few hours to fill in before our 2 1/2 hour flight back to Melbourne, so we took advantage of the time to visit a few outstanding locations around town.
We found the grave of the Rev John Flynn who founded the Royal Flying Doctor Service. It’s on a hillside under the Western MacDonnell Ranges just out of Alice Springs. It’s in a quiet location, although it must be at the start of a walking track as there are far too many cars parked in the parking area as there are people at the graveside. His grave is topped with one of the ‘Devil’s Marbles’, a rounded rock feature found to the north of Alice Springs and along the road to Darwin.
Back in town, we stopped of a the old gaol that was replaced by a new one in 1996. Gaols don’t have a very high level of interest for me, but this one is the home of the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame. It has a wonderful set of exhibits dedicated to preserving the place of women in history for their special contribution to Australia’s heritage. Apparently, it is is one of only three women’s museums in operation in Australia. It tells some amazing stories of women’s achievements from pioneering days to modern time. The story that appealed to me most was of Olive Pink who founded the Alice Springs Botanic Gardens. It seems that she would plant a tree to celebrate some politician and other noted person who she thought was worthy of commemoration. If any of them let her down, or was perceived to fail her in some way, she would simply stop watering the tree until it died. What a way to get revenge!
Also in town, we came across the ‘School of the Air’. This wonderful institution provides remote education to kids that may live as far as 700 km from Alice Springs. Like the Flying Doctor, this is one of the amazing Australian bush organisations. The students (from Grade 1 to 9) who attend the school may be on remote cattle stations, travelling for extended periods with her families, or for whatever other reason, just live miles from civilisation. In the old days, these kids would listen to their teacher on pedal powered radio but now lessons are provided by computer on a satellite connection which is powered by solar powered electricity. All the students come into town for four separate weeks each year to attend lessons that have a focus on social activities and inter-personal relations. This is generally an occasion for the whole family to come to town and enjoy a different life.
We have been fascinated by some of our fellow guests at our hotel. Our visit to ‘The Alice’ happened to coincide with the Australasian Rescue Competition. This is like the Olympic Games for emergency services personnel. Fire Brigade and Emergency Service Teams from all over the country, New Zealand and Hong Kong were competing in events in which they had to perform rescues in a variety of simulated car accidents. To our chagrin, they took a lot of space in the bar and restaurant of our hotel each night. We had a number of teams on our plane on the way to Alice Springs and we were surrounded by the team from Hong Kong team on our way home. Needless to say, we felt very safe whilst there. I’m happy to report that the winners were a team from Wollongong in NSW. Two teams from New Zealand came second and third.
We had a relaxing flight home to much colder weather. We had a final view of the Western MacDonnells after taking off and we were lucky enough to see some of our famous outback locations on our flight.
Some time along the flight, we passed over Lake Eyre.This salt lake is the lowest natural point in Australia at approximately 15 metres below sea level. On the rare occasions that it fills, it is the largest lake in Australia. The lake was named in honour of Edward John Eyre, who was the first European to see it in 1840. During the occasional rainy season, the rivers from the north-east part of the Lake Eyre Basin flow towards the lake through the ‘Channel Country’. The amount of water from the monsoon period determines whether water will reach the lake and if it does, how deep the lake will get. The average rainfall in the immediate area of the lake is only 100 to 150 mm per year.
A little further on, we could see the shape of Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges, about 420 kms north of Adelaide. The national park there has some of the most spectacular scenery in South Australia. It was made famous by the paintings of Sir Hans Heysen through his paintings of river gums in desert landscapes. The local Adnyamathanha people have lived in the Flinders Ranges for tens of thousands of years and the region remains of enormous significance to them today. Despite the changes introduced by early European settlers, this area still has outstanding examples of natural and semi-arid ecosystems.
Our final view, before landing, was across the northern suburbs to the Melbourne CBD.