Monday, March 24, 2008

Greetings from Alice Springs

It's been over a month since I arrived here so I thought I'd relay a few things. Of course it has been quite warm every day but surprisingly not as hot as I thought it would be. I have put myself on a health kick - determined to walk for at least 30 - 60 minutes every day. It gets dark here between 7pm and 7.30pm so that's the best time to go walking. I keep to the well lit parts of town to be safe - there are stories of not so safe parts of town so I'm careful about that.

Walking throughout town is interesting - there are some obvious differences between Alice Springs and home. Aboriginal people congregate together in groups in parks, benches or even just on the sidewalk - wherever they happen to be. Sometimes in the shade - sometimes not. They sit around ... as if meditating. In town they stand around the streets - in groups. Sometimes they are involved in conversations with each other and sometimes they raise their voices - quite loud. Sometime I can detect profanity - but mostly I hear the aboriginal language which sounds very foreign - like a loud mumble. I haven't had any occasions when I have been fearful - although there have been times when I've been stopped asking for a smoke or money.

The most visited landmark in Alice Springs, ANZAC Hill shows a panoramic view of the town and surrounding MacDonnell Ranges - which is quite spectacular.

I've been out and about a bit ...

After my first week here I went to Kings Canyon and Ayers Rock - Uluru. WOW. This was a most amazing experience. A few guys from work hired a mini bus and planned the trip - which in hindsight was a bit too adventurous. We left Alice Springs at 5.00am and returned at 3.00am the next morning! That's a lot of traveling. People think that Ayers Rock is just next to Alice Springs ... it's not - it's a long long drive away. The scenery all the way was quite amazing and impressive, certainly not what I expected to see in the desert. Mountains galore, green areas and heaps of wildlife.

Our first stop along the way was to Roadhouse called "Jims Place" where I saw and heard a singing dingo! Some information about it is here and you can even hear it here!

Kings Canyon was picturesque and well worth the visit - we stopped there for lunch and a walk. Some magnificent pictures are here - as told by Jim - from Jims place.

Uluru is one of those places where we've all seen photos and knew what to expect. I think what impressed me the most was, after driving all day, to get a first glimpse in the distance - then as the road turns getting closer and closer, realising that this rock is absolutely huge. And it's not just its size - there are parts of the rock that are signposted as sacred and no photos are allowed - and seeing the rock from these angles was unique. Getting up close and going for a walk along the base of the rock to see some drawings and caves was also worth the visit. I would have liked to walk all around the rock - around 9km however it was late in the day and we had to allow for our return journey. I saw a few plaques on part of the rock as a memorial for some who had died attempting to climb Uluru - The local Aṉangu do not climb Uluru because of its great spiritual significance. They request that visitors not climb the rock, partly due to the path crossing a sacred traditional Dreamtime track, and also due to a sense of responsibility for the safety of visitors to their land. The Aṉangu believe they have a spiritual connection to Uluru, and feel great sadness when a person dies or is injured whilst climbing.

The long journey back to Alice Springs was difficult. At night the wildlife come out and like to sit on or near the road (there are no fences) so missing them can be difficult - especially when you're driving at 140km or so. Northern Territory driving safety advises not to swerve to avoid animals, especially when driving at high speeds however with so many emotional people on the bus ... we found ourselves frequently slowing down and speeding up. We also designated a spotter in the front of the bus to get an early warning if animals were near. We didn't hit any animals.

We arrived at Erldunda at around 1.00am - out of petrol, only to find that they were closed! So we take out the mobile phone ... no signal! Look for doorbells or a contact ... nothing! We see a phone box ... out of order! Another phone box ... no phone directory! We rang directory assistance and got put through ... we can hear the phone ringing! and after 30 minutes of feeling stranded they opened up the petrol bowser for us - phew.

I've also been to a few other scenic places here - usually on the weekend.

The Alice Springs Desert Park presents and interprets the Australian desert environment and its inhabitants, and contributes to the conservation of Australia's desert flora and fauna. The Park site is of significant cultural importance to the local Arrernte people and includes parts of the Akngwelye Artnwere and Yeperenye Altyerre (Wild Dog and Caterpillar dreaming stories). Hence the Desert Park provides a sensitive and realistic insight into Aboriginal culture by display and interpretation of the traditional use of plants and animals and with regular liaison with local indigenous groups. This ongoing process has resulted in the Traditional Custodians of the Park site experiencing a strong sense of pride and ownership in the attraction. One of the attractions I saw there were feeding of birds (by the ranger) where I saw and different species of birds including eagles and owls - and then even saw a dingo.

I visited the Alice Springs Cultural Precinct which included the Araluen Arts Centre, incorporating the Albert Namatjira Gallery, Central Australian Aviation Museum and the Alice Springs Memorial Cemetery. Needless to say that the paintings by Albert were great - I guess I'm more of a fan of landscapes than dreamtime interpretations.

As part of my work I went for a trip to Yuendumu - a remote aboriginal town 293kms from Alice Springs. After driving for 2 hours, not seeing another car on the road, we came to a roadhouse called Tilmouth Well. There were no cars there, and I'm told it's always quiet, however I was amazed to see them ready to serve me when we arrived. I noted the price of unleaded petrol was $1.90 per litre.

Arriving at Yuendumu gives the impression of a small, run down town. Most houses were "kit home" style and looked poor. I don't mean any disrespect - but the town was dirty - and looked like a tip. In fact right inside the town was a fenced off area with rubbish strewn all over. There was also about 50 derelict and demolished cars next to it. In a huge contrast I found out that the town is powered by solar energy - one of 3 remote aboriginal towns to get these massive solar dishes installed - at a cost of $7,000,000. The project won a prestigious Engineering Excellence
award in 2005. I took some photos of the dishes after asking permission - the land where the solar dishes are located is sacred aboriginal land where women are not allowed - it's used for mens initiations. Such a contrast with a derelict town and cutting edge solar technology.


Anonymous said...

michael, your writing is remarkable, i can seriously see you in journalism. You are definately enjoying your time in alice springs! i am hoping that you will have a more open outlook on life now that you have broadened your horizons up in NT. i cant believe you have gone from someone who has never seen an indigenous australian in person to being so involved in the aboriginal communities in the heart of australia. you are so lucky to be doing this, as these communities are at great threat of eventually diminishing and blending in with everything/one else.

take care on your travels,

kelly :)

Anonymous said...


thanks for the wonderful descriptions. Whilst i have been to Alice Springs and the places you mentioned it has been a long time and I must admit.. it makes me consider going again one day.
Glad to see you are making the most of your trip and enjoying yourself!