Friday, 10 January 2014

19th Dec - Alice Springs

The train was running a little late, so our scheduled four hour stop in Alice Springs, was actually more like three, and since the crew insisted we rejoin the train half an hour prior to departure, it didn't leave us much time. There was no room left on the scheduled tours, so I was free to explore the town at my hurried leisure.

I'd always thought that Uluru, (Ayers Rock) was close to Alice Springs, and perhaps in Australian terms it is, but 200km makes it a very, very long day trip from Alice and clearly unachievable in this time. Another reason to return I guess. There are scenic flights from Alice over the Rock, but even these must be booked in advance, are pretty expensive and take a few hours out of the day.

So instead, I marched to the top of the Meyer's Hill, in the centre of town and got this view. You can just see the yellow train engine on the left of the picture, below the large shed.
Looking south to the hills, you can see the Heavitree Gap in the surrounding ridge, through this narrow notch the river, the Stuart Highway and the train line all pass.

I hadn't planned to visit the Central Australian Aviation Museum, but found myself drawn into the hangar. The chap manning the desk was himself a pilot. His charming outback demeanour turned sour when recounting how the moronic truck driver responsible for delivering his beautiful plane (pictured) to the museum put huge dents in the bodywork. Spleen, bile and venom were spat out in the most creative manner. His language would have made Les Patterson blush. A young family then walked in and he discreetly returned to the "Good on yer, young fella" flavour of outback charm.
This museum containing many light aircraft on the floor and hanging from the roof is housed in the former hangars of Connellan Airways. This tiny airline run by Mr. Connellan (who was frequently the only pilot), served the entire Northern Territory for several decades, and provided a lifeline for the remote communities and cattle stations. Residents passing by the airfield might pin shopping lists to the wooden shelter for the pilot to collect, and return several days or weeks later for their groceries, emergency medicines or veterinary requirements. 

A map and accompanying notebook detailing a century of aviation incidents in the region demonstrated just how hazardous flying in the outback could be. A successful emergency landing certainly doesn't guarantee survival in the vast unforgiving heat of the desert. Indeed, the wreck of the Kookaburra housed in a circular hut outside illustrates the story well: In 1929, when Charles's Kingsford-Smith and Ulm flight to England in their plane Southern Cross, was interrupted by an emergency landing, search parties were dispatched. The Kookaburra, a tiny aircraft piloted by their old friends Hitchcock and Anderson made several forced landings, each time managing to resume the mission, before finally getting trapped and unable to take off again, miles from anywhere. The diary of those two crew members from the remaining few days of their lives makes grim reading. Kingsford-Smith and Ulm were rescued unharmed. The whole unfortunate debacle, with accusations of publicity stunts, blame and recriminations became known as the 'Coffee Royal' scandal in the newspapers of the day.

In the same Araluen Cultural Precinct, an area of Alice Springs given over to the arts, theatre and museums, is the Museum of Central Australia, with an interesting collection of meteorites salvaged from craters that dot the vast outback, including the huge Wolf Creek crater, (now tarnished by the horror film of the same name). Also of note was an exhibition devoted to missionary turned anthropologist Theodore Stehlow, who made extensive notes and field recordings of Arente aboriginal stories and rituals across the area. He was ritually adopted by the tribe, which made the posthumous auction of his extensive collections of sacred cultural objects even more controversial. The black sticker on the DVD case below reads as follows: "Warning. Aboriginal and Torres Strait viewers watching this program should exercise caution as it may contain images of deceased persons."
This is Todd Mall, the main street of Alice. Not much going in when I was there.
And here is The Ghan, awaiting my return for the remainder of the journey south to Adelaide.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.