The continent’s original desert centre
1,500 km north west of Adelaide on the Stuart Highway. ‘The Alice’, as it’s called, lies plumb in the middle of the Red Centre. In the 1870s, a staging post of the Overland Telegraph Line was established here. This was the brainchild of James Todd, after whom the local river was named. (The local spring was named after his wife Alice.) As a result of Todd’s vision, the telegraph line from Adelaide eventually linked up with the submarine cable from Java to Darwin, and for the first time a direct link was established between Australia and Europe. From then on, Britain knew at once when Australian cricket and rugby teams were on their way; though they still haven’t yet worked out how to deal with them.
For railway journey enthusiasts it has a special significance: it’s a stop on the famous Ghan train which runs from Adelaide via Alice Springs to Darwin.
Nowadays, some 28,000 people live in Alice Springs, in a town which looks curiously like an ordinary Australian suburb. In summer temperatures can rise to 45°C and can produce an awesome thirst amongst the locals, who often take exemplary precautions long before it reaches this high. And in winter you have to drink to keep yourself warm, with temperatures plunging to 4°C as soon as the sun sets. You can’t win.
There’s not really much to see in Alice Springs, but there’s always something going on. Fireworks, camel races, the Henley Regatta in the dried-out river, a beerfest in the local winery, Rodeo Week, the Verdi Club Beerfest, another beerfest and so forth. Contact the Tourism Central Australia on the corner of Todd Mall and Parsons Street for your gruelling fixture list.
Within easy reach of town there’s a siding of old locomotives, a camel farm, a Wineries Vineyards, the old Telegraph Station and the original Alice Springs where you can picnic under a gum tree. If you’re interested in Aborigine art, head down to the Todd Mall, where you’ll find several galleries. Most of the work on display is the work of local Anangu Aborigines. It’s generally of the highest quality, and priced accordingly. My favourites are the dot paintings, which are a recently adapted permanent form of the sand paintings used at sacred ceremonies. In the best of these, you sense a significance which goes far deeper than their more decorative artistic qualities.
Find more in: Railway journeys