A Town Called Alice
eating lunch at the Ayers Rock airport (hey, I like airports, O.K.?), I left around 2 p.m. and
drove to Alice Springs. During the long drive there, I crossed over the sandy Finke River
and I'm still kicking myself that I didn't take a picture of it, because I
learned later that the Finke River is probably the oldest river in the
world. Compared to the other six continents, Australia is a VERY old
place. There hasn't been any mountain-building here for eons and there are
rainforests in northern Australia that haven't changed much in over 100 million
years. That's 35 million years before the dinosaurs became extinct, which is
an awfully long time.
that afternoon, I rolled into “The Alice” as Aussies call it,
which is located smack-dab in the middle of
the country and, with a population of about 25,000, is the largest city in
central Australia. I’ve wanted to
visit Alice Springs ever since I was a little kid when I pored over world
atlases and wondered about distant places, including this one in the middle of
the Australian desert with the funny name.
I arrived in Australia a few months ago, I was imagining what
Alice Springs was like. I figured it was hot, flat, dry, barren, and dusty with lots
of Outback-type pubs – kind of like the Wild West. As I’ve discovered, though, it’s not like that at all.
one thing, it’s much more lush than I envisioned, with lots of trees and
grassy parks. Actually, with its multi-story buildings and pedestrian shopping mall,
it looks much like any modern city. It's
not flat at all, because a mountain range runs through the southern edge of the
city. Also, to
the dismay of some, it even has a bunch of fast-food joints, including KFC,
Pizza Hut, McDonald’s and Burger King (oops, I mean “Hungry Jacks”).
Alice Springs draws in a lot of tourists (over 250,000 visited last year)
including, for some reason, a lot of young, single travelers or
"backpackers,” as they’re called here in Australia.
It also has a lot of interesting places to visit and it’s quite unlike any city I’ve ever been
interesting as “The Alice” is, though, it’s also a bit seedy.
Most of the motels and houses are barricaded by high walls and, in some
cases, barbed wire, and for the first time during my trip to Australia, I saw a lot of graffiti on walls and broken
window glass in parking lots. There’s
a large Aborigine population in Alice Springs, some of whom I saw staggering
around town and panhandling, and there are a lot of idle adult Aborigines who sit in
the parks for several hours during the day with nothing much to do.
Although the whites and Aborigines seem to get along pretty well, from
the looks of things, there’s a relatively high crime rate here and my level
of… not anxiety but, rather, alertness… inched up to the highest its been on
my entire 12-month trip so far.
not implying that Aborigines are dangerous because, although I’m still trying
to figure out the Aborigine situation here, my general impression is that
they’re not any more "dangerous" than whites (yeah, yeah, some of my best friends are Aborigines…).
However, as with any group which has high levels of unemployment and
substance abuse, there’s bound to be a higher level of crime, and that’s
Springs is definitely an interesting and colorful city, but because of the
barbed wire, walled motel compounds, and the high lodging costs, I decided to
cut my visit short here after spending only a couple of nights.
During my day-long tour of Alice Springs, I visited several interesting
sites, including the old Telegraph Station, Anzac Hill, the Royal Flying
Doctor Service, and the School of the Air.
Oh, and I also had lunch in the Hungry Jacks, my first fast-food meal
since leaving the U.S. in December. And
in case you were wondering, Whoppers in Australia taste exactly the same as
Whoppers in the U.S. -- but I don’t know
if that’s good or bad.
left: Heading up to Alice
Springs. That's an Australian speed limit sign. The "100"
refers, of course, to kilometers per hour.
center: Looking south at Alice Springs, viewed from Anzac Hill.
right: The shopping district of Alice Springs.
left: Downtown Alice Springs
on a sleepy morning.
center: Todd Street Mall in Alice.
right: Here's the Todd River which is almost always dry. Each winter,
though, local residents hold the "Henley on the Todd"
regatta here. Participants step into their "boats," lift them up, then run like
left: Home sweet home (er,
cabin). After passing hundreds of caravan parks (i.e., private
campgrounds) in New Zealand and Australia over the past four months, I finally
stayed in one because I wanted to try out a cabin, which are very popular here.
center: My cabin wasn't much, but it was cheap.
Cabins are more suited to large families, I guess, so I think I'll stick to motels.
right: Fueling up in Alice Springs. Note the Hungry
Jacks in the background.
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A Town Called Alice