Situated almost in the dead centre of Australia, Alice Springs, named after the wife of a former Postmaster General of South Australia, is the third largest town in Northern Territories having a population of about 28,000, which is approximately 12% of the total. The town straddles the Stuart Highway and was, until 1933, named after the great explorer, John McDouall Stuart.
In 1861-1862 Stuart led an expedition through central Australia establishing the route from south to north. Ten years later a repeater station was established for the overland telegraph line linking Darwin to Adelaide and thus to Britain. European settlement commenced in 1887 when gold was discovered some 62 miles east of Alice Springs.
Alice, as it is known locally, is about equidistant from Darwin and Adelaide, approximately 950 miles from each city and stands on the River Todd which is usually just a dry, sandy river bed and hosts the only dry river regatta in the world. At the aptly named Henley on Todd Regatta, teams of ‘rowers’ in metal framed ‘boats’ compete by running through the deep, coarse sand. The only time the event was cancelled was in 1993 when the river flooded!
Our hotel was the Crowne Plaza at the edge of the town and we left its air conditioned comfort to walk, sweating, in the 35°C heat alongside the river and, at the time, wondered why there was a bridge carrying the road into town built over it!
Heavy rainfall to the north of Alice causes the river to start flowing through the town some 6 to 8 hours later, when the river changes from its normal dry bed to a bank to bank flow within 15 minutes. It is possible to follow the leading edge as it flows through the town at walking pace. As the Stuart Highway and the railway line run closely parallel to the river, all surface links to the town can be cut when it does flood. However, as the local newspaper reported in March this year:
‘She may be the colour of latte and have strange frothy bits around the edges … but its good to see her again. Welcome back, River Todd.’
Alice Springs is home to the Royal Flying Doctor Service where there is a museum to the Service and at the small school in the centre of town ‘The School of the Air’ operates, where pupils in outlying areas are taught via the medium of radio.
On the edge of the town, across the Stuart Highway, stands the Anzac War Memorial atop a high sandy outcrop of rock. From the road it looked quite spectacular but, as we were already sweating profusely in the extremely hot sunshine we decided not to climb the steep stairway leading up to it. Instead we walked through the town and found the old gaol house the like of which seemed to feature in every small town in Australia we explored.
We then found an air conditioned coffee house to recover before the long walk back to the hotel.
by Terry Took © 2013
Terry Took was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Tynemouth for over 50 years. He spent 45 years in the Merchant Navy which included 27 years as North Sea Pilot. He then spent five years as a lecturer at the Marine Department of South Tyneside College.
He is now an Elder Brother in Trinity House and Marine Director.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.