Alice Springs (including Chambers Pillar Historical Reserve, Henbury Meteorite Park, Simpsons Gap National Park, Standley Chasm)
The town offers the traveller a vast number of attractions. A good starting point is Anzac Hill. This is not because it has any special appeal. It simply offers an excellent view of Alice Springs and environs affording a superb 360� panorama. The monument on the top of the hill was designed by the Rev Harry Griffiths, President of the local RSL. If you continue east after visiting Anzac Hill the road crosses the bed of the Todd River.
Adelaide House in Todd Mall was designed and built by John Flynn and was the first Alice Springs Hospital. The idea for a hospital was originally suggested by Sister Finlayson who arrived in the Centre in 1915 and was horrified to find that seriously sick patients had to be transferred by cart or wagon to Oodnadatta over 600 km away. Built between 1920-26 it employed a unique cooling system which was a combination of air tunnels and wet hessian - thus making the whole hospital a kind of huge Coolgardie safe. The walls are nearly 45 cm thick. Around the back is the stone Radio Hut where Alfred Traeger (the South Australian inventor who devised the famous pedal wireless which was powered by turning a pair of bicycle pedals) and John Flynn made their first field radio transmission in 1926. It was also the site of the first field radio telegram transmission in Australia. Today Adelaide House has an interesting photographic display of the early history of the Centre.
Flynn Memorial Church
On the corner of Todd and Parsons Streets is the Flynn Memorial Church which was built to the memory of the late John Flynn. Flynn established the Flying Doctor Service. Today the Royal Flying Doctor Base can be inspected at the southern end of Hartley Street.
The base was originally built with funds raised by the women of South Australia and commemorates the pioneer women of the outback. The base first operated in November 1939 with the Commonwealth Department of Health providing a doctor and an aircraft being chartered from local identity 'Eddie' Connellan.
John Flynn's Grave
John Flynn's grave is located 5 km west of Alice Springs on Larapinta Drive. Flynn died in 1951 and his ashes are placed underneath a huge 8.13 tonne granite boulder (taken from the 'Devils Marbles') in a small reserve.
'Flynn of the Inland', the founder of the Flying Doctor service, is one of outback Australia's most loved characters. The lines on his gravestone 'His vision encompassed the continent. He established the Australian Inland Mission and founded the Flying Doctor Service. He brought to lonely places a spiritual ministry and spread a mantle of safety over them by medicine and radio' aptly sum up his life.
After his death controversy raged over Flynn's attitude and treatment of the local Aborigines. He was accused of insensitivity and racist attitudes. His widow was incensed by these accusations. Today, in spite of a vigorous campaign by the Uniting Church, there is still some doubt about Flynn's attitudes. The sign near his grave which states 'The Very Reverend John Flynn (1880-1951) Presbyterian Minister and Missionary first visited the Northern Territory in 1912 at the time when the Inland two-thirds of Australia had no minister of religion, no doctor and no nurse' is, of course, just plain wrong.
The Lutherans had been at Hermannsburg since 1877 and the remarkable Pastor Carl Strehlow has been ministering to the Arrente Aborigines since 1894. Did Carl Strehlow not count as a minister of religion or was it that ministering to Aborigines didn't count?
In recent times this rather star-crossed grave has also been the centre of controversy with some Aborigines insisting that the rock, originally taken from the Devil's Marbles, should be returned to its original site. It has now been returned.
There was a brief period in the late 1920s when Alice Springs became the administrative centre for the separate territory of Central Australia. The Commonwealth Government separated Central Australia from the Northern Territory. This geopolitical notion lasted from 1927 to 1931 and during this period The Residency was built on the corner of Parsons and Hartley Streets. The first Central Australian Government Resident, John Charles Cawood, lived in The Residency. Today, however, it contains Territory history and is operated by the Museum and Art Galleries Board of the Northern Territory.
Old Stuart Gaol
Further up Parsons Street is the Old Stuart Gaol, the oldest building in The Alice. Built in 1909 it is a monument to the difficulties which occurred in the early days in Alice Springs. The roof was brought by camel from the railhead at Oodnadatta. The oak lintels were cut from local desert oak and the stone was quarried from the Heavitree Gap area by the stonemason Jack Williams. It remained in use until 1938. Now it stands rather forlorn and incongruous surrounded by modern buildings of steel and glass and concrete.
The Stuart Town Gaol was preceded by The Heavitree Gap Old Police Station which was built of local stone in 1888 and remained in use until 1909.
Hartley Street School
The old Hartley Street School, now the home for the local branch of the National Trust, was opened in 1929 with a Miss Pearl Burton being employed as teacher.
In Hartley Street, between Stott Terrace and Stuart Terrace, is a row of Old Government Homes which offer the visitor a rare insight into the architectural problems of the Centre. Designed in the 1930s they are a combination of cement with timber verandahs and trees growing around them to add to the limited shade from the harsh summer sun.
Around the Railway Station
Around the Railway Station are a number of interesting sites. There are the old Railway Cottages which were built in 1929 when the Ghan finally reached The Alice. There are three cottages - one for the Station Master, another for the Road Master and one to house the crew of the Ghan when it arrived in town.
In the Railway yard is the Gnoilya Tmerga or Wild Dog Rock which is supposed to tell the story of an Aboriginal Legend. 'This stone is associated with a great white Dog Man who came from Latrika away to the West and wanted to kill the Dog Men at Choritja. When they saw him the local Gnoilya men sang out 'See this is our camp, sit down'. So he sat down quietly and remained here, this stone arising to mark the spot. If the stone is rubbed by the old men, all the camp dogs begin to growl and grow fierce. The last man to run it was one of the old inkatas (head man) who did so soon after the white men came to try and make the dogs bite them.'
Old Pioneer Cemetery
In the Old Pioneer Cemetery there is a dramatic gravestone depicting a wizened old miner panning for gold. This is the last burial place for Harold Lasseter. The inscription on the grave reads 'Harold Lewis Bell Lasseter. Died in the Petermann Ranges on January 30 1931. His grave was located on December 14th 1957 by an expedition led by Lowell Thomas and Lee Robinson. This is his final resting place.'
Lasseter was one of those quixotic adventurers who abound in the early history of the Australian outback. He believed he found vast reefs of gold in Central Australia. During the Depression he persuaded people to fund an expedition but the expedition went seriously wrong and he died in the Petermann Ranges. He was found by Aboriginal trackers and buried near where he died. He was exhumed and interred in the Alice Springs cemetery in June 1958.
The graveyard is also the final resting place of a number of early settlers (the oldest grave dates back to 1888) and Albert Namatjira who died in the Alice Springs Hospital on 8 August, 1959.
The locals have gone to some trouble to achieve fame through unusual tourist attractions. The famous Henley-on-Todd Regatta held every August is notable as a race along a dry river bed and the Bangtail Muster in May is an occasion when numerous humorous floats parade down the main street. For information check out: http://www.henleyontodd.com.au/
Pitchi Richi Sanctuary
Among other novel experiences in the Alice is the Pitchi Richi Sanctuary. The Sanctuary, which lies to the south of the town beyond Heavitree Gap, was designed Leo Corbett to give the fauna of the area a sanctuary and to collect the machinery which had been used in the nineteenth century. These attractions play a minor part when measured against the clay sculptures of William Ricketts which express a bizarre notion of the Aboriginal Dreamtime which has little basis in fact and only a tenuous connection with aesthetics.
Ghan Preservation Society Museum
Further south is a recent addition to the town's tourist trail - the Ghan Preservation Society's Museum. The museum, which was completed as a Bicentennial project, preserves the 'Old Ghan' which was superseded in 1980 when the new standard gauge railway was completed from Tarcoola to The Alice.
The project has repaired a section of the old narrow gauge railway which served The Alice from 1929 to 1980. The siding at MacDonnell has been tastefully and lovingly restored. The railway station was built in 1988 and based on a 1930 design for the proposed railway station in Alice Springs. The real railway station was never built.
The museum now houses a tea room, a book and souvenir shop and a ticket office which sells tickets on the 'Old Ghan' which runs 30 km down the track to Ewaninga every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday departing at 10.15 am and returning at 3.45 pm. Contact (08) 8955 5047.
Alice Springs has been the subject of many poems, travel books and novels of which the most famous is Nevil Shute's A Town Like Alice which Joe Harmon describes as a 'bonza place with plenty of water'.
In the area
1. Simpsons Gap
Located just 8 km west of Alice Springs on Larapinta Drive (turn west off the Stuart Highway) Simpsons Gap, located in West McDonnell National Park is a 30 950 hectare park designed to preserve a piece of typical MacDonnell Ranges landscape. Visitors are encouraged to walk around the park. The waterholes, the ghost and red river gums, and the tame rock wallabies are a particular attraction.
The first Europeans to explore the gap were the surveyors for the Overland Telegraph who came upon the area while searching for a route north from Alice Springs. The gap was known as Simson Gap prior to 1939 when Dr. C. T. Madigan named it Simpsons Gap after A. Simpson who had helped to organise the expedition that year across the desert which is also named after him. For more information check out: http://www.nt.gov.au/nreta/parks/find/westmacdonnell.html
2. Chambers Pillar Historical Reserve
Located 165 km south of Alice Springs on the edge of the Simpson Desert. Access is by 4WD vehicle but the effort is rewarded by the sight of a spectacular red and yellow sandstone outcrop which was a vital landmark for the early explorers. The pillar was carved in by the early explorers including Alfred Giles (see entry on Katherine) and John Ross, who, in 1870, were leaders of the second expedition to cross the country. Their initials appear on the Pillar, amongst a lot of graffiti, as 'AC 1870' and 'J Ross'.
3. Henbury Meteorite Conservation Park
Henbury Meteorite Conservation Park lies 145 km south of Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway. It is the site of a large number of meteorite craters. There is a clearly signposted track around the two largest ones which have left depressions in the ground which are 180 metres across and are about 15 metres deep. Scientists estimate that a meteorite made up of nickel and iron crashed into the area about 7 400 years ago.
The walk around the craters takes about twenty minutes. The signposts explain how 'one meteorite entering our atmosphere at over 40 000 km/h survived its flaming fall and slammed into the ground here several thousand years ago...the Henbury Meteorite split into several pieces as it sped through the atmosphere...As each of these pieces was only the size of a fuel drum you can imagine how great was the impact that formed such large craters. Eight lighter fragments fell short gouging out smaller craters to the southwest in line with the meteors flight path.' For more information check out: http://www.nt.gov.au/nreta/parks/find/henbury.html
4 Ewaninga Rock Carvings Reserve
Ewaninga Rock Carvings Reserve is 35 km south of Alice Springs and contains some of the most interesting and impressive Aboriginal rock carvings in the Northern Territory. It is not known how old the engravings are but they have been heavily weathered suggesting that they are many thousands of years old. It is claimed that the carvings are so old that the traditional owners of the area do not understand their meaning. The most common markings are abstract designs of circles, spirals and wavy lines. For more information check out: http://www.nt.gov.au/nreta/parks/find/ewaningarock.html
5. Pine Gap
It isn't listed on any of the standard tourist itineries but Pine Gap, a classified Australia and US joint defence space research facility (the road runs west off the Stuart Highway 20 km south of Alice Springs) is one of the most important satellite tracking stations in the USA's battery of defence. It became operational in 1969 and is characterised by huge white balls which can't be seen from the road. It is operated by the CIA and specialises in collecting information on Russian and Chinese military operations which are picked up by satellites and beamed down to the Pine Gap installation.
6. Virginia Camel Farm
Virginia Camel Farm is located 94 km south of Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway. It is a comment on the early history of Central Australia, and the Afghan camel drivers who helped to open up the wilderness, that there is now a camel farm in the region. The farm offers interesting camel rides and longer safaris for those who are prepared to brave the back of a camel. It's as close as most tourists will come to experiencing what early exploration of the area was really like.
The farm is also home to the 'Magic Spark Radio Museum' an interesting display of communication equipment from the early history of radio and telegraphy in the Territory.
7. Standley Chasm
The Standley Chasm must be one of the most popular tourist locations around Alice Springs. Located 50 km west of The Alice off Larapinta Drive it is a steep gorge in the MacDonnell Ranges. The walk into the chasm takes about 20 minutes and, for those wishing to photograph the gorge in all its spectacular beauty, the best time is at noon when the sun strikes the walls on both sides of the chasm.
The gorge is named after Mrs Ida Standley, the first formal school teacher in Alice Springs and reputedly the first white woman to walk through the gorge.
Standley Chasm is 9 km from the Larapinta Drive on a sealed road. It is owned and managed by the Angkerle Aboriginal Corporation and Iwupataka Land Trust and a $2.00 entrance fee is charged. It is common to see dingos wandering around the car park area looking for food. They can be fed but it is unwise to pat them as they are wild animals. There is a kiosk and a picnic area near the entrance. For more information check out: http://www.standleychasm.com.au/