A Town Like Alice…for Real

A Town Like Alice was a favourite novel of my teenage years, and even though it’s only about Alice Springs to the extent that the town is held up by Joe Harman, the hero, as an aspirational place, when I was planning my trip to Australia in 1997, it was a key stop on the itinerary.  Add to that, years of British children’s television fascination with the School of the Air and the Flying Doctors, and I was really looking forward to my visit to the town.

My memory of my trip is of my fascination with the history of the town, and how the locals know exactly how and when the town originated.  The idea that it could be traced so clearly and definitively because it is so relatively recent, is such a contrast to the rambling history of any town in Britain.  There was no mystery, and I enjoyed hearing the stories, recounting the decisions on the  location of the telegraph repeating station and then the railway.  This was something that I experienced subsequently in the mining areas of South Australia and Queensland, but as Alice was the first place I heard these tales, they stuck with me.

But when I look at my contemporaneous journal it’s the people that I met who fill the pages.

I took a tour in the McDonnell range with a retired geologist whose commentary was largely about the geological history of the area, which, by happy accident, fed right into my own interest in geology and topography.  Tea from a billy and damper bread cooked in the fire featured in most of the exchanges I had while in the area.

Either ‘Lying down Woman’, or I was well and truly kidded

Fired with my enthusiasm for riding on a Harley Davidson at Ayres Rock, I was disproportionately pleased to find another biking tour guy who satisfied the biker appearance stereotype – a straggly goatee beard, long hair neatly plaited and tucked down inside his leather waistcoat; and extremely chatty.

Later I was persuaded under pressure, after more billy can tea, damper and lots of chatting with Willy, an aboriginal guide, to have a go on the didgeridoo, but could not get it to sound of anything other than someone blowing down a hollow stick. And then ticked off The School of the Air where the walls were adorned with school work from the scattered school children, and also photos of a visit by Charles and Diana – her looking very young in a nasty yellow dress a la Queen Mother.

It looks odd to me now that I noted these photos, as I wasn’t a fan and didn’t (and still don’t) pay any attention to the doings of the minor Royals; it was probably the anachronism of seeing the couple do their meeting and greeting  in such a remote place in the middle of Australia that struck me as so peculiar, but now I know I wrote those observations just a couple of weeks before Diana’s death.

From Alice I travelled south on The Ghan train to Adelaide where first impressions were not good….. but that’s another tale…….

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  1. Great post.
    Excuse my ignorance, but what is that animal on the rocks? It looks a bit like a very small kangaroo?

    • I think they’re called rock wallabies, but yes, the are like small kangaroos. I’m sure I was told about them, but my memory, the journal and what I wrote on the back of the photo all fail me on this point!


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