Down Under: Alice Springs

Down Under: Alice Springs

Henbury Meteorite Craters

Henbury Meteorite Craters

As I make my way back to Alice Springs, I make a stop at the Henbury Meteorite Craters.

According to the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission, it was around 4,000 years ago when a large meteorite, travelling at over 40,000 kilometers per hour [~25,000 miles p/h] broke up before impact and hit the surface of earth at Henbury.

At Henbury you can find 12 meteorite craters, ranging in diameter from 7 to 180 meters [~23 – 590 feet], and up to 15 meters deep [~49 feet].

Henbury Meteorite Craters

Shock waves ran through the earth causing sheets of rock to fold back and form the rims of the craters.

Of course, a few thousand years of wind and rain have softened the outline of the craters, which now look like the mounds that are seen at Henbury today.

The Henbury craters are small but the study of their complex geological structure has helped interpret features on planets such as Mars.

Henbury Meteorite Craters
Henbury Meteorite Craters

Alice Springs

One of several ‘beanies’ aka ‘hats’ on display in historic building

For a small area, there are quite a few things to do to spend your time over a 2-3 period in Alice Springs, at a leisurely place. I will cover a few highlights.

The original inhabitants of this area are the Arrente people and the area known as Mparntwe [mbarn-twa]. It’s believed they resided here for more than 30,000 years.

The current population is estimated over 24,000 and back before World War II, it was just 500.

What I found ironic was that most of the history on display, only starts from the time that the Europeans colonized and settled in Australia and this area.

I felt there was very little related to the thousands of years of history prior to this time; almost as it didn’t exist or was given a token mention. However, like watching a movie more than once, each time seeing something new, I am open that my view could be different if I were to see it a second time around with more experienced eyes.

Telegraph Station

Alice Springs’ more recent history begins in the 1860’s when John McDouall Stuart led an expedition to map this and other areas.

This subsequently resulted in the Overland Telegraph Line being built from Adelaide to Darwin, completed in 1872, which opened up communications and further European settlement.

The area was first known as ‘Stuart’ by the European settlers and later named Alice Springs.

Did you know that Alice Springs was named after a woman who had never been there? Alice Todd was the wife of Sir Charles Todd, the Superintendent of Telegraphs.

Did you also know that Alice Springs was never a permanent spring, but a waterhole?


Telegraph Station

Telegraph Station: Evaporimeter, to measure evaporation [was done daily]
The Telegraph Station operated 24 hours a day and was one of 12 along a 3,000 km line [1,864 miles].

Given the remoteness, it was self-sufficient and provisions were sourced once a year from the south. The Telegraph Station and Post Office originally used Morse code.

The station employed one station master, four telegraphist-linesmen, a teacher-governess, a cook, and a stockman-blacksmith.

Telegraph Station
Telegraph Station: telegraph pole

In the 1930’s the station was moved to other facilities and then became known as the Bungalow.

The Bungalow was used to house Aboriginals who were forcibly removed from their families across Australia. This began in the early 1900’s until the 1960’s as part of the government policies used to ‘assimilate’ the Aboriginals to the European / white settlers way of life.

This period of forced removal is known as the ‘Stolen Generations’, and is a major cause of the loss of knowledge, culture, and traditions of the Aboriginals throughout the country.

You can listen to one person’s story of their removal here and containment:

In the story above, [not at Alice Springs location], the mother and daughter were together. In many cases, once removed, children never saw their families again.

Here’s an extract posted at the Telegraph Museum which was taken from the Sydney Sun on the 2nd of April, 1933:

… With huddled, batches of 60 and 70 children; male and female between the ages of 2 and 14, locked up at night in shacks and small cottages, the conditions of these homes have at times in certain circumstances, been admittedly woeful. But with gradual acclimatisation to white living, a steady improvement is now in evidence.

For the first time in the history of the Territory and adequate home has been established, at the expense of thousands of pounds, three miles from Alice Springs in the Centre, to which children from a thousand miles radius are to be removed.

Under the best conditions, they are to be given every opportunity to outgrow their heredity. They will be encourages to live white, think white and to marry, if possible, into the white race, or failing that with each other.

With, the transport of all boys from North Australian institutions and a scoring of the Territory by camel and pack-horse police patrols it is intended that 150 children shall be in residence there by the end of the year, leaving a residue of some 45 girls under the age of 14 at the Compound Home in Darwin.

Humane, parental, and exceedingly optimistic, this scheme frankly appals many residents of the Territory, who openly state that it is not only Quixotic and a moral cruelty to the half-castes themselves to sever them from their own Country and their own people, where their man-power can be of infinite use, but the deliberate concentration of a large colored element in the settlements and railway thoroughfares that can only result in untold chaos and disaster.

A vitally interesting national experiment, it will require the passing of at least 20 years to write the end of the story.

That excerpt is quite telling regarding the thoughts of that time.

I’ve also included some links below for further reading and background related to the Stolen Generations:

The majority of the buildings at the Telegraph Station today have been rebuilt or restored.  Getting to the Telegraph Station is a nice leisurely walk from town.

Telegraph Station
Telegraph Station: Stone tank, held 10,000 gallons of water 1908 onward
Telegraph Station
Telegraph Station

National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame

The National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame was a great place to see so many accomplishments of Australian women over the past 150 years or so. My favorite area were about the women who chose to settle in the outback in the 1800’s under such harsh conditions.

I also walked away thinking, women today think they are accomplishing great things, and they are.  They should also see what the women displayed in this museum have done, in many cases there is no comparison given the circumstances and obstacles of their times.

I didn’t take photos here as it didn’t seem I could take any to do the museum justice, however their website has a great section where you can browse stories in their ‘Her Story’ archives. It’s also broken down by profession, location, sport, etc. Here are a couple of links that are well worth a scan:


Royal Flying Doctor Service [RDFS]

Royal Flying Doctor Service

Back in 1917 a medical student, John Clifford Peel, with aeronautical experience had an idea to use airplanes to bring medical help to the outback.

With the support and perseverance of Revered John Flynn, the first Flying Doctor took off in 1928 under the name ‘Aerial Medical Service’ [later named Flying Doctor Service & then Royal Flying Doctor Service in 1955].

Mr. Peel did not see his idea come to fruition as he died in WWI.

The first pilot, Arthur Affleck, had only a compass and no navigational aids or radio; landmarks were his navigational tools. Flights were made in the daylight and the plane could travel a range of 500 – 600 miles at a speed of 80 miles per hour.

Today, the RFDS provides a wide range of medical services, serves over 88,000 patients in rural areas including services via telecommunications. Their fleet of 60 aircraft fly over 26 million kilometers per year [ >16 million miles].

The visitors center in Alice Springs walks you through the history of RFDS and has a neat hologram of John Flynn, where it feels he is in the room with you.   They also display a live flight plan which show exactly where all their plans are in the sky in real time.

Royal Flying Doctor Service: medicines
John Flynn Memorial

Alice Springs School of the Air [ASSOA]

School of Air

The first message via the internet may have been sent in the late 1960s, but the School of Air has been has been providing education to remote communities in the Outback since 1951; first via two way radio broadcasts, then via satellite broadband.

From my previous posts, I’m sure you can gather that internet access in many remote areas in the outback is nearly non-existent, even in this day.

Initially, lessons were a one-way communication, with three half hour sessions given per week; this evolved over time for questions and answers and of course evolved with technological advances. Later, where it was possible, the students would get a visit once a year by a class teacher.

In the 1990’s, email was introduced, along with computers to certain higher class levels and phones and faxes were installed.

School of Air – Distance Learning

At the ASSOA center, there is a room set up which could compete with the setup of many corporate meeting and training rooms.

Where internet is available, imagine your lessons via webinars and GoToMeeting type applications for more interactive distance learning.

Their broadcast area covers over 1.3 million square kilometers [>500,000 sq. miles]; that’s 10 times the size of England and double the size of Texas. By 2013, the school had 140 students, 16 teachers and one principle.

This service along with the Royal Flying Doctors are invaluable services which make living in the outback more manageable for families.


There’s a lot more that can be covered in Alice Springs and I hope this gives you a taster. I’ll leave you with this view of the town from Anzac Hills.

Anzac Hill View
Going up to Anzac Hill

Join me back on the road again heading further south to the underground town of Coober Pedy, stay tuned.

Love & light,

Joanne

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Resources, References, Reading:

Alice Springs & Telegraph Station

Stolen Generations

Royal Flying Doctors Service

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