History, Great and Grim

I hope I don’t sound critical of Alice.  The place reminded me of another country town where I have spent a lot of time—Lanesboro, Minnesota—where my son Vince lived for years.  It had the same combo of hardy blue-collar local folk, a sizable airy-fairy artist contingency, and a population that lived among but apart at the same time; in Lanesboro it was the Amish and in Alice it was the Aboriginals.  I never spoke to an Aboriginal in my month in Australia.  I never had an opportunity.  I would have loved to hear their perspective on their place in Australian society.  But I’m sure they’re beyond tired of being interviewed and researched by curious white people.  I’ll make a New Year’s resolution here to read two books written by Aboriginal authors in 2019.

We walked along a deserted road under a fierce sun in intense heat.  We had seen a sign that said, “Alice Springs Telegraph Office” but it hadn’t indicated how far.  We’d been walking for 15 minutes and there were no further signs.

“It’s a car culture out here,” I observed.

“But why is there a sidewalk?” Heidi pondered.  “I looked into renting a car but it would have been stupidly expensive.”

Thankfully we had slathered and sprayed on sunscreen and donned our hats and sunnies, or we would have been baked red in minutes.  I was happy to strike this obligatory pose since it was in a bit of shade.

We weren’t so far away from civilization that Heidi couldn’t get a signal and Google the number for the telegraph station.  She called and they assured her we would reach them in a matter of minutes.  And we did

The Alice Springs Telegraph Station is a historic trust site.  We paid a small admission fee and joined the tail end of a walking tour.  This is the eponymous (underground) spring.

The guide explained the difference between Ghost and River Red gums.  I immediately forgot.  There are hundreds of different gum species.  All I know is that they’re all glorious.

One of the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th Century, the overland telegraph line ran from Darwin to Adelaide. That’s a long way.  The Alice Springs station was the halfway point and was completed in 1872.

There was a heartbreaking exhibit about a 1930s campaign that forcibly removed children born of Aboriginal mothers and white fathers from their homes and institutionalized them in Alice Springs.  The idea was to expose them to European customs and give them a “proper” education.  Which meant they lost out on education about their maternal culture.

This was a replica of the home for “half caste” children. It would have been freezing at night and scorching during the day.

Some of the children were traumatized for life, while others said being given an English education was the greatest opportunity they could have been given.

We walked around and peered into a  ye olde timey blacksmith’s shop, post office, and stables, which had a plaque telling the story of the camel’s arrival on the continent.  Camels carried a year’s worth of supplies to Alice Springs.  Their arrival must have been an annual highlight in an otherwise solitary and harsh existence.

We had paninis and cappuccinos in the office/gift shop/café, where I bought some wombat hats and a CD with Australian folk music that I have thoroughly enjoyed since, in place of listening to the news in my car.

We asked about walking back, and to our surprise learned there was a straight path into town that would take us no more than 15 minutes.  Hurrah!

“The bus takes a very circular route, so walking is faster,” explained the guy at the desk, who was Canadian.

A few minutes out, some Italian guys yelled “kangaroos!” at us and pointed to nearby rocky hills.

“They’re actually Rock Wallabies,” Heidi said helpfully, but the Italians mansplained no, they were kangaroos.  The critters were so well camouflaged that my photos couldn’t capture them.

There were also plaques inlaid in the walkway that chronicled other sad episodes in Australian history.  This is only about half of them.  I thought “confrontation” and “emergency” were great euphemisms.

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