Monday, October 26, 2009

Alice Springs

October 22

In the morning, it was a comparatively short drive of 180 km to Alice Springs. Just north of the town we crossed back over the Tropic of Capricorn.

Quite a contrast with the spiffy display on the Queensland coast that we passed going north. There was a colourful map, though, showing where we were.

A little later we passed a cairn marking the highest point of the road between Adelaide and Darwin - according to government surveyors, that is.

Just as well they erected the cairn, as you'd never otherwise guess.

Alice Springs is the commercial oasis in the middle of this desert country. We were ready for a taste of city life for a change. Though The Alice is hardly that, it does have restaurants, sidewalk cafes, lots of shops marketing aboriginal art, and the usual supermarket and clothing chains.

We spent the afternoon checking out their Namatjira Gallery which had a couple of small paintings by Albert Namatjira himself and a lot by his less talented family members, mostly his sons and nephews. Namatjira was the first aboriginal to be granted Australian citizenship. (Some kind of irony there!). His watercolours in classic landscape style accurately conveyed the intensity of colour in the outback mountain ranges, rocks and trees, and became enormously popular.The white trunks of ghost gums against red and purple hills were his trademark images, and were reproduced on table mats, coasters, tea towels. In my childhood, just about every house, it seemed, had a Namatjira print on the walls.

Next door was the Strehlow Museum of assorted chunks of meteorites, outback Australia being fertile ground for these, if not for anything else. Curiously, it also had some glass cases of stuffed animals and birds of the region, which helped us identify some of the birds we'd seen. (We've encountered many birds, but so far few animals.)

In the same complex of buildings was the aviation museum, which we saved for a later time, but we did go into a tiny hut to see a diorama built around a Kookaburra airplane which crash-landed in the desert while searching for another plane. The two men on board survived the crash, but had left Alice Springs with no radio on board and a mere 3 litres of water. They died of thirst. The plane was not found for a couple of decades, and the men's bodies were never found. Their story is known because one of them wrote a diary on the wing of the plane as he waited for the help that never came.

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