Alice Springs to Tennant Creek to Daly Waters to Mataranka to Katherine to Cooinda to Jabiru
We spent four days, smack dab in the center of Australia, in Alice Springs. “The Alice” started as a simple telegraph station on the Overland Telegraph Line and is now Central Australia’s key town.
The telegraph station was built near a permanent water hole in the bed of the normally dry Todd River and named after Alice Todd, wife of the Australian Superintendent Of Telegraphs. Originally called Stuart the name was officially changed to Alice Springs in 1933, following prolonged public pressure.
Today Alice Springs serves mainly as a service provider for tourists and has some interesting museums and Aboriginal Art Galleries.
While we were in Alice Springs we learned of a Government Intervention to correct problems the Northern Territory of Australia is having with Aboriginal communities. We spoke with one resident (Caucasian) who felt that the Intervention will help and also felt that the Stolen Generations were much better off being taken from their families to help the Aboriginal people become “successful”. Mostly the subject is not spoken about openly.
One of the first things we noticed in Alice is the number of Aboriginals just “hanging around” the public squares. Because their land has been taken away they are forced to live in town “camps” and have nowhere to go during the day. One of the brochures we picked up, printed and distributed by local government, is entitled Dos & Don’ts in Alice Springs. Apparently the crime rate is very high and many of the Caucasian locals are leaving the area because it is unsafe.
We did a little research into what this latest “Intervention” means. There are thousands of articles about the issue but hopefully the following sums up at least part of the problem (it‘s obviously only one view of the problem and current response):
A 2007 Government Report found that sexual abuse of Aboriginal children is happening largely because of the breakdown of Aboriginal culture and society and the combined effects of poor health, alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment, gambling, pornography, as well as poor education and housing. The Inquiry made 97 comprehensive recommendations. These include action in the areas of education, health, family support services, child protection and community empowerment so that Aboriginal communities can make decisions about their future.
On 21 June, 2008 the Prime Minister, John Howard and Indigenous Affairs Minister, Mal Brough announced the Federal Government was responding to the report by taking emergency measures and seizing control of 60 remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. In August legislation was introduced into Federal Parliament and passed both houses giving the Federal Government extraordinary powers to take over townships, communities, Aboriginal-held assets and welfare payments.
While previous reports assessed that the problem is the breakdown of culture and the disempowerment of Aboriginal communities, the Federal Government’s response further destroys culture and the control communities have over their own lives. The Federal Government’s actions destroys rather than builds communities. Worse, it threatens the future of Aboriginal children.
The Federal Government’s response ignores the recommendations of previous reports, particularly the recommendation which calls on the Federal and Northern Territory Governments to work with Aboriginal and Islander leaders and communities to create a coordinated plan to address child abuse. Instead, the Federal Government has taken ‘emergency’ action without consultation or coordination with the effected communities. Also the150 legislation and strategies ignore the fact that the previous reports found that perpetrators of child sexual abuse are just as likely to be non-Indigenous as Indigenous.
The Federal Government’s legislation was rushed into Federal Parliament without time for careful consideration, thereby ignoring decent process despite the far-reaching implications of the ‘emergency measures’. The main Act does not even use the word ‘children’ but talks about acquisition of rights, titles and interests in the land, and the ability of the Commonwealth to take over business management in communities, none of which has anything to with the protection of children.
In particular the Acts take away land, property and community control by granting 5 year leases to the Federal Government over major Aboriginal communities. No negotiation is required. These unconditional ‘leases’ give the Federal Government rights to exclusive possession, to repair or demolish any existing buildings and infrastructure, and to terminate the lease at any time. No rights are noted in favor of residents or traditional landowners. Compensation is not guaranteed.
The article goes on to describe other measures which take away rights of Aboriginals without appeal.
economic capacity and independence of Aboriginal communities.
If you want more information visit www.listenupaustralia.org.
Some of highlights of Alice Springs:
The Telegraph Station
The station was built in 1870 to relay messages between Darwin and Adelaide. The completion of the line commenced a new era in Australia, for it enabled fast and direct communication between Britain and her independent Australian colonies.
The telegraph line was constructed in 2 years and covered 2,000 miles of the outback. 36,000 timber poles which linked one telegraph wire were installed through rugged and desolate land in the center of Australia.
The Telegraph Station was also a grazing property with 300 head of cattle and 70 horses and goats. It later served as a home and school for Aboriginal children during the time of the Stolen Generations.
Royal Flying Doctor Service Base
The Royal Flying Doctor Service was established in 1928 to provide medical aid in emergencies throughout the remote areas of Australia. Today the service covers more then 4,500,000 square miles, an area larger than Western Europe.
The service provides emergency transportation, medical diagnosis over the phone and emergency rescue operations for residents and travelers in Australia.
School of the Air
Using a combination of satellite linked webcams and HF radio, the School of the Air broadcasts lessons to children living on remote outback station (ranches) over an area of 800,000 square miles.
Alice Springs Desert Park
The park includes a walking and interactive tour of the key habitats of the central Australia environment. Some of the explanations we encountered were very educational and forthright!
We enjoyed our stay in Alice Springs at an apartment called Vatu Sanctuary. It was a fabulous property with beautiful gardens, outdoor fountains and lots of nooks and crannies to relax before our next stop in Tennant Creek.
On the way to Tennant Creek was passed over the Tropic of Capricorn and a place called The Devil’s Marbles which are huge granite boulders strewn in precarious piles along the highway. They are the remains of molten lava eroded over millions of years.
Tennant Creek (population 3,290) is the only sizable town on the highway between Katherine and Alice Springs. It’s rumored that Tennant Creek was first settled when a wagon carrying beer broke down here in the early 1930s and the drivers decided to make themselves comfortable while they consumed the freight (now the site of the Tennant Creek Hotel and Pub).
Mataranka (population 20) was our next destination which was the home of the author, Jeannie Gunn, who wrote ‘We of the Never Never” A town square contains figures of several of the characters of the novel.
Katherine (population 11,000) was our next stop. Compared to the previous days it felt like a bustling place. Katherine is built on the Katherine River has flooded many times, most recently in 1998, when water reached up to 7 feet high on the main buildings in town.
The main attractions are the Cutta Cutta Caves which are tropical caves (think warm air rather than cold like most caves), Nitmulik (Katherine) Gorge, and Edith Falls.
After Katherine we made our way to Kakadu National Park which is a World Heritage listed site for both its natural and cultural importance. We stayed in two places in the park, Cooinda and Jabiru. We’ve now traded the flies from the center of Australia to mosquitoes in the tropical north (we’ve never seen so many mosquitoes in our lives).
Within Kakadu we visited Aboriginal art sites and museums, Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls. We took a 4 wheel drive tour to Jim Jim and Twin Falls, The track is barely more than a path between the trees and over creek beds (95 miles round trip).
As we were enjoying a picnic between the falls and alongside a 3 feet deep stream (which you have to drive through), an Australian tourist in a rental SUV got stranded in the stream. We helped pull him out and the tour guides tried for 45 minutes or so to restart the SUV with no luck. The couple ended up getting in the tour vehicle with us after phoning Thrifty to tow their car to no avail (it was a Sunday).
The things we kept thinking and whispering quietly with our other tour participants were:
When you rent a car you are told specifically to not drive on 4 wheel drive tracks
The SUV was not equipped to drive on the type of track we were on - it was too low to the ground and didn’t have an exhaust snorkel
If the renters were trying to “get away” with driving where they shouldn’t they were in trouble now since Thrifty would have to send a tow vehicle out a 95 mile dirt track to rescue them
They just bought the car they were renting!
Glad it wasn’t us!!!
Our travels are now winding down - less than 3 weeks left. Next destination is Darwin.
Trevor and Rebecca