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Travel to Australia's Northern Territory: Alice Springs

Perhaps it's no more than the lure of that romantic A Town Called Alice, in which, after all, the town of Alice Springs hardly figures. Still, the lure is there. We may as well go see what's on the ground.

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Australia's Northern Territory: Alice Springs picture 1

Sorry, no international arrivals. You have to come from elsewhere in Australia. This flight came from Darwin, which is mildly ironic since the next hundred pictures show the slow way back.

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The road into town. Plenty of space, and a good road to boot.

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On the way in there's a railroad museum with a reconstruction of the town's original railroad station. The name reads Stuart, because the town was called that until 1935, even though the post office was called Alice Springs.

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Logo on the front of the diesel engine at the museum. CR stands for Commonwealth Railways, predecessor of Australian National.

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The engine.

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The builders plate, for buffs only.

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Dining car.

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Galley.

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Bar.

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Enough frippery. We've come to town and climbed Anzac Hill. The view is over the town center, with the MacDonnell Ranges in the background. A bit of history now, in the form of the order creating the town. "In pursuance of the provisions of 'The Northern Territory Crown Lands Consolidation Act, 1882,' I, the Governor, do hereby proclaim and declare that all that portion of the Crown lands hereinafter described shall, from the date hereof, be set apart as the site for a new town, to be called the Town of Stuart, and such lands are hereby reserved and designated town lands: --All that portion of the waste lands in the Northern Territory, situated at Alice Springs.... By command, J.G. Ramsay, Chief Secretary. GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!"

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The mountains are transected by the Heavitree Gap, named for a school in Devon attended by one of the surveyors of the Overland Telegraph Line, an 1,800-mile string of wire that figures frequently in the pictures ahead.

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You've got it: the panorama of central Alice. Until 1933, the town was called Stuart while the post office was called Alice. To end the confusion, the name Stuart was retired, although John McDouall Stuart was far more deserving of remembrance. He was the first man to cross Australia south to north, while Alice was merely the wife of Charles Todd, who followed in Stuart's footsteps and oversaw construction of the overland telegraph.

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The Residency, almost a joke in comparison with the residencies built in more important parts of the British Empire. The building is a relic of short lived (1926-31) Central Australia, which had only a single Resident, John Cawood.

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Nice landscaping.

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Nearby, the Old Courthouse, built in 1928 and now the offices of the Northern Territory Film Office.

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Stuart town gaol, 1907-38.

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The most character yet: Todd's Tavern, named for Charles Todd.

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We've drifted over to the residential side of town and picked this as representative.

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Nearby, the town cemetery is neatly segregated by religion, but individuality will out, as in this tombstone of Harold Lasseter, who died in 1931 after decades spend fruitlessly trying to rediscover a deposit he believed he had found years earlier.

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Longevity on display. The Indian community, called Afghans, originated as camel drivers imported along with camels to run freight in pre-railroad days.

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That's long ago and far away.

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Woolworth's (no relation to the now-defunct American and British company) is the major retailer in Australia. We'll see it not only here but farther north in Katherine and Darwin.

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The Alice Springs Convention Centre, testimony on behalf of the architectural aspect of globalization.

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Someone obviously enjoys the town's remote location.

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We'll be heading up the Stuart Highway to Tennant Creek, Katherine, and Darwin.

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Near the sign: an ephemeral bridge. Well, that's not quite right. A bridge of occasional use is better. It's for the odd occasion when the Todd River is in spate and fills its broad channel immediately on the edge of town.

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First stop: the Alice Springs telegraph station. This is the dead-end road leading to it.

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There's plenty of road-kill to prove the need for warnings like this.

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Entrance sign.

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Speaks for itself but makes you wonder if half the official messages transmitted over the line were devoted to the sender's titles. Apparently the telegraph operators gleaned little good gossip, because official messages were encoded. Drat!

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The building on the right was the station master's residence, with a kitchen behind and, separately, on the left, barracks. The station master was a busy man who served also as postmaster, although mail arrived only every six weeks. He was also responsible for Central Australian Aborigines. In his spare time he served as the only judge in Central Australia, as an emergency doctor, and as a storekeeper for travelers.

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The telegraph office proper. The poles aren't for the telegraph line but for power coming from the nearby battery shed.

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Telegraph poles were a real problem, solved ingeniously. Here, a crude early form.

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The station has its own cemetery. Flint died of rheumatic fever. He has been married seven months. Was the inscription intended to amuse or frighten?


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