A Matter of Communication

Tue. 30th  April 2019

The namig of Alice SpringsWe have a day to explore Alice Springs and I have a short list of places to visit, to which Dave adds Telegraph Hill. He had spotted it when trying to find ANZAC Hill last night. Lonely Planet gave a small write up but we did not really know what it was about. It turns out to be the history of both Alice Springs and the installation of the Overland Telegraph Line from Port Darwin to Adelaide to join the British undersea cable to Java and reduce the communication time between England and Adelaide from months to hours.

Smithy workshopIt was quite an undertaking with Charles Todd supervising the building of the 3,000 km overground cable system initially with wooden poles. It needed repeater stations every 250 to 300 km to boost the signal to ensure it reached its destination. Work started in 1870 and took two years to complete. It is strange to think that Samuel Morse only invented Morse code in 1838 and by the 1850s telegraph lines were common throughout Europe and the Americas. Then in 1894 Marconi invented wireless transmission.

Battery powerThe repeater stations were staffed by operators and linesmen and housed the batteries needed to power the lines (for those technically minded they needed 150 active Meidinger cells). It was one of these Telegraph Stations we visited and it is one of the earliest buildings in Central Australia. The museum has also recreated the animal sheds for cattle, camels and horses including exhibits of camel saddles. After my experience of camel riding in China I am not trying that again any time soon.

Tale of the half caste childrenBetween the Telegraph Station closing in 1932, when it was moved to the nearby town of Stuart, and the site becoming a museum in 1963 it had a number of uses. In 1930s the Government passed laws regarding “half caste” children being removed from their parents and put into institutions. With the introduction of white men to Australia many formed relationships with the locals resulting in some unwanted babies. Also the heavy handedness of ill thought out legislation meant some babies were forcefully removed from their parents. Not a happy period. When the rules changed church missionaries took over caring for the children. The Telegraph Station was then taken over by the military and used as a labour camp.

Get off my muffinAlthough the station and museum area was small it took us a while to digest all the information on display. Before we knew it, we were late for lunch and an hour and more away from town. Luckily there was a café on site with toasted sandwiches and cakes (and tea) so the world was safe. I was not the only fan of the chocolate muffins as a pink crested pigeon (punk pigeon!) decided to have some too!

It had been an hour and quarter walk up here along the road and I was scheming ways of not walking back especiaPosing with the fly netlly as the flies were really annoying. Luckily on two counts we formulated a plan. Firstly there was a shorter walk back to town beside the River Todd (a dry sand bed more like) and secondly we had splashed out on some very sexy fly nets to cover our heads. We had seen some Asians wearing them yesterday and thought they were over the top. However they are on our kit list for tomorrow so we had enquired in town and heard that they were a thing and the flies were bad at present.

John McDouall StuartThe walk back to town was much quicker and more pleasant than the road. Whilst we headed back into town we mulled over the history of Alice. So I start with John McDouall Stuart, an Army captain from Fife, who was the first European explorer to cross the centre of Australia from Adelaide to Darwin (Van Diemen Gulf) in the mid 1850s. Thus the Town was named Stuart on the River Todd (mentioned above). The remaining person in this tale is Mrs Alice Todd. Before the town was built, at the Telegraph Station site water was found on the hillside and thought to be a spring, and in honour of the good lady the station was named Alice Springs. It was no more than a puddle formed by recent rainfall and most of the time is dry. However, there is underground water which made the station (and later the town) viable. When the Telegraph Station was moved to Stuart, the town was renamed Alice Springs which is what we know today.

1950s medical kitNext up are the Royal Flying Doctor Service museum or the Aviation museum. As the flying doctors are an Australian phenomenon, that was the obvious choice. Also as the service is 80% funded by the Government and 20% by donations and fundraising we wanted to do our bit. They currently work on a 345 million dollar budget. Apparently they now treat 295,000 patients a year, that is one every two minutes. In addition to the emergency care they hold weekly and monthly clinics in remote areas, which would not otherwise have any local medical care.

De HavillandThe Royal Flying Doctor Service was the brain child of the Reverend John Flynn who as a missionary in the remote northern territory and he saw the need for such a service, so he petitioned the government to create help in outlying areas. It began with camels, moved onto one motor car and then leasing a De Havilland DH-50A from the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service which later became Qantas (more stuff we didn’t know before). They now have a fleet of turboprop Pilatus PC12s as well as two jets and smaller planes. In the shop is a mock up of a kitted out Pilatus complete with room for two stretchers and five upright patients.

This is not a spitfire!By this time we had brain overload as we had found both museums fascinating, so time was time to chill and head back to our spacious apartment. Too late for the aviation museum which shuts in five minutes, maybe on Thursday before our flight? We had heard there was not a lot to do in Alice but we could have filled another day and we did not even try any restaurants as we settled for takeaways to make up for the over indulgence since we arrived in Australia (and we needed an excuse to drink the red and white wine we had bought in Barossa Valley as that will not travel well in backpacks. We have more than met our step target. Also we need to pack for our Uluru trip tomorrow as pick up time is 6:07am and it is going to be a long day.

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