Monthly Archives: July 2011

Flynn of the Inland

I had visited the John Flynn Museum during my first visit to Alice Springs. On this trip, I visited his final resting place, shown in the photo below.

John Flynn was born in 1880. His education was rather remarkable, and he was a published author by the age of 20 (The Bushman’s Companion). The next year, he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and sent into the outback, to find out what conditions were like. What he learned would create the goal of his life — to spread “the mantle of safety over inland Australia.”

Flynn founded the Australian Inland Mission, which he supervised until his death in 1951. He built the first hospital in Alice Springs, created a network of medical facilities across the outback, and created the Aerial Medical Service — which would in time renamed the Royal Flying Doctor Service. He also built homes for old people and crusaded on behalf of the Aborigines. In fact, his medical facilities were equally open to Aborigines and whites, which was pretty startling in his day. He also wrote and published a magazine called the Inlander, which kept Australians apprised of both the issues facing people in the outback and what was being done to help resolve those issues.

If you’re interested in more about John Flynn, the Australian Dictionary of Biography offers more details.

Having first been introduced to Flynn at the museum, I was pleased to have a chance to pay my respects at his grave site. The words on the plaque at the small monument reflect both his goals and his accomplishments: “His vision encompassed the continent. He established the Australian Inland Mission and founded the Royal Flying Doctor Service. He brought to lonely places a spiritual ministry and spread a mantle of safety over them by medicine and the radio.”

John Flynn's Gravesite

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The Green Centre

Finally, we made it to Alice Springs. We camped just outside of town for a few days, while we explored the town and the surrounding area. Driving west out of the Alice, we followed the east-west line of the ancient, eroded MacDonnell Ranges. Here, even more than elsewhere, the land seemed to have responded to the recent rain–though perhaps it’s just that it has now had a little more time to move from flooded to well-watered and verdant. One could still see the red earth, but it was blanketed in green. Wildflowers were abundant. It was lovely, though it seemed odd, having fallen in love with a drier version of this area. However, it was wonderful to see, and to be reminded how eager life is. After months and sometimes years of waiting, a bit of rain brings remarkable growth.

The West MacDonnells

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The Finke River

Heading north, we crossed the Finke River. It is said by some geologists that this is the oldest river in the world. It is considered a major river of the Red Centre, but is also generally described as “intermittent.” That is, it’s only sometimes a river. The 400-mile-long river rises in the MacDonnell Ranges and winds down through Palm Valley on its way to South Australia. It was, in fact, along the dry bed of this very river that we drove (bounced, lurched) to reach Palm Valley, back in the winter, when I first visited the Northern Territory.

Not too surprisingly, this time when we crossed the Finke River, it was looking a lot more like a river. It is said that it really only stretches its full length after flooding, and we had certainly seen an abundance of that. Water made the ancient watercourse amazingly lovely.

FInke River

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The Olgas

In the post on Mt. Conner, I mentioned that there are three giants in the Red Centre. However, the third of this group shattered and has weathered into a cluster of domes, rather than offering the monolithic profile of the first two. These are the Olgas, named by explorer Ernest Giles for Queen Olga of Württemberg. To the local Aborigines, they are Kata Tjuta, or “many heads.”

Though broken and worn, the Olgas are still impressive. Mt. Olga, the central and tallest rock in the group, is actually taller than Ayers Rock, rising 1,500 feet above the surrounding plain. The cluster of towering rock domes covers an area of 11 square miles.

I had been to the Olgas on my previous visit to the Red Centre, so I did not join our group for the standard hike into Olga Gorge. Instead, I wandered off on my own, to be alone with my thoughts and the land I had come to love, and to think about what had happened to me, now that my six-months was drawing to a close. It was immensely quiet once I was away from the group, with nothing but the breeze and the rustling of the fragrant brush around me to break the silence. However, I was not so introspective that I failed to examine everything. My camera being one of the ways I try to attach myself to a place, I also took a fair number of “parting shots,” including the one below.

The Olgas/Kata Tjuta

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