I slept in a bit–until nearly 7:00am. (Those who know me well will appreciate the humor in this representing late rising for me. I’m only a “morning person” when I’m on the road.) Then it was up for a shower and final packing. I checked out and dumped my bags at the front desk, so I could enjoy my last few hours in Alice Springs unencumbered. I smiled when I noticed the shortwave radio set. Another reminder that we’re in the Outback.
I set off down the road for the Pitchi Ritchi Sanctuary. The sky is low and gray, which suits a day for departures.I walked out through Heavitree Gap, busily photographing red rocks and the riverbed as I passed through the “front door” of Alice Springs. After about half an hour, I turned down a short, dirt road to the barely noticeable entrance to the sanctuary.
This is an odd place, but wonderful in its innocence, and in its intent. It is a combination outdoor, pioneering museum, with a large collection of early, and crumbling, relics; outdoor art gallery, with the Aboriginal-themed sculpture of Bill Ricketts (from Victoria); plus bird sanctuary, with a stabs at natural history (a few trees are identified, and there are a number of large rock samples lying about, also labeled).
One of the things that delighted me was the careful identification of all the old relics. Not only was there information on what each item was and how it was used, but on many items, there was also a list of who owned it, when, and where. There were ancient wagons, wells and the equipment for digging them, blacksmithing tools and things created by the blacksmiths who used them, a fair bit of mining gear, and artifacts from building the area’s railroads.
One of the Aboriginal-themed sculptures was of a rainmaker. The sculpture was surrounded by large chunks of white quartz, along with an explanation that some Aboriginal groups once believed the bright, white stones were lazy clouds, and it was the rainmaker’s job to coax them back into the sky.
The sanctuary is relatively small, but the path winds quite a bit, to take full advantage of the limited space. Many of the signs are peeling, but the sand around the sculptures is carefully raked, so someone still cares.
Near the entrance, a cluster of garbage can lids and hub caps have been converted into bird feeders, so the sanctuary is alive with the squawking of galahs and corellas, the twitter of crested pigeons, crows, magpies, butcherbirds, and several other birds I didn’t know, including tiny, tablespoon-sized gray birds with bright orange beaks that cried “beep beep” as they hunted for seeds on the ground.
The sanctuary has one exhibit which looks like the entrance to a mind. The plaque describes the discovery of the Holterman Nugget, the largest gold nugget ever found, which was discovered in October 1872 in Hill End, New South Wales. It was 5 feet high, 2 feet wide, and weighed 630 pounds. It was discovered by Bernard Holterman and his partner, Louis Beyers. (This seemed so astonishing, I looked it up when I got home, and indeed, this massive nugget did exist—and is still the largest single piece of gold every discovered anywhere in the world.)
There was a light switch at the “mine entrance,” and turning it on reveals an interior heaped with quartz, amethyst, and large, gold-colored rocks. Someone had fun putting this together.