Tag Archives: Alice Springs

Dieseline Dreams

As I mentioned previously, Slim Dusty sang as often about those who drive trucks as he did about those who ride horses.

Slim Dusty’s songs about truckers range from the humorous to the romantic to the tragic. “Dieseline Dreams” falls into the romantic category (here meaning “romance of the road,” not “boy meets girl”). I love the sense of hope and joy conveyed by the song.

On the trip recounted in my book Waltzing Australia, I first encountered road trains in a local tourist magazine left in my motel room in Alice Springs. It advised that drivers should make sure they have lots of room if passing, as road trains average 150 feet in length, and then warned to never force one to swerve off the road, as the amount of rock and gravel its tires will throw up could shatter your windshield. I would, during my six months in Oz, see many road trains. This video offers several views of this outback monster, with their multiple trailers. They’re only found on long, straight roads with little traffic, as they’d be completely unmanageable otherwise. But they are mightily impressive, and I imagine driving one would be as exciting — and unnerving — as riding a dinosaur.

Oh — and dieseline is a diesel/gasoline blend that is cleaner/greener than standard diesel fuel.

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September 3, part 2

After an hour and a half, I began the walk back to Toddy’s. I noticed that there is a motel now on the site where we camped in Heavitree Gap, during the “flood trip” that capped my first trip to Australia. It made me a little sad to think that others will not be able to camp here, between the towering, ragged, red rocks and the banks of the Todd River.

I stopped at a small shop on the way back to Toddy’s, to buy some fruit and a sandwich for my lunch, then continued on. The office at Toddy’s closes at 1:00 pm, and they had my luggage, so I had to get back. I made it, with a little time to spare. Then, after rescuing my luggage, I sat in the sunshine and ate my sandwich, enjoying my last minutes before the airport shuttle would arrive.

Leaving is acceptable only because I find it impossible to believe I won’t be back someday. Good-bye, Alice—till next time.

Wow. Security is tighter at the tiny Alice Springs airport than it is in Chicago. They went through everything, measuring the length of my pocketknife, making me remove the lens from my camera. Seriously, how many terrorists come through Alice Springs?

The flight was pleasant, with the red land flashing past below me. Landed in Adelaide (10 minutes early), grabbed my bags, and headed outside, just in time to see Louanne coming across from the parking lot. We headed out to North Haven, where Louanne’s mom and dad, Rae and Bert, were waiting for us.

(For those of you who have read my book, Waltzing Australia, you may remember Louanne from the trip to Kangaroo Island, as well as my meeting Lou’s parents when I returned to Adelaide from the KI sojourn.)

After dinner, we spent a few hours looking through photographs of Rae and Bert’s two-year, around-Australia wonder. They saw some places I visited on my previous trip, but they also visited a lot of amazing places I haven’t seen and now want to visit. They have a 4WD Toyota Landcruiser, so they can go almost anywhere—and they did. Wow. We also looked at photos and heard tales from Louanne’s “gap year” wander around Europe. Hardly a surprise, then, that they’d welcome a wanderer into their homes, having wandered so much themselves.

The evening was spent, as it had been on my previous visit, in delightful and enthusiastic conversation. Part of the time was given over to discussing news events in Australia, along with updates on other people I met on that first visit and questions about my own travel plans. They described some of the local places they wanted to show me, and then we headed off to bed, so we’d be ready for an early start tomorrow.

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Tuesday, September 3

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.

Red Rocks in Pitchi Ritchi

Red Rocks in Pitchi Ritchi

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).

Rock Samples

Rock Samples


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.
Old wagon and its story

Old wagon and its story


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.
Rainmaker with "lazy clouds"

Rainmaker with “lazy clouds”


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.

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September 2, part 2

I’d read in a magazine at Toddy’s about the Overlander Steakhouse and felt it was sufficiently Territory-oriented to make it a worthy destination for my last night in the Centre (this trip). They offer such local delicacies as witchety grub soup and steaks from kangaroos, buffaloes, and camels. However, I decided on the very fine asparagus soup and a steak from a cow.

This is a wonderfully rustic place, in one of the town’s remaining old buildings. While I waited for my dinner, the hostess joined me for a chat: where was I from, where was I going, did I like Australia. I love these people.

Half way through my meal, I was asked if I’d mind sharing my table. I didn’t mind at all, and I found myself in the company of a delightful woman, a retired high school social worker from New Jersey, who was also traveling alone. We chatted about life, work, and travel—where I’ve been and where she’s going. She’ll be staying at the Jewell House in Perth, the same place I stayed when I was there, so I was able to give her a bit of insight into where things were, things not to miss, and how to get around.

Then, as it was nearly 7:30, I said good-bye and dashed for the bus stop. I arrived before the bus from Toddy’s was due to be there, but it didn’t come. However, a bus from the Gap View Resort did appear. The driver didn’t like the idea of driving away from the bus stop leaving a woman standing alone in the dark on a deserted street corner. (Did I mention that I love these people?) He said the resort wasn’t all that far from Toddy’s, if I’d like to accept a ride–which I did. The driver has lived in Alice Springs his whole life (he said he tried to leave once, but only lasted for two weeks, and then he came right back). We chatted about Alice Springs and about two other Americans he’d met from Dallas, whom he really liked. (“Is Dallas near Chicago? Do you know the Hookers?” “Sorry, no.”)

When I got back to Toddy’s, I found that the bus was going to make the run, but it was running quite late. So I was really pleased that my “knight” from Gap View had come along, because after 10 hours of walking around town, I really didn’t want to walk back to Toddy’s, but I would never have just stood waiting on that corner not knowing a bus was coming.

Well, now I need to pack for tomorrow’s onward journey. I am buoyed by the belief that I must return to the Australian outback some day–I hope sooner than I did this time, and for longer.

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Monday, September 2

I awoke to the sound of birds followed soon after by the sound of a torrential downpour. But by the time I was dressed and headed outside, the sky was almost completely clear, with only a fringe of fast-retreating clouds in the distance.
I had hoped to get out to Chambers Pillar today, but when I checked at the Northern Territory Tourist Center yesterday, they told me there weren’t enough people interested, so the tour wouldn’t run. Hence, I decided to simply spend the day in Alice Springs.

I walked into town, stopping for a late breakfast of chicken and chips. Might seem like an odd choice, but when the weather is going to be hot, it’s good to get one’s heavier eating done early.
The sky by the time I had eaten was brilliant and cloudless, the sun was blazing, and a breeze blew gently carrying the fragrance of flowering trees. Beautiful day.

Spent the morning hiking around town. Off the main drag, things are a bit more familiar, including the people. One sees more Territorians and fewer tourists just a couple of blocks off of Todd Mall.

I photographed a few historic buildings, usually with their replacements visible nearby: the old Stuart Town Gaol (jail), the original Courthouse, the old Government Residency. (For those not familiar with the region’s history, Stuart was the original name of the town. It just in time became better known for the waterhole at the Telegraph Station, called Alice Springs.)

Stuart Town Gaol

Stuart Town Gaol

Then I decided it was time to start gift shopping. I leave Alice Springs tomorrow, and while opal buying will be better in Adelaide, shopping for Aboriginal crafts is definitely going to be easier here.

I appeared initially to have lost the knack for shopping. I spent three hours combing the shops, and all I’ve managed to purchase is a fruit smoothie. That provided a pleasant interlude, sitting by a fountain at Ford Plaza, surrounded by locals and visitors, both white and Aboriginal. I went over my “need gifts for” list while sat. I need to start making some decisions soon. Not that I feel like the search wasn’t pleasant. I met and talked to a lot of interesting people, including an artist who might be coming to the United States. We exchanged business cards, “just in case.” But still, I do need to find some gifts.

Shopping Mall: A/C and palms in Alice Springs

Shopping Mall: A/C and palms in Alice Springs


Fortunately, after my break, I did manage to regain the ability to shop. In a couple of hours, I managed to tick off all but four people on my list—finishing fairly close to the time shops were beginning to close.

Back to wandering. I climbed to the top of Billy Goat Hill, which was a splendid place from which to photograph Alice Springs. It was not long until sunset, so I waited and photographed the sun going down over the Alice. Then I headed off in search of dinner.

Late Afternoon from Bill Goat Hill

Late Afternoon from Bill Goat Hill

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September 1, part 2

Well, flashed up or not, Alice Springs still smells better than almost anywhere else on earth, at least at this time of year, when everything is in bloom. And there’s enough of the old Alice around for me to still have enjoyed the day.
Now I’m off to see the “famous Ted Egan Outback Show” at Chateau Hornsby.

(For those of you not familiar with Egan, I posted about him on September 6, 2013, along with a couple of videos. He’s quite an outback icon.)

Well, somehow, wires got crossed or messages got lost, and they didn’t pick me up at the hotel, so I called Chateau Hornsby, and the charming manager, Morgan, was horrified that no one had come to get me. So he called a taxi and had them bring me out at his expense and then bought me a drink. Problems do occur, but it’s nice to see them so cheerfully and thoroughly handled.

I had dinner with two delightful men from Sydney: Don, a butcher, and Don, a cooking teacher. Given my own fondness for topics culinary, I could hardly have been in better company. That, and they’ve traveled all over Australia by 4WD, and so we had many travel tales to share.

Then it was time for the show. Ted Egan walked out onto the wine cellar stage. I’m not certain why it surprised me that he was older–celebrities can age, I realize. Perhaps I expected him to be as ageless as the outback. But then he said “G’day,” and it was that same voice that I knew so well from the tapes I’d heard and/or bought during my first trip. It was wonderful. An empty beer carton was still his choice of “instrument” for accompanying himself.

Egan sang old favorites and new songs, told tales, and recited poems. Then he stood at the back door after the concert, shaking hands and chatting with everyone who had been there to hear him. Cheerful, friendly, down-to-earth, very Australian. I’d bought a couple of new tapes, and he happily signed them for me and thanked me for coming to hear him sing.

Great evening.

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Sunday, September 1

I arose to the sounds of hundreds of galahs, as well as a few butcher birds and noisy minas. Dawn was beautiful, with a pink blush rising up from the end of the valley.

I hiked around for a couple of hours before breakfast, shooting photos—some probably for the third or fourth time. I got shots of Alec and Burt, as well as some of the other hands, and more photos of galahs and the red ranges. At some level, photography feels like a way to hold on to a place.

I had a big breakfast, figuring it could double as my lunch, then I gathered my gear and dragged it to the little bus that would carry me back to Alice Springs. I tried to stay cool and in control, but tears were running down my cheeks as I handed over my bags. I have really loved this place. It’s everything I dream of when I dream of the Red Center, the epitome of old outback Australia. And as long as it took me to get back here, it’s too soon to be leaving. I blurted out, “I don’t want to leave,” then climbed into the bus. I’m sure they must have wondered how I got so attached to the place in just a couple of days, but they could not know the personal history that made it so much more intense than it would have been if this were my first trip to Australia.

Buttermilk Sky

Buttermilk Sky

It was a beautiful drive back to Alice Springs, beneath a splendid buttermilk sky. When I got back to Toddy’s, I checked in, dumped my gear, and then headed into town. Boy, has the Alice changed. The feeling is still there, and I recognized much, but the Todd Street Mall is now an astonishing concentration of larger, more modern places, shopping plazas, offices, and motels (though interrupted, I was grateful to see, by Adelaide House and the John Flynn Memorial Church).

The Stuart Arms has been torn down, and a glass and steel shopping mall has replaced it. I did discover one good thing, however, and that is that on the second story of this new structure there is a nice museum of Northern Territory/arid regions natural history: rocks, fossils, mammals, birds, reptiles, plants, insects, and heaps of aboriginal artifacts, from old boomerangs to a lovely display of Albert Namatjira paintings.

Albert Namatjira
Australians will have heard of Albert Nmatjira, and those who have read my book, Waltzing Australia, may remember the biography I included of the great artists, but for others who may not know the man or his work, Namatjira was a splendidly talented Aboriginal artist who better than just about anyone else captured the beauty and spirit of the Red Center in his watercolors. He became famous but was always torn between the European culture where he was a celebrity and the culture in which he was raised. He passed away in 1959, but he is still celebrated in Australia. In this video, in addition to giving background on Namatjira and showing some of his paintings, the creation of a play about his life is also discussed.

If you want to see more of Namatjira’s paintings, here’s a site that includes many of them.

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Friday, August 30

I awoke well before dawn to the singing of birds. The room was warm, but when I stepped outside, the air was a sweet, gentle cool that never seems to exist any time other than dawn.

I packed quickly, in preparation for my departure, then glanced at my watch and got a shock. I’d set my watch back the 1/2 hour for the Centre’s time zone, but not my travel alarm. No wonder it was still so dark out. Well, better early than late.

Then out the door and out of Alice Springs, on my way to Ross River Homestead, in the East MacDonnell Ranges–new territory for me, as I’ve previously only been in the West MacDonnells. I was pleased that not all the road was sealed. As I noted in my book, a sealed road may be easier to drive, but an unsealed road seems to better suit this place–rougher and more natural.

We drove for about 45 minutes, out along the dry Ross River, with the spinifex, desert oaks, gum trees, and mulgas all around us, and the ragged, red mountains rising up behind. We passed a camel-crossing road sign and several dry creek beds, and then finally pulled in at the Ross River Homestead.

This is paradise.

Ross River Homestead

Ross River Homestead


The only sounds are the wind in the massive desert oaks around the homestead and the cries of the noisy minas and galahs. The hills rise around us, and the fragrance of the bush fills my nostrils and my heart. Kangaroos and camels are about, the sun is shining, and I could stay here forever.

The cabins are wonderful: all wood, with stone floors. They look rather plain from the outside, but are really charming inside.

Cabin interior

Cabin interior


I was given a little tour and introduced to the staff: Burt, Alec, and Jeff, who is the manager, and was then directed to a damper-making lesson given by Alec. Once the damper was made, we enjoyed billy tea and damper around the fire. In any other setting, this might seem touristy, but here, it’s simply perfect. This was followed by whip-cracking and boomerang throwing lessons. After that, we were on our own.

I hiked and photographed till lunch, and then I hiked and photographed until 4:30. The bird life is unbelievable around here: majestic wedge-tailed eagles, tufted pigeons, pied butcherbirds, noisy minas, ruby-breasted mistletoe birds, pink and gray galahs, and splendid, bright green parrots that Jeff, the manager, later told me were Port Lincoln parrots. There were many others I didn’t know, as well. Apparently, the northern and southern bird habitats overlap here, so there are more birds than one might reasonably expect to find.

Port Lincoln Parrot

Port Lincoln Parrot

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August 29, part 3

The weather is hot, and the heat radiates off the red rocks, making today’s hiking even warmer than the air temperature alone would indicate–which made a quick hike to the shower block seem like a necessity. I had a bit of time before the barbecue, so I spent some time perched on the bed in my room, recording the day’s events. The door to my room was propped open, to let a little of the evening air blow through, as it had gotten roasty during the day. In the category of “everything is relative,” a boy walking by looked in and exclaimed, “Wow. Beautiful room. How much do the nice one’s cost?” (I told him and learned he was staying in the dorms that are available here. So I’m guessing “nice” means “no bunk beds.”)

I went for a walk along the Todd River, to just look at the Alice, and to watch the gorgeous sunset. Noisy birds were everywhere. The watercourse was lined with river red gums. It was wonderful.

The barbecue was at 8 o’clock, and the food was abundant. They offered classic Aussie barbecue fare: spaghetti, salad, grilled onions, grilled potatoes, and tough steak, along with one free glass of wine. Not bad for $6.50. They did have kangaroo, as promised, but the cook said you had to order it ahead of time. I was actually rather relieved. I’m fond of kangaroos, and I hadn’t quite gotten my head around the idea of eating one.

The crowd was fun, but very young, and almost all British, including my students from the bus ride. We all shared tales of our various travels. One young man spoke enthusiastically of the adrenaline rush he’d gotten from bungee jumping. I suggested that if he liked adrenaline, he might enjoy the riding trip I made through the mountains, during my first visit to Australia. I described some of the adventure, and the young man, wide-eyed, exclaimed, “But that’s real danger.” I don’t think I let it register on my face, but his reaction surprised and amused me. “So you only want artificial danger?” I queried. “Well, yeah,” he said with emphasis and incredulity that I even needed to ask. The two thoughts that flashed through my mind were that he seemed mighty young to be aware of his mortality and that it seemed like a real waste of adrenaline, using it for something not real.

Storytelling wound down after about an hour, and the young men’s attention shifted from me to the slender, pretty, mostly blond young women who were clearly wondering why a considerably older woman was of such interest. It made me chuckle, but it also gave me a chance to gracefully depart. The bus for Ross River will be picking me up at 7:30 a.m., and a good night’s sleep is always a good thing before moving on.

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August 29, part 2

I signed up for Toddy’s afternoon tour to Simpson’s Gap and Standley Chasm and was soon roaring out of town in the Toddy’s bus. Clouds dotted the brilliant blue sky, and it was a glorious day. As we passed through Pitchi Ritchi, I did notice that there was a motel now on the site where I had camped during the “flood tour” from my last strip. It made me wonder what other changes I’d see. Still, the surrounding rocks were still dramatic and dynamic looking.

My pulse quickened a bit, as we rolled into the red land. On my previous trip to Australia, though I had already been in the country for more than three weeks by the time I got to Alice Springs, it was here in the Centre that I began to really transform–and truly fell in love with Australia. And now, finally, having succeeded in beginning my life over, I was coming back to the place where it started. But would I feel the same about it as I had during that first, seminal visit? It didn’t take me long to learn the answer: absolutely.

What a gloriously beautiful land this is. It hardly seemed possible that eight years had passed since I was here, in the (almost) unchanging Centre. The red earth rolled away from the road, dotted with mulgas, corkbark trees, desert oaks, and ghost gums, bounded in on one side by the dancing red wall of the MacDonnells.

Standley Chasm

Standley Chasm

We stopped first at Standley Chasm. This being my third visit to the spot, it hardly seemed necessary to shoot a whole roll of film–but maybe I missed something the last two times. Hiking in, along the winding path that leads to the chasm, I saw my horse head stone, though it was broken, and I again found the burned out trunk of the old gum tree that had four new gums growing out of it. Reaching the chasm, I wandered between the tall, parallel walls to the tumble of rocks on the far end. It was as if no time had passed.

Simpson's Gap

Simpson’s Gap


Next we headed for Simpson’s Gap. Aspects of it looked the same, particularly the distinctive gum tree spreading its arms at the entrance to the gap, as if in welcome. We only had a short stop here, so we hiked in and hiked out, without much time for exploring, walking mostly along a footpath constructed since my last trip by inmates from the nearby Alice Springs Gaol. I was a little disappointed, as the walkway takes a bit of the romance out of the place. However, it does make for much easier going than slogging through the deep, soft soil of the sometimes riverbed. And the wonderful, worn rocks have not changed, and I delighted in those.

During the drive, we passed many sights that were familiar to me, including the memorial grave of John Flynn (Flynn of the Inland) and the famous Namatjira twin ghost gums. The driver was just that: a driver, so he said nothing about our surroundings.

The others along on the day’s drive were almost entirely British university students, mostly young men around 20 years of age. Since no information was being shared by the driver, I began to point things out and relate what I knew of the mountains, gorges, plant life, and sights. I began quietly, speaking only to those near me, but found an eager audience, and I was soon surrounded. I was, of course, more than delighted to answer the questions with which they peppered me as we blasted back across the 50 kilometers to Alice Springs and Toddy’s.

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