After the Truckies Hall of Fame we went on to visit The School of The Air, The Alice Springs Telegraph Station, The Desert Park, The Pioneering Women’s Museum and the West and East McDonnell Ranges.
The school of the air is a must see for people without any knowledge of the isolation that children face in gaining their education in the outback and the Alice SOTA services a major area of the Northern Territory with a total of some 150 students being taught by 13 teachers. It was great to see the teachers in class communicating with their students all over the Territory and with today’s technology they are able to see each other and to interact immediately via web cam and communications. Our visit coincided with “back to front day” and later that week we got to meet one of the students in attendance at assembly and to speak with him about his experiences of the day and to see his classroom on the station.
Alice Springs was home to one of the first telegraph stations for the Overland Telegraph Line which followed the Old Ghan Railway line to Darwin. In its hey day the telegraph station would receive morse code messages that it would in turn relay on to the next station until the message was received within Australia or Overseas by its intended recipient. The station had to be self sufficient for food and livestock whilst regular transport deliveries were by cameleers leading long camel trains with the necessary supplies of various sorts. Thus the station had its own stone building accomodation, kitchen, offices, stables, yards, milking bails and blacksmiths buildings where all the work was undertaken including the butchering of their own meat for consumption and milking of cows. A stockman would be responsible for the livestock and it would be his responsibility to see that they were taken care of with food and water on a daily basis. The site was used as an orphanage at one time during the years of the stolen generation and one of the children that grew up there later became a guide and he is lovingly remembered by his autobiography “Alec Ross” which is available for purchase at the station today. It is in beautiful condition and must be visited to fully appreciate our pioneers and their lives and history.
Alice Springs Desert Park is a wonderful destination for adults and children combined with their nocturnal displays, Bird aviaries, bird show and animal displays of many different outback animals, birds and reptiles. It provides a great appreciation of the desert animals and how they survive in these lands and is very professionally presented and put together.
At the pioneering women’s museum which was the brainchild and focus of the pioneer and matron of “Old Andado Station” Molly Clark, you will experience the old women’s and men’s gaol of Alice Springs and how the inmates worked and lived within its walls and cells. There is a large amount of descriptives and animated video displays that are being added to continuously and it outlines how our forebears and in particular our pioneering women of the outback lived, worked and played whilst building their own stations and empires in the isolation and most difficult of environments one could expect. Their lives were not easy and they were committed to their husbands and families and learnt the art of survival as a lone woman on a million acre or more cattle station without power, gas, phones, technology or vehicles. It was a time of sheer guts and determination by these women to ensure they and their families survived.
The West Mc Donnell Ranges were done from Alice Springs as day trips commencing at Glen Helen Gorge, Ormiston Gorge, Standley Chasm, The Ochre Pits and Kathleen Springs where there was still evidence of old cattle water trap yards up at the end of the gorge near the waterhole. The next day we visited Simpsons gap which is very beautiful and should not be missed. My choice is Ormiston Gorge and Simpsons Gap for their trees, colours and billabongs and the Ochre Pits for their geological formations and colour. All are a must see.
From Alice we travelled out to Ross River Homestead in the East Mc Donnell Ranges where we visited Ndhala Gorge via the Binns Track and checked out the Aboriginal rock art, whilst enjoying some four wheel driving through creek beds and over boulder rocks to get access to the Gorge.
The following day we drove Easterly out along the Binns Track again to the old gold mining town of Arltunga where we walked around the remaining buildings and checked out the old machinery and museum with exhibits from days gone by. The old pub is still there but not open anymore and the Whites Range Cemetery is well worth a visit as is the Whites Range Lookout. Should you have an off road van or like taking your van/camper on gravelly bush roads then I highly recommend a stay at the Old Ambalindum Homestead now renamed Hale River Homestead. Check with the wonderful Leigh family about the road conditions from the bitumen prior to travelling and drive according to the conditions. Hale River is very well set up with many forms of very comfortable accomodation and Sean, Liz and Sophie Leigh are wonderful hosts!!.
We then travelled back to Alice to resupply prior to heading for the Devils Marbles for a night and to watch the sunset over the beautiful rock formations of the surrounding area and the marbles themselves. This is a great campsite and toilets are available with a small fee for overnight campers. It is very popular so get in early!.
From the Devils Marbles we travelled to Barkley Homestead via Tennant Creek and the Threeways. As we had visited the Tennant Creek Telegraph Station previously we didn’t stop by this time, however it should not be missed when driving the Stuart Highway north of Tennant Creek.
Barkley Homestead is very well set up for campers and travellers with all amenities including a bar and restaurant/ dining area with all amenities including cabins. One night there and we moved on to West Leichardt Station on the Lake Julius Rd East of Mt Isa.
At West Leichardt we met up with friends and stayed for a very pleasant 3 nights of fun and good cheer whilst also having the opportunity to do a bore run with one of the camp volunteers which was interesting given my background in the bush. West Leichardt is very welcoming and each night they have a Happy Hour around the BBQ. You need to book as it is very popular and it has limited powered sites.
We then went on to visit friends on a property North West of McKinley for a night and it was great to catch up with them and to share a good old roast lamb dinner and chew the fat over our lives of the past 8 years or so since we have seen each other. The next day we headed for Winton which had been my home in the 70’s for several years and caught up with our friends from West Leichardt Station for 3 nights of kick back relax and enjoy the scenery. We did the chook races at the North Gregory Hotel, a visit to the Winton Club that I managed for 12 months, caught up with old friends that I had worked with and visited the Australian Age of Dinasaurs.
This is an absolute must see that is set on a jump up several kilometres East of Winton with the most incredible views whilst the museum and what they are doing there is a World Drawing facility. Their work and information is incredible and it is truly a must see!!.
The new Matilda centre is under construction and due for practical completion in 2018 and from what I have been told it will be another great museum encompassing the story of Waltzing Matilda and the lives of the people who live and work in the Outback of Queensland.
In Longreach I attended and co ordinated the Longreach Pastoral College Past Students & Staff Associations 50th anniversary reunion which had 800 people in attendance for a 3 day weekend. A huge success and a great time catching up with my old college mates from the late 60’s. Shared a drink or two and relived the great times that we had whilst building the College property with yards, fencing, planting trees and generally setting the property up for future generations to come.
From Longreach it was a quick trip home via Emerald and Marlborough to catch up with family and then a night outside Maryborough with friends prior to landing back in Brisbane after 10 weeks of travel.
The sights, the colours, the people and the memories will be with us for ever!!. What a Fantastic country we live in.
Stay tuned for the next major adventure.