Words and photos: Dallas Sherringham
The Alice Springs I know has changed so much over the years, growing from a dusty town beside the Todd River to a vibrant modern city.
The Alice I first saw as young man was an oasis in a harsh desert land. I remember going to see bush poet and balladeer Ted Egan perform in the beer garden behind an old pub. Ted, a typical Aussie who played a beer carton while he sang, ended up running the whole territory.
The main past-time in town was drinking schooners at the local. Once a year they raced “boats” on the dry bed of the Todd and it gained nationwide coverage.
I saw the old Ghan wobble and leap up the rough narrow gauge track from Adelaide to the downtown station. The airport was right on the edge of town and you could walk to town from the main terminal.
Just growing a lawn in the old Alice drew great admiration from your fellow residents.
Today, most of the old pubs and buildings have gone. The Alice has modern shopping centres, a modern casino and luxury homes set beside a championship golf course. There are still green lawns and lovely gardens to behold.
On a recent visit I went in search of the old Alice Springs and came away very surprised at the treasures to still be found.
Now, Alice Springs was originally the name of the Telegraph Station set beside a permanent waterhole north of the current town. The old station has been preserved and is in its original condition. It was quite an operation with solid stone homes, stables and telegraph room.
The new town that grew up around the end of the Ghan railway in the 1920s was known officially as Stuart, but after much confusion the town was officially named Alice Springs in 1933.
If you travel 10km south of town you will find the Old Ghan Railway Museum which has a superb collection of original diesel locos and carriages from the original railway set on original tracks.
The main building at the museum is based on the original plans for the Stuart station in downtown Alice Springs. The claret and silver diesel locos that hauled the Ghan across the desert have a beauty all their own.
If the railway made the Alice, the coming of aircraft really changed everything.
Out in the south western suburbs I came across the original airport, still intact which a great display of vintage aircraft and memorabilia.
It is now officially called the Central Australian Aviation Museum...and what a great museum it is. The people running the museum were very enthusiastic and eager to tell me all about their impressive display.
The first plane landed in the Alice in 1921, but it wasn’t u until E J Connellan established an air service in 1939 that aircraft became a permanent part of life in the Red Centre.
He established the first airport at the museum site and many of the old buildings have survived. In WWII it was a major base servicing the flow of aircraft to the northern battlefields.
Connellan operated and serviced aircraft for the Royal Fling Doctor service and the display reflects the wide diversity of aircraft operating out of the airport,
There is a de Havilland Drover sitting on a pedestal outside the museum which makes a great photograph. It was the workhorse of the Flying Doctor after WWII.
There is a partially restored de Havilland Dove, a twin engine Beechcraft, an Auster, DC3 and part of a Tiger Moth. The remains of the ill fated Kookaburra which crashed whole searching for Kingsford Smith in 1929 are on display. The wreck was found lying in the Tanami Desert by aviator and businessman Dick Smith in 1978.
Connellan actually pioneered flying tourists to Uluru (then Ayers Rock) before a proper road was built in the 1960s. The planes would land right beside the rock.
My next stop was at the Royal Flying Doctor Museum set in the heart of old Alice. This complex was built in 1939 to house the operations of this outstanding service.
An amazing hologram of the original RFD founder John Flynn tells the story of the growth of the world’s largest aero medical organisation from rudimentary beginnings.
So, if you are a history buff and you have a spare day or two on your hands while visiting the Alice, make sure you check out these four fascinating places.
1. The Old Ghan Railway Museum
2. The Telegraph Station at the original springs
3. The stunning DH Drover at the air museum
4. The 1939 hangar now houses historic planes
5. Royal Flying Doctor Museum.
6. RFD Museum is in the original radio building