Lost in Alice Springs

Alice Springs School of the Air.
Alice Springs School of the Air.

Today the male part of our family managed to definitively debunk the idea that we’re better at directions without Jennifer in the co-pilot seat.

After an uneventful flight from Sydney we quickly hopped in our hire-car and set off for downtown Alice Springs. Leaving the airport you can turn either left or right, we opted to go right following signs for Santa Theresa. Google was not cooperating and Callum remembered the name Santa Theresa from when he looked up the directions before we left home. So off we went.

Within minutes the road petered out into a dirt road with ‘diversion’ signs pushing traffic around major road-works. So we trundled along the dirt road at the head of a huge plume or red dust, bouncing over increasing corrugations. Our second mistake was keeping on going – I can only blame the road-works making us think that the situation was temporary. Eventually, though we realised that (a) the road was just getting worse, (b) we hadn’t seen any other traffic and (c) we’d gone way, way past the distance to Alice Springs. It’s always irritating retracing your steps, but doing it through your own cloud of dust is a special brand of annoying.

Once back past the airport the trip into Alice was mercifully short and coffee and milkshakes helped our recovery significantly. We decided that with what was left of the afternoon we’d go and see the School of the Air and do a shopping run to the supermarket.

The School of the Air was interesting in itself, although the visitor centre was pretty useless (Trip Advisor ranks it as the 5th best thing to do in Alice, which leaves us seriously concerned about items 6-54). Honestly, I’d have resented the $30 we paid to visit had it not been going to such a good cause. The Alice Springs School of the Air caters to 122 students spread over 1.2 million square kilometres. Really that’s quite extraordinary. These days it’s all done by Internet and computers, rather than the pedal-powered radios they started with. The results for the kids are apparently excellent, which given our own experience with road schooling isn’t all that surprising. I was a bit disturbed at how few Aboriginal students there are, but someone explained that the Aboriginal communities generally have their own schools in their local languages (the School of the Air is exclusively in English).

So then it was back to the thriving centre of Alice for a trip to Woolworths. Probably the most noticeable thing about wandering through the shopping centre was that there are no Aboriginal people working there – there are large numbers of Aboriginal people wandering about the streets or sitting by the roads, but none behind the counters. The other noticeable thing in Woolworths is that it’s like a European Community meeting – the place was filled with young tanned Europeans buying supplies to jam into the fleets of campervans and station wagons parked outside.

A pretty average Italian meal, served with way below average friendliness, rounded off our first day in Alice Springs. Tomorrow we’re driving out to the West MacDonnell Ranges and hoping to stay on track.

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