Hello from Australia's most famous outback town, Alice Springs. My flight in from Cairns went smoothly. It took just over 2 hours to get here on board a QantasLink Boeing 717, which is the smallest passenger plane I've flown on. Despite its small size most of the seats were still empty. They did at least feed us on board but there was no in flight entertainment. I passed the time by reading an Australian national newspaper. Now the British tabloids are usually reliable for exposing the most ridiculous stories of political correctness in the UK, which prompts many Brits to believe they live in the most idiotic country in the world. Some even move abroad (to places like Australia) to escape the idiocy. But I can now inform you that Australia is just as bad. The most alarming story I read was that Australian taxpayers are funding a jailed serial rapist to have treatment for erection problems, even though he is not due out of prison for years and he is a sex offender! Crazy! So the next time you read something similar in the British tabloids please don't think only our country would be stupid enough. Over-zealous health and safety is also present in Australia. I've noticed that in loads of public toilets here they have Australian government notices up next to the wash basins telling you how to wash your hands, and in bold it stresses to cover all abrasions. Pretty pathetic really.
Anyway, we landed in cloudy Alice Springs around lunchtime and all sets our clocks half an hour back (this is the first time I've ever been in a time zone with a half hour difference to GMT). We were met by our new tour guide John and driver Dean and driven around Alice Springs to get ourselves orietated. Alice Springs is the second largest town in the Northern Territory (after Darwin where my tour ends), but its population is only 25,000. Its generally horrifically hot here at this time of year so its tourism low season and there weren't many people about. We've been fortunate that the last 2 days have been very cool and temperatures haven't yet reached 30C.
After being dropped at the hotel I had a wander back into town to pick up some supplies for the bush. The first thing that hit me about Alice Springs was the amount of Aboriginies there are here. Prior to this I had only seen a few in Cairns, but the Northern Territory is their main domain and Alice Springs probably their main centre. They seem to make up about half the population. I had mentioned in a previous travel blog that the Aboriginies aren't well received in Australia, unlike the Maori in New Zealand. Having spent 2 days in Alice Springs I can now see why. The first encounter I had with an Aboroginie was when he put his car window down to swear at me. The second encounter was passing a group of them in the centre who also swore at me! Most of them look, and probably are, homeless. They do receive funding from the government but it seems to me they must all spend it on drink. There are packs of them everywhere around town - under trees, in every green space, under bridges - and all they seem to do is lay around all day and drink. Due to their drinking problem Alice Springs council employ guards on all bars and supermarkets to stop them stealing. Sales are also heavily restricted on Sundays.
We went for a drink at a local saloon bar last night and there were some wealthier Aboriginies in there. One of our group was deliberately barged into and had his drink knocked over by them. The walk back to the hotel was very intimidating too as there were loads of them about. The night security warned us about them and I felt somewhat at ease given the huge police presence about, but I'd still say I felt safer in some towns in Bolivia. Many of them shoulder barged people in our group as we walked along, and one or two people were directly threatened. Now I am aware of the maltreatment the Aboroginies received from the Australians right up to the late 1960s (when they were first given citizenship), but I now see why many Aussies object to the pay outs they get.
The first Aboriginal to receive citizenship was a successful artist (due to the fact the government wanted to tax him). He was the thus the first to be able to buy alcohol, and did so for his family and others in his community. The government duly threw him in jail for the rest of his short life as punishment for supplying others, and this was only around 40 years ago. The Aboroginies also had many generations of children stolen from them across a 100 year period starting in 1860, which is what hated Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised for last year. It is thus understandable why many Aboroginies have still not accepted white people, but I have lost a lot of sympathy seeing how the current generations behave. On a more humorous note the last Aboroginie to emerge from the bush with no knowlege of western civilisation was in 1984! Staggering.
This morning we met the 5 new members of our group. There are now 23 of us in total, which I prefer to the 50 or so we had on the east coast. We were given a tour of the major sights in the Alice Springs area starting with the desert park. The weather was still cloudy which nullified the rock colours, and we spent a pretty dull 2 hours doing some nature trails and watching a short bird of prey show. There were flies everywhere, which really really annoyed me! I'd not really seen many since Sydney and the Blue Mountains, where they also harrassed me but to a much lesser extent. They are constantly in your face, landing on your ears and eyes especially. Even as I write indoors one is bothering me. During the bird of prey show I flapped my cap to get rid of them completely forgetting I had my sunglasses rested on top! One of the lenses fell out when they smashed on the floor but fortunately someone else was able to fix them and they are good as new again.
After the desert park we visited the much more interesting rock formation of Simpson's Gap, which is a huge crevass in the mountain range. We then went on to Alice Springs Telegraph Station, by which time the sun was starting to come out. Next to the telegraph station was the actual Alice Spring itself, which is located in the dry bed of the Todd River. Englishman Charles Todd was the man responsible for building the crucial Central Australian telegraph system, and the spring was named in honour of his wife Alice. A township grew up around the spring, hence the name Alice Springs. The final stop on our tour was ANZAC Hill, which offered an excellent 360 degree panorama of Alice Springs and the MacDonnell mountain range. The desert looked really spectacular in the sun and I can't wait to explore it further.
Tomorrow we head for an overnight stay on a bush camp near King's Canyon, and the day after that we visit Uluru itself. I should hopefully get the chance to update when we return to Alice Springs in a few days time, but if not I probably won't see the Internet again till Darwin in 10 days time. The Northern Territory doesn't really have the services of the rest of Australia due to how isolated it is.