We'd enjoyed Alice so much and there was still so much that we hadn't managed to do, so after KingsCanyon we headed back for our second stint in Alice.We also needed a bit of time to recover from 'postamitis'.Seriously, we'd a great time with Tam and just needed some time to consider and decide our onward route - Alice was an ideal (in fact the only) place to do so.It turned out that there were also a couple of live music events on that week.The Cultural Centre was right on the doorstep of the StuartCaravanPark and it's a pity we didn't have time to visit this with Tam.It comprises a number of different sites including aviation museums, art gallery, theatre etc - and the best value coffee in town!The aviation museum, including the Kookaburra museum, is on the site of the original Alice airfield and in one of the original hangars.It was really interesting and the stories of NT's early aviators, some of whom lost their lives, highlighted how difficult and dangerous flying in Australia was in the early days.This was even more evident from the Kookaburra display: this memorial told the story of two pilots who'd set of in search of the missing Kingsford-Smith and ended up losing their lives, while Kingsford-Smith was eventually rescued (many at the time thought his disappearance was a staged publicity stunt).We also paid a visit to the old Alice Springs Gaol, mainly because Herbert Widdup (Uncle Bill's friend) had been posted here as a gaoler, and it also housed the Pioneer Women's Museum which had been recommended to us.To be frank, the gaol wasn't up to much and wasn't as interesting as Fanny Bay Gaol in Darwin.It was basically a modern looking site and lacked information about its history or anything else.We also thought that the Pioneer Women's Museum was pretty two dimensional and whilst it showed how Australian women had been and continue to be successful in all walks of life, there was a distinct lack of depth to the displays. Also, it wasn't helped by the location of the displays in one large prison wing, the way they were set out and the preponderance of stereotypical 'women's things' eg household and kitchen equipment, quilting and sewing materials!
However, an earlier visit to The Ghan Museum on the edge of town was a little gem.It was good to be able to look over the old Ghan train and the museum itself had lots of interesting information and displays.One piece of information revealed that in 1911 the British Government agreed to support the construction of a railway linking Alice with Darwin to strengthen and populate the Northern Territory in light of the threat of the Great War.We assume that Uncle Bill was recruited as part of this support, together with the other British railway workers that came out on his ship, the Kaipara in 1911.
We also had a look round Adelaide House which was the first hospital in Alice established by John Flynn (THE Flying Doctor) and ended with a nice cuppa on the veranda included in the entry price. Eralier we popped into the Residency, the former Governors House and it's main claim to fame being the place where the Queen stayed when she and Phil visited Alice in 1963. You should have seen her mini-bar (she photo album). During our wanderings we found the best bargain so far - 4 pairs of shorts for the price of 1 (M got 2 pairs, E 1 and posted another pair to Tam - ours are nearly worn out but still to hear if Tam's fit)
We also had a quick trip back to the West MacDonnells to Standley Chasm and Simpson Gap, and had a day out at the delightful Trephina Gorge in the East MacDonnells.Whilst in the Cultural Centre M had been talking to the woman at the information desk.She was really interested to know whereabouts in Scotland we were from because her future son-in-law is from Scotland.She called him (Colin Lilley) up on the phone and handed it over to M to speak to him,It turned out that he was from Mayfield, outside Edinburgh and only a few from where M grew up.It also turned out that he was a musician and was playing live at The Lane on Saturday night as a supporting artist.This confirmed that this would be one a night out on the town.After really good pizzas downstairs at The Lane we took our bottle of wine up to the roof terrace to listen to the music.As it turned out, Colin was the highlight and played some really good music, some of which was his own, whereas the star turn (Mai Lei Swan) although obviously highly thought of, was of a more unusual style and taste.M was in good form that evening and having spoken to him on the phone earlier that week rushed to the stage after his set finished to have a blether.We both managed to have a bit more of a chat with him at the end of the evening.The previous night was let out on his own to see a really good band called Double Entendre who played a mixture of folk, blues, jazz music in a very lively style.E was pleased to see them in the audience at The Lane on Saturday night.As we'd been so impressed with Trephina Gorge's scenery, setting, bird life and peacefulness we decided to head up there on Sunday for a couple of nights of off-site camping.(Annie always comes into her own on the occasions because she's so self-sufficient.)On our way there we stopped to take in Emily and Jesse Gaps and Corroborree Rock, the later is a site for Aboriginal ceremonies. However, it was good to settle into our pitch at Trephina.Having done the two shortish gorge walks on our previous visit and thoroughly enjoyed the abundant flocks of budgies, finches and many others swarming, swooping and swirling with such great speed and skill through the gorge, we set out the following morning on the Ridgetop Walk.Although this is a very long walk of 10 hours or more return we knew we wouldn't be able to do it all in the heat.We did, however, walk for about 5 hours along the ridge which afforded great views of the surrounding hills and some great bird sightings - a Black Falcon trying to catch a small bird in mid-air, an Australian Hobby surveying his/her patch, Variegated Fairy Wrens and Painted Finches. Later that afternoon while we were on our way to do the gorge rim walk again we met a ranger from Scotland whom we'd met at the Alice SpringsDesertPark a couple of weeks earlier.We told him about our Hobby sighting and he was very interested because the Hobby that we'd seen during the bird of prey display at the Park had found a mate and disappeared a few days after our visit.He wondered if our sighting that day could be her or her mate.Shortly afterwards we'd had a fantastic sighting of a Peregrine Falcon which, as soon as we moved away from the waterhole, plunged to earth to attack something in the undergrowth.As we were climbing to the top of the gorge we heard this great bellowing in the distance. What on earth was that, we wondered - was it a camel or a donkey.Scanning the surrounding bush soon confirmed that it was a feral donkey.Although our original plans were to keep heading south, we realised that it was still a bit cool down there so we decided to head back north and planned a couple of overnight stops on our way to Queensland.The first was at the Barrow Creek Roadhouse where, when the diesel pump proved to be empty, the owner said we could stay for free. Earlier on our journey north, we'd stopped at the Red Centre Farm which grows grapes and mangoes to make wine, preserves and ice cream (which was delicious).Shirley knows Barrow Creek and explained that it had fallen on hard times because of a costly divorce settlement.She wasn't wrong but it is an interesting and friendly place which deserves support, so much so because many avoid it for its links with the Peter Falconio murder. Our second long drive was to take us to Barkly Roadhouse but feeling really fresh we kept on driving to a roadside rest area at Avon Downs, a short hop from the border. A few miles/kms before we stopped we had a strange experience. Bearing in mind that driving in the outback in Australia can be fairly vehicle free, E was making good time and there were very few vehicles on the road.Suddenly, we came across what appeared to be wooden chips on the road which flew into the air as we approached. However, almost immediately we realised they were in fact locusts, swarms of them, some settled on the road, others flying, but most of which smashed into Annie (and we'd just given her a good wash in Alice too!).They were about 3 to 4 inches long and made a horrible thumping noise as they smashed into the windscreen. There was nothing that E or anyone could have done and when we stopped at Avon Downs E had to scrape dead and some barely living locusts off the van. A book E had previously read about a couple's motorhome journey around Australia had mentioned a similar experience but we never thought that it would happen to us!
After a few episodes of 24 (we're on the 5th and final series) and a good night's kip next morning it was next stop Queensland.