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Full Circle

Day 134: Alice Springs

On the Ghan, Australia 
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Wattle trees through the window of the Ghan.
Michael Palin - Full CircleThe short history of white Australia can be traced in the names on any map. The Alice of Alice Springs was the wife of Charles Todd, Superintendent of Telegraphs, who in 1872 set up a repeater station beside a waterhole, used by the aboriginals for 10,000 years. Here he connected up the overland telegraph line which, at a stroke, according to the Illustrated London News, 'brought all the Australian colonies into electric communication with Europe, Asia and America'. The Todd River, which flows through the town on anything from two days to two weeks a year was named after the superintendent. It is the venue for the Henley-on-Todd Regatta, the only regatta in the world that needs no water. The boats are all bottomless, and the crew simply stick their legs through and sprint along the dried up river bed. There is also the Todd Tavern, with its low orange-coloured tin roof and hot, heaving saloon called, without apparent irony, the Animal Bar, which stands on the corner of Wills and Leichardt Terraces - both named after nineteenth-century explorers.

The rivers, waterholes and mountain ranges had Aboriginal names long before the explorers came. Modern developments have often ignored their significance as ancient places of worship. Barrett Drive, a new tarmac road that runs past our hotel, is known as Broken Promise Drive by the Aboriginals, as it was bulldozed through a sacred site after planners reneged on a commitment to find alternatives. We drive along it for the last time today, on our way to the station to take the Ghan train south, across the Simpson Desert and down to Adelaide, to complete a 1900 mile crossing of the continent.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 134
  • Country/sea: Australia
  • Place: Alice Springs
  • Book page no: 192

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