Settlement in Australia grew up around the edges, along the coasts The center remained unexplored into the late 1800s. But by then Australia needed telegraph and trains to run directly and pushed to explore the interior. The Europeans exploring Australia's center often had tragic stories. (Quick summary on Wikipedia: see European exploration section link). Alice Springs, half way between Darwin on the north coast and Adelaide on the south coast, was founded in 1872 as a critical telegraph and railroad depot.
Being a communication hub doesn't make it any less remote. Hundreds of miles of nearly empty space surround it. Yes, the surrounding desert supports aboriginal groups living off the land. Yes, there are sheep stations. But the population is low and scattered.
So Alice, with 29,000 people, is fascinating for its desert, its history in communications and transportation, its isolation and more.
There is a telegraph museum, distributed over a series of old buildings. I loved the buildings saved from the late 1800s with furniture created from local materials, such as cowhide strips, with hair, for bed springs. I lingered over photos and descriptions of the experiences of people who established Alice Springs, weathering droughts, fires and floods. (Alice Springs Telegraph Station website link).
Also terrific was the Alice Springs School of the Air. This was their answer to the challenge of educating children in the sparsely-populated region. Australia arranged to fly resources to the children in their homes, providing materials, teaching assistants who stayed with the families and radio (now computer)-assisted education materials. The problem--educating children in sparsely populated regions--is shared across the world. I knew something about Nebraska's solutions, which included excellent public radio and boarding schools. The more I read about Australia's program, the more I was reminded of the difficulty of the problem--distance, children of different ages and abilities, providing timely feedback. Computers and the internet have made the task less Herculean, but it continues to be a challenge (website).
|Exterior, Alice Springs School of the Air|
|An owl arrives.|
Australia's Northern Territory has at least 2 owls in the genus Tyto with barn owls,
sharing the flat face and color pattern.
|The tawny frogmouth landed in the rafters above our seats|
A variety of local plants were in full bloom.
|Orange spade flower, Hybanthus aurantiacus, in the violet family Violaceae.|
(If that's too informal for you, "Violets in Australia radiated into colors and shapes not found in Eurasia, in response to the unique selection pressures of Australian environments.")
|Parakeelya, Calandrinia balonensis purslane family, Portulaceae|
|Perhaps golden everlasting, Xerochrysum bracteatum|
We drove to the Anzac Memorial, on a high point overlooking the town. The Northern Territory flag was flying there. What a great choice of design: the Southern Cross constellation and a flower, Sturt's desert rose.
|Flag of the Northern Territory|
|Sturt's desert rose, Gossypium sturtianum|
Also flowering were these quintessentially Australian trees, acacias, locally called wattle.
Here is a representative of another signature plant of Australia, Eucalyptus, called gum. River red gums (Eucalyptus cameldulensis, eucalyptus family Myrtaceae) were growing in a seasonally dry riverbed near Alice Springs. Except for a few puddles, the river was dry, despite the fact that there had been rain within the week.
|Big river red gums, Eucalyptus cameldulensis.|
|A bit of the view from the Anzac Memorial|
Comments and corrections welcome.
Previous blogs about Australia include
Kakadu National Park link
Blue Mountains, west of Melbourne link
Seeing Australian plants in Australia for the first time link
Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist
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