Time to look around Alice Springs first stop the Ghan Railway Museum, a museum just south next to the Road Transport Hall of Fame which we didn’t bother with as we spent three hours in the Railway Museum. Ghan Railway Museum has some very large working engines both diesel and steam along with significant rolling stock, a good chunk of working railroad, artefacts and interesting wall panels. The thing that impressed me the most was the amount of books with old photos, many with personal memories written on the back of the them. I could have spent days reading through these fascinating treasures.
Our route to Alice Springs had followed some good parts of the Ghan, at the Museum it became apparent the significance this railway line played in the area’s history. I now understand that Oodnadatta was actually a major town in early Australia. Not until 1926 did the railway push north to Alice Springs and so move the rail head away from Oodnadatta, diminishing Oodnadattas importance.
There’s a need to keep a copy of this history on electronic media, the small band of enthusiasts here have an engineering focus and don’t appear to have the resources to deal with these treasures well.
After lunch back we tackled the four kilometres walk from the town centre to the Alice Springs Old Telegraph Station. The afternoon was so hot we took two bottles of water for the walk along the dry shade-less Todd River. Later we discovered this river flowed only four times this year, and only for a couple of days each time. The path turned from concrete to a dusty red dirt track after passing through suburbs, schools and houses.
We were very exhausted and beginning to run out of our, by now very warm, water as we reached the shade of the green carpeted park immediately surrounding the Telegraph Station. The sense of remoteness that must of existed here hits me as we walk around the displays. I realised very few people stayed here in a place that is almost slap bang in the middle of Australia It is 1500 Kilometres in either direction north and south to the coasts and much further to the east and west. The link these people had to the rest of the world was a single strand of steel wire conveying the sound of the Morse code clacker. This wire was the connection between Europe and Australia by overland telegraph to Singapore and then cable from there to Darwin. We are talking the middle 1870’s. The display panels mentioned how the people got their groceries once a year by camel train from the rail head at Oodnadatta. What a day that must have been, the arrival of this years supplies.
It’s very hard to fathom when in 2007 we’re linked by satellites, fibre optic cables taking thousands of streams of data and multi-media on everybody’s mobile phone. We speak to each other when ever we like, wherever we may be. Well that’s the hype!
This is probably as good a place as any to note that for most of this trip our mobile phones have been useless unless in major centres such as Alice. The internet, although available, has been only in small cafés with a big price tag for a very restricted service. These guys are not seeing the full effect of the telecommunications boom and as a result are likely to slip further back in time.
These early people did not have a problem with water as they had the spring across the river, and the river itself is what’s called an upside down river. The water drops down through soft materials on top until it is stopped by a hard pan, which traps it. This means you can get the water back again if you know how to go about it. So they had the necessary things for sustaining life, apart from the aboriginal population that they had around them they were extremely remote from other human contact.
It was here at the Telegraph station that the whole picture of how and why all these things and places we had seen had come together to make the early history of Australia, it was kind of the missing pieces of the puzzle.
This trip above all our trips around Australia has given me a clearer picture of the heart and soul of Australia and a bigger sense of why Australians are so wild, arrogant and proud.