Alice Springs Area
2-15 May, 2001

2/5/2001 Alice Springs & environs

We passed the turnoff to Rainbow Valley. Robbie deemed the 22 km dirt road off limits - quite rightly as we're trying hard not to tarnish the vehicle.

On entering the Alice we drove beside the Todd River, noticing groups of aboriginal pople sitting in the river bed which now has some dry patches. We were now in a different part of Australia and it was quite exciting driving through a substantial and colourful town to its centre to enquire at the info centre. We applied for our fossicking licence for use later at Gemfields. We again proved the tourist brochures wrong as the Bang-tail muster is 3 days after the published date - quick change of plans resulted.

We hung around town for the next few days staying at 2 (yes 2) van parks. The second park had black rock wallaby feeding (and patting) - at which she spent most of her time. It was also State of Origin - and we organised to watch at the van park bar with about 25 others.

We visited the Strehlow Institute & 4 associated museums/galleries which were fascinating. We interrogated at length the 'white' workers to get their interpretation of the 'aboriginal scene' here. We also loved the reptile park (in someone's backyard) where we petted geckoes, frill-necks, bearded dragons, pythons, shinglebacks & the adorable thorny devils but not the poisonous snakes or goannas.

Strehlow Centre: Great Natural History Museum


Reptile park romance

Zoe with & without make-up

5/5/2001 Alice Springs Bangtail Muster

We had a great day on the day of the bang tail muster. It was very much like the Melon fair parade we saw in Green River, Utah with its marching school kids, fire, police, ambulance, bands, politicians. It was fun in a rural way.

Bangtail Muster Parade



Afterwards we joined in the sports day at the oval. Many races were present with the majority aboriginal. It was great fun. It was run by whites (plus 1 Fijian) who knew many of the kids - I think they ran the YMCA sports program. The aboriginals displayed exceptional athletics skills especially in the many spontaneous Aussie rules games. The kids were also extremely aggressive towards each other. This can probably be partly explained by the fact that they are probably related and cousins are equal to brothers in their culture. We have already noted that the adults can be publically aggressive towards each other as well. We admired a girl run named Terri Miller. I hope we see her run in the 2008 Olympics. She's Zoe's age & she beat Zoe who's no slouch (& the rest of the under 16's) by more than 20 metres in the 120 metres race.

Volleyball serving competition


We visited the gaps and gorges of the East McDonnell's staying overnight at the standout - Trephina gorge. We were excited to find a 1.5 metre eastern brown snake wandering past us as we cooked dinner at the gas bar-b-que provided. We stood only a metre away to watch him glide casually past - probably a bit close in retrospect.

Trephina Gorge

Our stop at the 2nd van park was great. In one night we had showers, washed clothes, fed wild rock wallabies, watched a reptile demo AND watched the league state of origin on the tavern's TV.

Our subsequent visit to the west McDonnell's has been terrific. Ormiston Gorge, Simpsons Gap, Glen Helen & co were all worth the visit. The only slight disappointment was Standley Chasm, now aboriginal owned, where after paying a $20 entry fee we found that rock overhangs stop the sun lighting up the gorge as expected from about April to August.

Simpsons Gap

Glen Helen Gorge - late afternoon to sunset

My idea of aboriginals being non-materialistic has proved profoundly wrong so far. As an illustration, the only 3 natural landforms we've had to pay to see so far are all aboriginal owned.

Wallace Rock Hole

Our visit to Wallace rockhole was very informative. This is an aboriginal settlement with commercial campground. The campground is well appointed and run well - recommended. In addition to showers! we got a aboriginal bush tucker/history lesson plus answers to some very curly questions from the guide. Admittedly he is white but his wife is a local aboriginal and he has lived as the only white in the community almost since it started 25 years ago. He was the town clerk until the law was changed so that position required a university degree. His attitude is that black & white should be treated more equally; that blacks are treated so differently as to marginalise them; that the days were preferable when blacks worked on stations in exchange for goods (were able to retain their heritage by going bush during the wet seasons) or lived on missions & were paid to work - doing most of the trade and admin. Maybe the previous system before (ie. mission days) wasn't the best - but it was better than what the new system with self determination / land rights has brought with it. Doesn't sound politically correct, does it? He said elders in the community thought the old system was better. (View backed up by Yolnu community in Arnhemland book we've read.) Change also undermines the security of communities. He felt it better to put a stake in the ground and move on from there. Then they have something to build on. But new rules and changes that occur within policy and admin doesn't help. His view has been supported by others we've spoken to in Alice. The new system is generally regarded as the start of alcohol being so widespread and many starting to hang around towns (rather than living out on stations). He was also concerned about the huge number of people employed in the government's aboriginal support system (mostly white). Government depts do not downsize readily! He regarded it as the largest industry in Australia. Also, his community wanted him to represent them on their council but ATSIC said he wasn't allowed unless he was declared aboriginal (by elders and his acceptance). His community would have accepted him - but he said that in the end he couldn't deny what he was. The community would have probably wanted him representing them as he would have been more comfortable dealing with gov and politics and gov admin bodies, and white people in general. He told us aboriginals have always been divided along family/clan lines. This is vividly reflected in the running of both ATSIC and the Central Lands Council which are regularly hamstrung by opposing family/clan interests. eg. land doesn't always go to the rightful traditional custodians or does not respect the traditional land boundaries.

I also spoke to his recent replacement (white) and the council president (black) at length but gained little insight. This was frustrating as the clerk had held the same position in 5 different communities of which only 1 he classed as an unsuccessful community - I had hoped for greater insight into the reason for its failure.


Wallace Rock Hole Tour (Bushtucker / art tour)

We cruised back to town to pick up mail from dad so that I can do our stupid BAS. I had forgotten all my notes in the last 6 weeks so I did some creative guessing before paying a large bill to the ATO. We then snuck back to free camp at Jessie's Gap in the East McDonnells. Visited a great little church on Sunday - about 100 people (Church of the Rock). Met by boot throwing partner from the Bangtail Muster (Hi Levina).

Desert Park

Next day we spent at the Desert Park. If we hadn't already seen so much 'in the raw' it would have been outstanding. It was still good though.


Arernta weaponry

Chasing dinner

14,15/5/2001 Gemtree Area North of Alice

After yet another van park stay to feed the wallabies we took our 3 collectors of to Gemtree to do some fossicking for riches unimaginable.

On day 1 these diligent searchers found about a million garnets of which 5 were of sufficient size & quality to be cut. Ironically, when they tired of the laborious digging/sieving/washing technique they reverted to their proven method of squattingin the car park & found thier best quality gems.


Fossicking for garnets

Sorting the garnets at Gemtree

Before we left the following day the intrepid ones demanded time at the Zircon fields. Once again using rudimentary methods they retrieved a goodly pile from the dust. Covered in dust & glory we headed north to the land of the warmer nights.