So I finally got around to blogging some of my travels from before I started working.
(me, I’m the editor, hence the terrible grammar)
I was all set to post and then today Trump hired a legitimate anti-Semite as his Senior Counselor. After extensively googling Steve Bannon I discovered he is “a Machiavellian bully”, has embraced white nationalism in his former publications, and has an ex-wife who swore in a court affidavit that he didn’t want his kids going to school with so many Jews. I changed google-ing pace to research how under threat Roe v Wade and the Affordable Care Act are (answer: the threat is real). So at present I’m pretty angry/depressed and my only coping mechanism seems to be wallowing in angry, liberal twitter responses and wondering if a donation to Planned Parenthood will buy me any sanity. So I’m not posting this to be like “we have to celebrate life’s adventures in the face of Trump!” I think at this current juncture that’s not really helpful to anyone.
I’m simply posting this because it was written already and with 24 hours in a day and no family to speak of in Australia, I frankly have time to both write a travel blog, agonize over the country’s future and even fit in 6-10 games of solitaire on my phone because there’s no Wi-Fi at my apartment. I just didn’t want this to read like some travel blogs that are out of touch, as if backpacking Fiji removes you from acknowledging the literal dumpster fire happening in your nation.
So I’ve got a lot of free time and thus a lot of travel posts that are upcoming, I just wanted to acknowledge I realize we are currently living in the literal embodiment of a YouTube comment section and like the rest of the country, I’m still working out what to do with that information. Hope you’re safe and not too depressed. Here’s my time in Alice Springs.
Landing in Alice Springs
Why, you ask, did I choose to start my Australian trip in a small town in the middle of the Outback? It’s because it serves as the beginning of most tours to Uluru, a UNESCO World Heritage site located in the center of Australia. Since I’m the human version of dog breeds that need someone to delicately dab their skin folds with a cool towel — I wanted to be able to go to Uluru before the weather got extremely hot. So I decided to do the Outback first.
Since I was landing in the Outback I figured I’d be greeted by endless desert and a spider roughly the size of a border terrier, but I was surprised to find a lot of greenery and more importantly, a Target, within eyesight of my hostel.
Because I was exhausted and had been in Australia for approximately 4 hours, the Target gave me a small sense of security. Like I was in a strange land, but affordable cotton V-necks were widely available if need be.
A Walking Tour of Alice
My first full day in Australia I joined a walking tour to explore Alice Springs. Alice was essentially a small Outback post until WWII when it was used as a staging area for troops. After that it boasted a population steady enough to eventually land it a Target, KFC and Subway in the middle of the Outback (the sandwich shop, not the mode of transport).
Perking up at any World War II mention I excitedly asked if there was anything detailing that time or how all the troops here shaped the face of Alice Springs.
“Mmm, not really, that’s a good point” responded my tour guide
Letting my WWII balloon deflate, we moved on to the one road of interest to tourists in Alice, The Todd Mall, a pedestrian walkway that consists of shops and cafes:
The Todd River
We also went to the town’s other main feature, the Todd River. As rivers often do, it appears on maps as a wavy blue line.
However, this is the Todd River:
You may notice it has no water, that’s because it is completely dry most of the year. Oh Australia! They even have a dry boat race that they can’t run if the river happened to have water in it that day. It’s said if you’ve seen the river flow three times than you’ve been in Alice long enough to be a local.
With my tour guide we walked out onto the Todd River bed as she told me more about the history of Alice Springs.
- It’s named after a woman who never set foot in the town
- It’s named after a spring that actually turned out to be a large pool of runoff water
The Todd River while beautiful at sunset, also has a bit of a reputation as any quick google of “is Alice Springs safe?” will show you. My tour guide explained many Aboriginal people come to town from more remote areas seeking to buy alcohol. It’s illegal to drink it openly in the streets so they sometimes settle in the banks of the Todd River to do it.
One Aboriginal man actually emerged from the banks to greet us because he knew my tour guide. He was perfectly lovely, but I was warned by a few locals not to wander there alone at night.
This set up makes it so, unfortunately, a noticeably struggling portion of the Aboriginal community is the one most visible to tourists. They occupy the same streets as the tourists, but without a great understanding of the situation and with a vague sense of white guilt, tourists politely avoid them.
I asked my tour guide if she knew more about the situation. She was a white woman who had lived in Alice Springs for many years and came there originally to teach English to Aboriginal children in their communities.
She explained to me that since the British landed in Australia they had decimated and oppressed the Indigenous population. Until 1967 Indigenous Australians weren’t even legal citizens, they were considered wards of the state. Additionally there was a policy that allowed the government to remove Indigenous children from their parents, against their will, in an attempt to forcibly assimilate them to white culture. This policy went on into the 1970s, and surprise, was a complete disaster.
So currently, while steps have been made to improve the situation, like any good colonists-systematically-oppress-non-white-population stories (see: America) it is not so easy and quick to fix. The effects of the government’s disastrous policies are still visible today as the Aboriginal population lags behind non-Aboriginal Australians in many different quality of life measures.
I asked my tour guide if she felt things were improving. She said yes, but added “sometimes it feels like we take one step forward and two steps back.”
I don’t pretend to be an expert, but if you came to Alice Springs, the intersection of Indigenous people and tourists is so obvious it seems inappropriate to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Bite Size Historical Attractions
The next day I wanted to see some of the historic buildings of Alice Springs mentioned on my tour. Being so remote, its landmark historical buildings are a number of the town’s “firsts” –first Gaol (jail), first hospital and the first school.
The school and hospital were small attractions that you had to check a handmade sign on the door to find out which three hours a day they were open. The first hospital, or Adelaide House, included a cup of tea in its cost of admission and the first school is relatively new for a historical site, as some of its old pupils are alive and well in the town. However, the winner of the quaint-historical-attraction-cake was definitely the Gaol.
Not for historical reasons, but because when I asked my tour guide how to see the jail she responded:
“Oh you just get the key from the school, open up the jail yourself, have a look around and then return the key.”
My eyes widened “Wait, open it yourself!?”
This was simply the most amazing historical tourism thing I had ever heard!
Despite this idea being one poorly mounted night-cam away from an episode of MTV’s Fear*, I knew I had to try it out. So I paid $2 for the opportunity and a $20 deposit in case I ran away with the giant key, and I was set loose in the town to make my way to the jail.
I began unlocking the padlocks half expecting someone to arrest me for trespassing, but when no one appeared I moved inside. It was apparent it would be very easy for someone to lock me in the jail, so I simply carried all the locks around with me.
It had a small exhibit that explained a bit about the history and was split into a small and large room. Turns out it’s because the jail was segregated with Aboriginal prisoners housed in the smaller room and white prisoners in the larger one.
You could still see the chain rings on the floor that the prisoners would have been shackled to. Aware that despite the novelty of this all, I was in a small area that many people suffered in, and furthermore, that even without the padlock an enterprising soul could figure out how to lock me in there, I quickly made my way outside.
There I found a large mural whose description I’m paraphrasing, but was something to the effect of “This has nothing to do with the history of the jail and was painted to improve the look of the area”
I appreciate the honesty Australia! I locked the place up and went to get my deposit back.
More Outback adventures to come!
*Don’t pretend you didnt watch MTV’s Fear.