• In the Heart of Oz

    In the Heart of Oz


    In the Heart of Oz


    Alice Springs welcome sign. Credit - Shutterstock

    Alice Springs has personality that I just can’t put my finger on. ‘Alice,’ as the town is fondly known, has her flaws. For example: she’s in the middle of nowhere, the very heart of Australia. But there’s something about the place that’s just irresistible.

    I spent one month in Alice on a work exchange from the hustle and bustle of the 24/7 reception at Sydney Central YHA to the laid back and often motionless front desk of the Alice Springs YHA. My time there was hot, isolating, exuberant, weird and memorable. Everyone I met had a story or three. 

    The hostel guests in Alice were an outlandish mix who seemed to either want temporary escape from city life or adventure en route to Uluru and Kata Tjuta, world heritage national parks. There were also the vagabond labourers passing through Alice on their way to their next outback job – there were cowboys heading to the next cattle stations, fortune seekers looking for lucrative mining jobs and a few adventurous backpackers doing a stint between outback pubs. And they were all drawn into Alice by her quirks. Ever attend a Camel Cup? A beanie festival? A river regatta with no river to speak of? Alice hosts these every year.

    Alice is a town that has always attracted eclectic groups of people – it has inspired explorers, feminists, and artists. John Stuart who the town was named after until 1933 led the first successful expedition to traverse the Australian mainland from south to north and return. His story is her story too in Alice where more than 100 Australian women were pioneers in their fields and are featured in the National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame.

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      If you’re in town for a few days some worthwhile attractions include the Alice Springs Desert Park which harbours many of the  surrounding desert environment and the Olive Pink Botanic Garden, which is surprisingly colourful for an arid climate botanic gardens; both are only a short distance from the town centre.

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      Camel Cup - camelcup.com.au
      Annual Henley-On-Todd Regatta - henleyontodd.com.au
      Alice Springs Beanie Festival - beaniefest.org

    Alice is also of great significance to Aboriginal culture and folklore – every rock and landmark echoes with the desert’s spiritual heritage. Many prominent names in Aboriginal art, including Emily Kngwarreye, Minnie Pwerle, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Albert Namatjira and Wenten Rubuntja learnt their craft in the town.

    On my days off from work, I peddled around the town’s outlaying bike tracks on one of the hostels mountain bikes. Through dry river beds to strange rock formations, past swamps and water holes, I often spotted red kangaroos, rock wallabies, wedge-tailed Eagles, black cockatoos, finches and the occasional water bird or frog.

    Redbank Gorge, Alice Springs. Credit - Shutterstock

    One very early morning I took a dawn camel ride through the dry banks of the Todd River with Pyndan Camel Tracks. From the bumpy heights of my camel I watched the sun rise slowly over the deep oranges of arid soils contrasted by the vivid purples and pinks of desert flowers that surrounded the track’s river red gums, tall coolabah trees and the scarlet red dessert peas. 

    Take the time to wander to the middle of nowhere and you’ll find Alice. It’s a journey well worth the effort and a journey you won’t soon forget. Breathtaking, moving and absurd, this little town epitomizes the spirit of Australian culture and dreaming – it’s a rollicking off-the-beaten-track town that has it all.