Saturday, August 8, 2009

Where is Alice Springs?

Alice Springs is a town situated in the heart of the continent of Australia, centered in the lower third of the Northern Territory. The surrounding countryside, "the Centre" as Australians call it, is parched. The lakes and rivers are dry for most of the time and the cattlemen on the few homesteads depend on water pumped from bores hundreds of feet deep.

The town of Alice Springs was founded in the middle of the 19th Century after the discovery of a sheltered, watered plain among the MacDonnell Ranges, a series of hills which ripple for 250 miles across the land. By 1872 a telegraph station had been built at a water hole beneath a rocky hill. It was called Alice Springs after the wife of Charles Todd, super-intendent of telegraphs in Adelaide, but it is always known as Alice to Australians.

Next came prospectors looking for gold. They left a ghost town at Arltunga not far from Alice. Once back in 1880, they thought they had found rubies by the million, but the gems proved to be cheap garnets, not worth transporting. Cattlemen soon followed, for much of "the Centre" is marginal land that provides good feed when it rains. The knew the rains did not come often, but felt one good season could carry five bad seasons. Often it has had to carry seven or eight bad ones.

The growth of Alice Springs in recent years has astonished everybody. The railroad linked it to Adelaide in 1939 when its population was less than 100. By the Second World War, 1000 people lived there. It was used as a military base after the Japanese bombed Darwin. Stuart Highway, still called simply "the bitumen", was completed from Darwin to Alice, a distance of 954 miles.

Alice Springs attracts crowds of tourists especially during the fine winter weather from June to September. They come for the spectacular scenery, the famous aboriginal artists, and to visit surrounding cattle stations.

Attractions include the tremendous monolith of Ayers Rock which towers 1,143 feet above the plain and is six miles around - the biggest pebble in the world, surrounded by a flat desert. Since the 1950s the area has been suffering from the worst drought people can remember. It is feared that the Centre may turn into a huge dustbowl. So it looks as if the future of Alice Springs lies in its tourist trade and the mineral wealth which experts believe lies under the rugged landscape.

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