We’ve had three days to explore Alice Springs and, sleepy town that it is, it has a unique charm. It’s quite a big place and, if your ideas were formed by Joe Harman describing it as a ‘bonza place’ in Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice, you might get a shock. It’s quite a bustling place, with nearly 30,000 people living in and around the town. While we had a nice resort pool to lie around, there was a lot to see and do.  

The place certainly has a history going back before World War 2; we discovered that it had actually been part of a centrally administered territory for a while, when the Commonwealth took the area from South Australia. The McDonnell Ranges, which sit just outside our window at the hotel (Double Tree), glow with colour, particularly in the late afternoons, and the desert birds are everywhere. After the deadly dry red around Marla, Alice is surprisingly green.

Of course, this is the quintessential outback town, with John Flynn’s grave on the outskirts, and the various missionary churches through the place. We didn’t get to go near the MSC/OLSH mission that is out to the east, but that kind of pioneering is still under the surface. Of course, for decades it was the Ghan railhead and the centre of the cattle industry for all points north. A reminder that it was a key base in the War is up on Anzac Hill – I probably should remind the kids that their maternal grandfather was based here. Now it is tourism central, but walking through the town are the original owners, with the whole range of types of people but – an unusual condition to those of us who see indigenous people in urban settings – speaking local languages.  

We are shopping for a piece of art for the dining area at home, and I think we are pretty committed to a piece of indigenous art from the Lands or other indigenous communities. The dominant style we see are dot paintings, but we are seeing many styles and learning as we go. It is interesting to see art that is becoming even more eclectic and syncretic – it’s not a dead tradition; but the stories behind each work and the history of the artist, often part of an extended clan of painters, is interesting to hear.

Tuesday was a lazy day around the pool, enjoying company before a nice Italian up the road; but Wednesday was the full-on road trip out along the West McDonnell’s to Glen Haven Homestead, stopping at the various points of interest along the way and swimming in the waterhole at Ellery Big Hole. Stanley Chasm was stunning to photograph, but the whole drive was a procession of sights as we drove between the ranges, which were like stone ripple parallel to our track.  

Then back through town to think about our ‘artistic investment’ – and, being us, we changed out minds. The one we liked was more than we wanted to pay, and Paula’s radar starting firing about value for money; so by trial and error we found our way to one of the better places, made friends with the owners of the gallery, and started rumbling around in the stock room. More on the painting later, but we were as charmed why ith the the story as with the painting. Bush food budgerigars will now hang over the dining room table!

It will be an early start tomorrow, dropping Aidan at Marla before the long, straight line drive to Woomera. Hope we get there in time to see the missile park!