Springtime at the Alice by Connie Scholl

Published on 12 October 2003 in Discovery (Please wait)

A single bloom comes to life in the desert after a scrub fire.

November 26, 2002 – From my Travelogue:

Here we are in Alice Springs, or Alice to locals. We pulled up in the Ghan, a popular train journey from Adelaide. We rattled along for 20 hours in our Red Kangaroo Sleeper carriage, with 2 compact fold-down beds, a tiny fold-down sink, and a minute fold-out table (All those familiar with CATS may begin belting out “Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat…the Cat of the Railway Train!”). It is a fine, olde-worlde way to travel if you are not pressed for time and do not exceed 6’3″ in height.

The saga of the Ghan began in 1877 as part of a trans-continental railway from Adelaide to Darwin. The final 1500km section of the rail from Alice to Darwin will be completed in 2003. The current rail runs nearly 2000km from Adelaide to Alice, although if you start in Sydney the number jumps up another 1000km. The Ghan took its name from the Afghan camel drivers who took passenger and freight from Oodnadatta to Alice in camel trains before the rail can be extended to Alice. The Old Ghan (now replaced) was undeniably romantic and notoriusly unreliable. Trains have been known to become stranded in the desert for 10 days with supplies parachuted in and augmented by the train driver shooting the occasional wild goat to feed his passengers.

Fortunately for us our modern Ghan was only 3 hours late. Now that may not sound like a lot but we had been holed up at the station for 8 hours. We had returned our rental car, waved goodbye to our friend in Adelaide, and the station h h no bar nor Internet connection. I amused myself by alternately reading, pulling on Robs whiskers, and spending money at the gift shop.

We got on the train in Victoria’s golden wheat and sheep country, and woke up in the Simpson Desert in Northern Territory. The brutal red soil is the oldest in the world, the relentlessly hollow sky seems impossibly far from the vast flat landscape, the plants – such as they were – were scrappy, and the people all looked like they could use a drink.

It has not rained in Alice since February. So of course the day we pull in we are whacked by a storm that came out of nowhere. An upside to the rain is that we will be treated to the rare sight of the Todd River flowing with water. It’s a lucky thing the Henley-on-Todd Regatta is done with this year. Each September Northern Territorians gather at Alice in a series of highly contended boat races. Since the Todd is dry 11 months of the year, the indomitable Australians have cut the bottom out of their boats and the crews simply run down the dry riverbed carrying their crafts. You may enter any number of categories for the Regatta, including a submarine class. One year the Todd flooded early and the Regatta had to be cancelled.

Connie Scholl

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