The city of Alice Springs nestling in under the MacDonnell Ranges, from Anzac Hill Lookout
20 July 2015
It is a beautiful sunny afternoon as we set off in our coach for a tour of the City of Alice Springs. Our first stop is a visit to the Alice Springs School of the Air (ASSOA) that was established on 8 June 1951, where we saw a very interesting video explaining how the school is conducted, and had the opportunity to inspect the studios and work that the children had submitted. The inspiration of Adelaide Miethke, she recognised that children living in remote conditions were lacking social contacts and believed radio could be used to provide a community aspect to the education of children living in these areas. ASSOA is a distance education organisation involving teachers, support staff, parents, home tutors and students to optimise the learning outcomes for isolated students by providing quality teaching, education materials and personal communication with parents and home tutors.
It is described as “the largest classroom in the world” and covers 1,300,000 sq km or 521,000 square miles. That’s double the size of Texas USA (678,000 sq km or 261,797 sq m), 10 times the size of England , 3 1/2 times the size of Germany and a little over twice the size of France. The final lesson via radio was broadcast at the end of 2005, following the introduction of Interactive Distant Learning (IDL) in 2003. This gave flexibility in the delivery of on air lessons and teachers now use the technology available to ensure the best possible use for each student (teaching studio left).
Each student has a weekly 10-15 minute time slot scheduled using either phone or IDL. Students are encouraged to contact their teacher by phone or email whenever assistance is required. Teachers work with home tutors (often a parent) to adapt programs ensuring the needs of individuals are met. The school provides all of the satellite and computer equipment as required, about $10-$15,000 worth of equipment fully installed at each site. All equipment is returned to ASSOA at the end of enrolment.
You can read more about the ASSOA here
Our next interesting visit was to the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve. This marks the original site of the first European settlement in Alice Springs. Established in 1872 to relay messages between Darwin and Adelaide, it is the best preserved of the 12 stations along the Overland Telegraph Line. Construction of this Telegraph Station began in 1871. The township of Alice Springs takes its name from the waterhole a short distance to the east of the Station buildings. This Telegraph Station operated for 60 years, and then served as a school for Aboriginal children, known as The Bungalow.
The Telegraph Station was midway along the Overland Telegraph Line from Darwin to Adelaide which played a key role in Australia’s development. Opened in 1872, the line suddenly reduced the isolation of Australians from the rest of the world. The exchange of personal and business messages now took hours instead of the months it previously took by sea. By 1900 this very isolated Station was home to a cook, a blacksmith-stockman, a governess, four linesmen-telegraph operators plus the Station Master and his Family.
You can read more about the Telegraph Station here
We were looking forward to our next stop, the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). This began as the dream of the Rev John Flynn, a minister with the Presbyterian Church. He witnessed the daily struggle of pioneers living in remote areas where just two doctors provided the only medical care for an area of almost 2 million square kilometres. Flynn’s vision was to provide a ‘mantle of safety’ for these people and on 15 May 1928, his dream had become a reality with the opening of the Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service (later renamed the Royal Flying Doctor Service) in Cloncurry, Queensland. Over the next few years, the RFDS began to expand and now has 21 bases across the country.
By the 1950s, the RFDS was acknowledged by former Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies as “perhaps the single greatest contribution to the effective settlement of the far distant country that we have witnessed in our time.” Until the 1960s, the Service rarely owned its own aircraft. They used contractors to provide aircraft, pilots and servicing and progressively began to purchase its own aircraft and employ its own pilots and engineers. Today, it owns a fleet of 61 fully instrumented aircraft with the very latest in navigation technology. It operates 21 bases across Australia. Its pilots annually fly the equivalent of 25 round trips to the moon and its doctors and flight nurses are responsible for the care of over 270,000 patients! They have come a long way from that first flight in 1928 which saw the Flying Doctor airborne at last.
The RFDS now has an up to date visitor centre with a theatre, displays and a screen that tracks where every one of the planes are at any given time.
You can read more about the RFDS here
Across the road from the Royal Flying Doctor Service is the Alice Springs Reptile Centre. We were invited to have a look around at the exhibits, then the owner talked to us about snakes and how to treat snake bites, and how it is a fallacy that we have the most dangerous snakes in Australia! A friendly goanna welcomed us (below right), and the cutest Thorny Devils also lived at the centre (below left). The owner explained the reason for the strange gait of the Thorny Devil (like a robot) is to trick the birds into thinking it is a leaf blowing in the wind – even tiny insects are smart! Of course there was a crocodile in its own personal pool at the back of the centre, the owner demonstrated how quickly a croc will sense a slight vibration on the surface of the water, and will react instantly. There have been four recent deaths from crocodiles in the Territory, and it is obvious that those involved with crocodiles are trying hard to educate tourists and locals how swift and dangerous these animals can be, and how to be extremely alert when you are in their territory.
Our last visit for the afternoon was to Anzac Hill, for a view over the city of Alice Springs, as the sun was setting. We continue to be amazed at the sunsets in the Northern Territory, whether the sun is setting over the water, or lighting up the beautiful red rock of the ranges, this time the spectacular MacDonnell Range.
After a safe return to the Doubletree we enjoyed another delicious dinner at the hotel, and are looking forward to a day tour tomorrow to the West MacDonnell Ranges, another early start.