A Town Called Alice

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Saturday, May 12, 2012

Naming a hard and tough town that’s located in the middle of the hard and tough Australian Outback Alice Springs is like a father naming his son Sue (didn’t they write a song about that?)- it probably makes you even tougher. Since we had found a reasonable facsimile of Crocodile Dundee, it was time to find this guy named Alice that has a town named after him. It was also time for a couple of Aussie firsts- we wanted to see our first live game of Aussie Rules Football (footie), our first School Of The Air, and it was time to try the Kangaroo pizza that’s been showing up on the menu of some the finer dining establishments in the Northern Territories.

The first of the ‘firsts’, Aussie Rules Football, made for a great afternoon. If you’ve never caught a game on TV the best analogy I can offer up is that of a human demolition derby. I’m sure there’s a rule book involved, but the concept was relatively straightforward to follow- everybody run to where the ball is (or will be) and pulverize anyone trying to touch it. I would assume that by giving it a cutsie name like ‘footie’, the participants are hoping to avoid sanctions from groups like Amnesty International. Most human rights organizations haven’t been fooled, and I think Australia is the only place that plays this game. The NT doesn’t have a club in the top tier of Aussie Rules but they do have a team in the second tier. The NT Thunder splits it’s games between Darwin and Alice Springs, and have one of the best team songs ever; Thunder by AC/DC (unfortunately the guy who put the sound system in must have used a surplus gramophone so instead of shaking the stands, it sounded a little bit like one of our karaoke bars in Manila when our team rolled onto the field- not so intimidating). The field of play covered a couple of time zones so everyone involved has to be in great shape (the pre-game warm-up alone looked to be a full on practise with each team trying to outdo the other in exhausting drills and even the referees/umpires were putting in a top effort trying to perfect some sort of blind behind-the-back launching of the ball from the sidelines that, during the game, would precipitate a multi-car crash of human beings). The game itself was fairly easy to follow especially once we figured out that the third team on the field dressed in yellow wasn’t actually a third team, but numerous ‘runners’ that the coaches would use while the game was underway to get a pearl of wisdom to his far-flung players (I was tempted to use one of these ‘runners’ myself to let the coach know that his team might perform a little better if they weren’t exhausted after the warm-up!!). Our team put up a good fight but without a speaker system that can pump out intimidating AC/DC the outcome was preordained.

The second of our ‘firsts’, the School Of The Air was effectively a virtual school program that originated in Alice Springs to bring the school to kids in some of the more isolated spots in the nearby Outback. It began with a two-way radio technology but has evolved to a broadband internet solution. The teacher operated out of a high tech DJ booth and there were a number of software tools that would allow the kids to participate in much the same way they would in a bricks and mortar environment (although if I were teaching, the mute button might be the only one used!). Apparently the kids perform well on the national tests and the program seems to be a great option for those in isolated circumstances.

The third of our ‘firsts’ is much better to look at as it bounces around the Outback with the odd pause to glance at you with doe eyes and a fuzzy face. On a pizza, a kangaroo doesn’t look particularly appealing although we were assured that the kangaroo was farm raised for just this purpose (I’m sure I heard something about roadkill but we’ll go with the farm story). DH, of course, would have nothing to do with this clear act of caveman eating behaviours and I’m not sure I’ll make a habit of it, but we are in Australia so I was just trying to fit in with the other carnivores

On a more sombre note, Alice Springs, more than any other stop in Australia, did offer up vivid evidence of the countries ongoing struggle with the past and current treatment of the Aboriginal community. I don't think I've ever seen a more concerning example of people living together but distinctly apart. I wouldn't for a minute suggest that Canada has sorted out our own First Nations challenge, but there is something desperately wrong with the current situation in Australia if Alice Springs is any example to go by. One can only hope that the Aussie sense of fair play, and the 'can do' attitude we've seen on our travels will build the appropriate bridge between two very different cultures.

We spent the rest of our time in Alice exploring nearby sites of interest and wandering the streets looking for ‘Alice’, likely the toughest guy in all of Australia. A couple of strong candidates made themselves known to us (and everyone else) but our time here has run out and we’re leaving the land of Oz and we’ll be exploring Indonesia next.
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