The Remarkable Red Centre Part Three – A Pilgrimage To Mparntwe/Alice Springs

Our final Red Centre post revolves around Mparntwe. You’ll know it as Alice Springs. The Abo­rig­i­nal Arrernte (pro­nounced arrun­da) peo­ple are the tra­di­tion­al cus­to­di­ans of ‘Alice Springs’ and the sur­round­ing region. Mparn­twe (pro­nounced m’barn-twa), is the Arrernte name of Alice Springs. Between 1871 and 1933, Alice Springs was sim­ply the name of a water­hole adja­cent to the tele­graph sta­tion and named after Alice Todd, wife of Sir Charles Todd. Apparently she never even visited the town! It began its mod­ern (?) his­to­ry as the town­ship of Stuart and was offi­cial­ly gazetted Alice Springs by gov­ern­ment admin­is­tra­tors in Ade­laide on 31 August 1933. The in-between of this story can be read here – if you’re interested. I suspect, like me, you didn’t even know it had another name for over 65,000 years. So I would heartily encourage you to discover its real history.

Adverse Press About Mparntwe/Alice Springs

Mparntwe/Alice Springs is described as ‘the gateway to the Northern Territory’s epic outback … the beating heart of Australia’s Red Centre.’ I’d tend to agree. It has, however, sadly suffered from much adverse press coverage in recent times. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the roots of this challenge lie around the introduction of a different form of alcohol than they were used to. The facts of how the invaders did this are quite appalling:

“Aboriginal people knew of and used mild alcoholic drinks before the arrival of the invaders. Their use, however, was strictly controlled. They produced alcohol from a variety of plants.

” …Aboriginal alcohol use changed significantly after white people invaded Australia. Within weeks of the arrival of the First Fleet the first pubs opened and this would shape the way Australian society developed over the next few decades. Many Aboriginal labourers were paid in alcohol or tobacco (if their wages were not stolen). In the early 1800s a favourite spectator sport of white people in Sydney was to ply Aboriginal men with alcohol and encourage them to fight each other, often to the death. White settlers also gave alcohol to Aboriginal people to pay for sex. Alcohol-induced prostitution harmed child rearing and accelerated the birth rate of mixed descent children, usually rejected by their European fathers.

… While Aboriginal people generally drink less than non-Aboriginal people, those who do are more likely to drink at hazardous levels. Unfortunately, many reports focus on these results rather than the fact that generally they drink less.

Source: Aboriginal alcohol consumption – Creative Spirits, retrieved from

So the invaders took away the dignity of the First Nations people, as well as massacring thousands of them, stealing their land and taking their children. Aboriginal people previously used ways of living that didn’t rely on making as much money as possible. Yet now, having almost managed to destroy this centuries-old way of life, descendants of those invaders are calling these beautiful people all the nasty names they can dream up. It really is incomprehensible to me.

I’ve never seen so many CCTV cameras as we did in Alice Springs. Anyway, once again I digress …

While in Alice from Friday evening to Sunday morning, we witnessed no problems at all. This could be down to a recent alcohol sale curfew throughout the town. A newspaper report from Thursday 9th March, reports on the challenges – there has been a drop in reported crimes since the new strict alcohol laws were introduced.

It’s a complex challenge that I’d invite you to learn more about. It’s endemic in white Australians and causes many problems.

Magnificent Mparntwe/Alice Springs & Surrounds

Approaching the town we drove through Tjoritja – the West MacDonnell Ranges – it was breathtakingly beautiful. I could certainly understand then why Jenny had wanted to visit them. And she did – but sadly only a tiny part. Check out the video below that shows some of the highlights – and Jenny’s visit to Simpson’s Gap towards the end of this post.

Jenny had booked us a gorgeous AirBnB called The Ilparra Cottage – With Sunset Views (the latter was definitely not true, as I tried to see a sunset when Jenny was at Simpsons Gap and failed miserably!), a short drive out of town. It was an excellent choice despite the lack of a sunset view – we wished we’d stayed longer. But funds for us both are/were limited and we appreciated every moment.

We arrived in the evening and needed to shop for food and a bottle of wine. We found a small grocery store for food but weren’t able to buy alcohol as it was after 7 pm. Ah well. We weren’t too bothered, understanding the rationale behind this new rule, and settled in for a cosy evening catching our breath after so much travelling in such a short time.

Alice is purportedly the art centre of Australia, and we saw evidence of this all around. The vibrant greens and browns of the ranges were spectacular. The town is much bigger than I expected, with a river running through it. Actually, it’s just a riverbed most of the year, and it’s famous for its annual riverbed race –The Henley On Todd Regata – which would be hilarious to witness. It’s being held on Saturday 19th August this year.

Watch the video to get the idea and have a laugh – plus some great views of the town –

Alice Springs Desert Park

On Saturday 18th March we drove to Alice Springs Desert Park. The only place we saw a kangaroo in the three weeks we stayed in Australia!

Opened in 1997, the Park was endorsed by Sir David Attenborough as the best in the world, during a visit in 1997, saying there is no museum or wildlife park in the world that could match it. We could absolutely see why. Our experiences were first class, and every person we met seemed totally committed to the animals and the upkeep of the place.

The Desert Park is closely connected to the local Arrernte people and embraces parts of the Akngwelye and Yeperenye Altyerre (Wild Dog and Caterpillar) dreaming stories. The stories and history of the Arrernte people, together with the plants and animals they are responsible for, are told through the interpretation and creation of three distinct desert habitats – Desert Rivers, Sand Country and Woodland. These habitats allow visitors to experience desert life as it really is. Guide presentations, a free-flying bird show and the opportunity to see endangered animals in the Nocturnal House are some of the highlights.

Emu Experience

Our first encounter was with an Emu, whose name I forget! What a gentle gorgeous creature. Our Ranger obviously had a close connection with this one. She came walking hurriedly over as soon as she got to the enclosure and stayed listening to stories about her and her kind. I guess the real reason was she knew she’d get fed!

An interesting fact I recall is that emus can’t walk backwards. I guess the shape of them means if they did they’re likely to topple over 😂

Nature Theatre Brilliant Free Flying Bird Show

Next was an outstanding free-flying live bird show. It literally looked as if the birds were all actors in a show and appeared on cue. And performed to perfection. I was mesmerised by the whole thing. You’ll see we certainly got up close and personal.

The buzzard (I think!) showed how he attempts to break an emu egg. And one bird of prey flew off into the ranges but apparently that happens – but they always return …

Seeing a Tawny Frogmouth up close was immensely special. It’s one of my favourite Wingspan birds.

Walking away we saw the enclosures that the birds were let loose from and walked back to on cue. The Ranger would say something and the other Ranger would know to let each bird out. Very clever.

Debunking The Dingo Story

Next, we walked back to the dingoes enclosure. They weren’t wanting to come out much, as it was so hot! But one eventually did, and obviously felt safe with the Ranger. While we were listening to the Ranger telling us more about Dingoes, some idiot passer-by shouted ‘baby killer’. Honestly. Why would you do that? It’s a bit like saying sharks need to be killed when someone dies due to a shark attack. Or that Keas should be culled (and sadly were until the NZ government saw the light!). You’re in THEIR territory! Camping in the outback is wild animals’ land. You do take your chances! And sometimes the gambler loses …

It was heartwarming to watch this amazing Ranger with the dingoes and hear her valuable information about them.

The dingo’s relationship with indigenous Australians is one of commensalism, in which two organisms live in close association, but do not depend on each other for survival. They both hunt and sleep together. The dingo is, therefore, comfortable enough around humans to associate with them, but is still capable of living independently.”

They’ve lived in the country for thousands of years and are fascinating creatures.

The Nocturnal House

We continued to the Nocturnal House. Thank goodness this was almost!) the only place we saw poisonous reptiles. There were some fascinating ones – like the uniquely Australian Piedish Beetle. A wide variety of snakes and spiders of course – it was Australia after all!

It all reminded me of the movie ‘Back To The Outback’. Have you seen it? I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched it with my UK grandsons. It was brilliant to be in the outback where those creatures come from. It’s a fun film.

An Amazing Aviary

Here we saw Mulga Parrots and more Black Cockatoos. There are so many colourful and crazily loud birds in Australia – a cacophony of noise follows you almost everywhere …

The Only Kangaroos

I was stoked to see a kangaroo here, albeit at a distance. Despite trying, we didn’t see any others in our three weeks in Australia. It may be due to them being crepuscular, which means they’re active mainly at dawn and dusk.

Here’s a fact about Red Kangaroos I find amazing:

“Female red kangaroos can have three babies on the go at once: a young joey hopping around at her feet, a small baby in the pouch and a tiny embryo. Within a few days of giving birth, she mates again. As long as there’s another infant in her pouch, she’ll keep this one in a state of suspended animation. It stops growing when it’s about a quarter of a millimetre long and won’t start growing again until its sibling leaves the pouch. This is called embryonic diapause. This unique reproductive system helps kangaroos cope with the ups and downs of life in the bush and maintain their numbers through tough times.”

As you’ll see from the image below, she has one type of breast milk for that Joey at her feet and another for the one in her pouch. Altogether THAT’S definitely a dedicated smart mum!

We loved the Desert Park. Highly recommended if you ever get the opportunity to visit Mwaptrne/Alice Springs.

Art In Alice

Scattered around the town we saw many First Nations people sitting selling their superb art. We stopped to look and chat but I had no room, or funds, for any more artwork sadly. Alice is the Art Centre of Australia with many galleries … plus heaps of murals scattered around. The paintings in the images are from the Airbnb we stayed at and the airport. All stunning.

A Pilgirmage Walkabout To Alice Springs Hospital

My main objective here was to visit the hospital and staff accommodation, where Andrée worked, lived and died. Jenny drove us there and waited in the car while I wandered around. It was very emotional, I never imagined I’d get an opportunity to visit and pay my respects to her.

I found a quiet prayer room on the ground floor and sat there for a while. As you’ll know, I’m not a ‘believer’, but I do find these spaces comforting. I’d like to think that Andrée may have sat there too when she was feeling wretched. The Maternity Unit was far larger and more modern than I’d expected. Quite lovely. I was able to gain access to ask if anyone working had been there in 2007. No one on duty had, though they said there were staff still working who had.

I left there feeling a sense of comfort that I’d seen where she’d worked, and continued to the dismal-looking staff accommodation. I’d imagined little self-contained units in the desert. It was nothing like that. Faceless blocks of flats, that looked lonely as hell. My heart ached for her and how alone, desperate and scared she would have felt in her final days.

I couldn’t get close to the accommodation, it’s all locked with gated access, but I managed to put a black cockatoo feather and purple flower I’d picked, through the gate. Andrée’s favourite colour was purple you see. I saw it as a sign walking past black cockatoo murals along the path to the staff accommodation. I’d found the feather the previous day.

Rest in peace and love Andrée.

The West Macdonnell Ranges

I got a little lost walking back to Jenny and the car, but got there eventually in the sweltering heat! We returned to the accommodation, and I was ready for a quiet evening. I felt quite spent emotionally and physically after the day.

Jenny’s mission was to visit the West Macdonnell Ranges, so I suggested she go and I’d stay and rest – and cook our dinner. Of course, when I saw Jenny’s photos and heard what she’d seen, I wished I’d gone with her!

Jenny’s Simpson’s Gap Story

“Late Saturday afternoon I decided that I had enough time to go to Simpson’s Gap-Rungutjirta which was only about a 20 min drive from where we were staying. I really wanted to see it as my friend Kerri had hiked the 223km Larapinta Trail a couple of years ago, which follows the Western MacDonnell Ranges, and this was one of many stops along the way. Hats off to her – 14 days and carrying tents, food etc with freezing temperatures overnight! 

Arriving at an empty carpark, I walked an easy trail, alongside amazing ghost gums growing from the dry sandy creek bed, heading towards the V-shaped gap. The huge red cliffs looming up on either side started to close in and there wasn’t a breath of wind to disturb the pool of water that disappeared through the narrow chasm between the cliffs, The only sound was the birds and you could feel it was a deeply spiritual place. As I was taking photos of the sun turning the tops of the cliffs into dazzling gold which reflected in the water, I noticed some movement in the rocks above me. It was a black-footed rock wallaby catching the last rays…and then I realised there were about six or so. So cute and what a shame Sandra wasn’t there!

A bushfire somewhere in the distance created an incredible sunset as I drove back.

WOW! Once again, we barely scratched the surface of this awe-inspiring area.

Below is the closest I could get to seeing the incredible sunset from the AirBnB – this was walking to the end of the drive. The description ‘with sunset views’ is a little exaggerated …

Alice Pink Botanical Gardens

Our Red Centre time was almost over. It had gone far too swiftly and we were both reluctant to leave. Our Sunday flight was scheduled for 10.20 am, so we had just enough time to pack up and head to the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens.

Olive Pink was a woman after my own heart with a fierce commitment to Aboriginal people. I wish more Australians felt so strongly. This is another special space we wished we’d had more time to wander around – and maybe see more rock wallabies!

Farewell To Alice and The Red Centre

We parked the hire car at the airport, though not in the designated company numbers as there was no space! Jenny dropped the keys off and we made our way to the gate. We did get a little waylaid gazing at artworks and lingering in the shop (me!), which meant we were the last ones to board. I suspect neither of us wanted to leave.

We were surprised to see what looked like a ‘parking lot’ of aircraft next to the runway. Which it actually is and has been since 2014:

“Alice Springs offers the perfect environment for the preservation of aircraft and their inherent capital value. The facility benefits from an arid desert environment characterized by an average year round humidity of approximately 25%, outside Australia’s cyclone zone, low rainfall, and with low lying vegetation providing additional dust suppression qualities.”

Reflecting On The Australian Genocide

Annually since 1998, on 26th May, Australia has held a ‘National Sorry Day‘ to give people the chance to come together and share the steps towards healing for the Stolen Generations (Indigenous Australians who were forcibly removed from their families and communities until 1969!), their families and communities.

When I was researching this post, I listened to a YouTube video about this that described the invasion of this country and the taking of Indigenous children as ‘genocide’. Wow, I thought. That’s a strong word I hadn’t previously associated Australia with. It actually IS a fact. Read on if you can …

What is Genocide?

The Convention defines genocide as:‘any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  • killing members of the group
  • causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
  • deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
  • imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
  • forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

How anyone could ever have believed this to be ok is completely beyond my comprehension. It’s been a form of attempt at racial cleansing for 250 years. This is a country that’s talked about widely as being such a great place to live. I suspect mostly naively without the slightest notion of the atrocities that have been undertaken ‘legally'(I use that word very loosely).

Kevin Rudd was the Prime Minister in 2008, who had the care and compassion, as well as intelligence, to ask First Nations People what form the apology should take. On 13th February 2008, a formal apology was offered to the Stolen Generations. John Howard, the previous Prime Minister, refused to apologise on behalf of Australia to the long-mistreated Aboriginal community. Andrée refers to him below. I wish she’d waited a while longer. It just may have made a difference. But I doubt it.

At least 1:10 children, more likely 1:3, over 100,000, were taken from their mothers often to abusive institutions, to ‘take the Aboriginality out of them’. Oh. My. Goodness. Seriously? It was an almost successful attempt to destroy their culture. Listening to some of the stories from adults, who were stolen as children, is heartbreaking.

Remembering Fondly My Dear Adopted Sister

Andrée, I have wept silently countless times recently, realising in some small way the depth of your despair and devotion to the Aboriginal people. The ‘problems’ relayed shockingly on Australian TV of violence and alcohol problems in places like Alice Springs, have their foundations in the atrocities inflicted upon this proud culture since we invaded their Country and took them away from their ancestral lands.

In Andrée’s last email to me when she asked for a reference as she was heading up to the Northern Territories, on 1st July 2007, she said:

dont know if anna passed it on. i am leaving thursday. they dont want references, they dont have time. they just want a couple of lines to say i have  worked with indigineuos population and am culturally safe. that is howards token effort to being culturally sensitive will write wen i have more time. xxx onz

Andrée Marie email

If only I’d known then, what I know now, about Developmental Trauma, maybe I could have helped her heal. But the knowledge is recent, and still developing here in the UK and throughout the world, of the devastating effects of childhood trauma. Let’s hope the Stolen Generations children get the help they deserve after their atrocious treatment.

Here’s Andrée and me together (along with Marguerite) having heaps of fun at Napier’s Art Deco weekend, February 2005. I still miss you so much, my special soul sister.

Back To Meeanjin/Brisbane

We flew from Mparntwe/Alice Springsto Meeanjin/Brisbane. I took with me, and will always have in my heart, so many magical memories of our time there. I felt truly at ease in the Red Centre. After discovering so much more about the history of this beautiful country and its real owners, I hope one day I have an opportunity to return and linger longer.

I fervently encourage Australians to vote overwhelmingly YES to the Uluru Statement From The Heart this year. The First Nation people deserve no less. They are the only indigenous people in the world not to have a treaty. Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land. The time has come to say “Fair’s fair”, To pay the rent, to pay our share, The time has come, a fact’s a fact, It belongs to them, let’s give it back – or at the very least work and walk together:

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is an invitation to the Australian people from First Nations Australians. It asks Australians to walk together to build a better future by establishing a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution, and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission for the purpose of treaty-making and truth-telling.”

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