Alice Springs

Alice Springs

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: UNSW Press
Pages: 336
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Alice Springs
    Book Description:

    Alice Springs, Alice, The Alice, Mparntwe is the most talked about but least familiar place in Australia. It is a town of extremes and contradictions: searingly hot and bitterly cold, thousands of miles from anywhere, the heart of black Australia and the headquarters of the controversial NT Intervention. It’s seen as a place where blokes are blokes, yet the town has a high lesbian population. It is the gateway to the red centre, but relatively few Australians have been there. Its striking landscape and modern facilities attract those looking for a desert change, yet it is a town where frontier conflicts still hold sway. Eleanor Hogan’s Alice Springs reveals the texture of everyday life in this town through the passage of the local seasons.

    eISBN: 978-1-74224-601-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[x])
  3. Uterne mpepe
    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 1-18)

      November 2005. I am employed as a Policy Officer for the Aboriginal Health Service in Alice Springs. My office is in a small, subdivided house, a converted butcher’s shopfront near the Gap, the slash in the MacDonnell Ranges that provides the main entrance to town. I enjoy working in this area, not only because it’s five minutes’ bike ride from home, but because it’s in the Bronx or Redfern part of Alice. It’s more down-to-earth than where I was before, in the public service offices near the Mall in the central business district – perhaps almost a little too down-to-earth at...

    • 1 The topography of the Centre
      (pp. 19-38)

      It happens abruptly, the change in the landscape, flying from the coast towards the centre. The swimming pools and the rooftops of suburbia give way to chequerboards of crops and grazing land. There are no signs of civilisation except for the occasional farm or hamlet with its gouged-out dam, and the slashes of orange dirt highways. This scenery fades out quickly, to be replaced by shattered banks of cloud hanging low over red, calloused earth. To some eyes, the landscape registers as barren and void:terra nullius.

      This is where the real world ends, as most Australians know it, and...

  4. Alhwerrpe urle
    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 39-41)

      People gather on the stretch of Gap Road near my end of town, a sign that the Central Australian Football league (CAFl) season has started, the local-level competition of the national game. Teams from remote Aboriginal communities compete, as well as those from Alice Springs, drawing bush people into town to watch their friends and relatives play. Out-of-towners often camp and drink in the Gap area because it’s an easy stroll up to Traeger Park Oval, where the CAFl matches are played on weekends during autumn. The area is popular with Aboriginal visitors as somewhere to cadge lifts back to...

    • 2 The Gap
      (pp. 42-64)

      One Sunday afternoon I decide to walk to the local store to buy some soda water, to which, against my better environmentalist instincts, I seem to have become addicted. The Gap Road Smart Mart or Piggly Wiggly’s is one of a chain of small independent grocery stores dotted across town. To get there I would usually drive or ride, as it’s about ten minutes’ walk from my unit. But I’m curious to know why so many Aboriginal people are in the Gap area this weekend so I walk the long way round to the shop instead.

      My unit is part...

    • 3 ‘You make me sick, anyway’
      (pp. 65-76)

      Another evening as I walk into the Gap Road Smart Mart, a small Aboriginal woman sitting on the pavement reaches out, grabs me by the arm and says, ‘You give me lift into town.’

      She has a strong grip; it’s hard to extricate myself.

      ‘I’m going to buy something in the shop,’ I say, and walk inside.

      It’s eight-thirty, and I’ve had a virus hanging around all day, which manifests itself in aches and pains and a sore throat, a side-effect perhaps from riding to work under-dressed on deceptively cold autumn mornings. I’ve decided that lemsip is the answer, though...

    • 4 The Matilda
      (pp. 77-88)

      The Matilda is low-slung and nondescript, like other local motels and serviced apartments near the Gap. I visited it after landing a job writing about Alice Springs for a tourism website, because I had no idea who would be attracted to staying in these mid-range accommodation options up my end of town. They’re not young and lively enough to draw the backpacker population. And they would lack the comforts of the glitzier options. The CBD is a fair distance away, a walk of maybe twenty minutes.

      The Matilda has a homestead-style appearance, in keeping with its swagman associations. The swagmen...

  5. Alhwerrpe mpepe
    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 89-93)

      Midwinter,alhwerrpe mpepe. The days may be filled with Wedgwood-blue clear skies and the mercury may rise into the early twenties, but the nights often feature biting, sub-zero temperatures. People forget that the desert can be a cold place. If summer’s searing heat doesn’t scorch your struggling plants, you may wake up one morning to find them petrified by mid-year frost.

      I like the year’s midpoint in Alice Springs, not only for the juxtapositions in weather but because it brings out another side in the town’s life. People huddle round hastily built campfires in backyards and in bush clearings, which...

    • 5 ‘Was that a true story?’
      (pp. 94-126)

      Some Aboriginal women sit on the bench outside the old Stuart Town Gaol in the heart of Alice’s CBD. The gaol is a small sandstone structure like a chapel, whose quaint appearance belies its history. It was opened in 1909 and held Aboriginal prisoners: they were chained by the neck and made to walk 300 miles in bare feet to Oodnadatta, then catch the train to Port Augusta to serve their sentences. The women now huddling on the bench are perhaps waiting to be called as witnesses, or are family to someone appearing in the courts next door. They wear...

    • 6 Mukata, mukata
      (pp. 127-134)

      The Alice Springs Festival of the Beanie opens in late June. It is hosted by the Araluen Centre, the local arts and crafts complex on larapinta Drive, the road that snakes out of town along the West MacDonnell Ranges. The festival celebrates the beanie as the traditional Aṉaŋu head covering in central Australia, originally made from emu feathers, seeds and yarn. The beanies are generally known asmukata, from the Pitjantjatjara and luritja languages, although various central desert groups have their own particular word.

      The Beanie Festival has been held yearly since 1997. It began as a community event but...

  6. Urlpme-urlpme
    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 135-140)

      One day I saw a tanned, trenchant fifty-something woman striding up Todd Mall wearing groinlength, pale blue terry towelling shorts and a matching singlet top.

      I knew I shouldn’t get too excited. It was possible she might be a tourist: they always think it’s hot, regardless of the season. Or she might be a local eccentric I hadn’t yet noticed. But wearing shorts was often the first sign of spring in Alice, along with the reappearance of flies and the climb of temperatures from -5 to +5 degrees overnight.

      Shorts-wearing was embraced by all – young and old, male and female,...

    • 7 Desert roses
      (pp. 141-162)

      One morning I found a stubbie holder in the yard outside my office while I was working on Gap Road. It was purple with white print, and featured a paunchy, Cheshire-grinning cat winking and lolling back with a cheroot in one paw. The graphic was encircled with ‘Keep Smiling. The Smiling Pussy.’ ‘Minnie Made ESCORTS’ was inscribed on the other side, along with contact details for an Alice Springs–based business.

      I presumed it had been chucked over the fence from the rather low-key motel next door, but anything was possible. On seeing the familiar post-weekend litter of used condoms...

    • 8 Another world
      (pp. 163-180)

      Beyond the story of white women searching for love and work is the more disturbing history of the impact of frontier relations on Aboriginal women. Local elder Betty Pearce relates an incident from the early 1940s when she was eleven years old and being brought up by her Aboriginal aunties on Huckitta station near Alice Springs. One day, some policemen rode up to the property; they looked stern and purposeful. Pearce said to her aunties that they seemed ‘cheeky’ and they told her to make herself scarce.

      Not long after the police arrived, the white station owner shot himself. The...

    • 9 The Shelter
      (pp. 181-197)

      ‘Everything’s extreme in central Australia,’ Dale Wakefield says. ‘When I first started working here, someone told me, “You prepare for the worst in Melbourne, but the worsthappensin central Australia”.’

      We are sitting at a picnic table in the grounds of the Alice Springs Women’s Shelter, which Wakefield has managed for over four years. The Shelter is fairly unobtrusive in appearance and I must have passed it many times without noticing it, though Wakefield says every Aboriginal person in town would know where it is. Its buildings are solid, brick, late-eighties governmental creations of a type seen across towns...

  7. Uterne urle
    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 198-206)

      October. The big heat is here, and people scurry from one air-conditioned building to the next. By midday the giant digital thermometer outside Frampton’s real estate often reads 37 degrees Celsius or more. Tourists are still marching around town in knee-length shorts, calf-high socks and hats with flyveils. Alice is wrapped in a fug of steam and grit, borne by desert winds. Flies greet you at the airport. The reds, pinks, lilacs and yellows of wildflowers, watered by mid-year rain, dot the highways. You might catch their fragrance on a late, dry afternoon breeze.

      A local once told me that...

    • 10 Real black magic
      (pp. 207-226)

      Was there a black and white divide in central Australian sport? I wondered. How great a source of social and cultural bonding and integration was sport in Alice Springs?

      Professor of Politics Colin Tatz suggests that sport ‘plays a more significant role in the lives of Aborigines than in any other sector of Australian society’ and provides ‘a centrality, a sense of loyalty and cohesion that has replaced some of the “lost” structures’, becoming ‘a vital force in the very survival of several communities now in danger of social disintegration’. Sport has been identified as an effective avenue for engaging...

    • 11 The exhibition
      (pp. 227-244)

      The day before the Papunya Tula gallery’s annual exhibition in late November 2009, its walls are empty. The following morning, they have been rehung with the distinctive earthy-coloured acrylic artworks on which the western desert art movement has built its reputation. The gallery doors remain locked; inside, the staff furiously add last-minute touches to the exhibition. Several art dealers camp on collapsible chairs outside the gallery in the middle of Todd Mall from the early morning onwards. By lunchtime, a line of dealers is pressed against the glass in a manner reminiscent of shoppers at the Myer end-of-year clearance sale....

    • 12 ‘Instead of thinking bad’
      (pp. 245-263)

      I first saw the Yarrenyty–Arltere soft sculpture dolls clustered on the floor of an Araluen Centre gallery against the backdrop of the more familiar panels of dot-painted canvases. Burnt-brown in colour, with bright, elaborate stitching on their sides, the dolls had an air of alertness and movement, as if they’d crawled out of the earth or might take off across the room. A pair of metrehigh emu-like creations led the way, with rings of white, yellow and light brown feathers cloaking their torsos. Behind them, a brace of bush turkeys headed in a determined procession across the floor, with...

  8. Uterne akngerre anthurre re
    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 264-281)

      December 2009, my last summer in Alice. As I waited outside the Gapview Hotel for the shuttle to take me to the airport for my annual Sydney Christmas sojourn, I watched minibuses of Aboriginal people being offloaded to start drinking in the pub at 10 am. I was reminded of the saying that the town operates on the Aboriginal dollar: the taxi companies, the hoteliers, not to mention us, working in the social justice industry. I wished I had something more positive to observe.

      The mood had been sombre in town during the committal hearing for the Kwementyaye Ryder case...

    • 13 The big heat
      (pp. 282-309)

      Six o’clock on a brooding February evening in 2011. Some teenage kids hang over their bikes eating hamburgers on a large vacant lot near the CBD in Alice Springs. When I first came to town, it was the site of Melanka’s, a large backpacker hostel, and one of the main watering holes. A pair of burning torches flanked the entry to the Party Bar, a concrete grotto of a basement where youthful tourists and locals plus the occasional minor celebrity might be seen jiving to a visiting band.

      It’s now a huge dirt patch littered with plastic soft drink bottles,...

  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 310-326)