Day 157: Kangaroos, reptiles and beer, oh my!

I was toying with the title of Snakes Off the Train but didn’t want anyone thinking I’d had an unpleasant close encounter.

At the end of a busy day exploring Alice Springs I am continuing my beer education.

I’ve never been a beer fan (unless fruit beer counts) but in Vietnam, with beer at 20p… I gave up my resistance… and here in Alice, it turns out that my hostel features a craft beer pub.

This is not the raspberry beer that I initially got my eye on. That was 24AUD a pint.

It was a full pint until I took a sip – don’t worry, I haven’t been served a short measure.

So, after a couple of alcoholic ginger beers with Arthur, I’m sampling the Jump Inn ale which is very refreshing and perfect for the novice.

I had a free day today. No tours booked, despite the good efforts of the receptionist when I checked in yesterday.

After an early morning walk around the Olive Pink Botanic Garden, before the day heated up which involved kangaroo spotting, I met up with Arthur (from the Ghan for readers with memory issues) and we headed for a small hub of museums in the centre of Alice Springs.

Some of the ‘grander’ museums appear to have moved out of town which, for me, will be a visit for another day.

We were heading first for the Reptile Centre and, dependent on which hostel or hotel you’re staying in, you can get a discounted ticket… which I did. As a senior citizen, Arthur already had a discounted ticket.

The lizards, snakes and turtles were great.

I wasn’t so keen on the eyeballing that Terry the saltwater crocodile was giving us. He might have been behind bars but there was a mean glint in his eye.

“We ask parents to keep an eye in their kids,” said Lauren who provided us with an interesting and engaging discussion on the reptiles at the centre. “Children are bite-sized”.

Tom the python was far more friendly, without being cuddly – he was quite happily just allowing me to hold him up without gripping.

Being the only two visitors in the centre allowed us to ask all of the questions we had.

Next stop was with the Flying Doctors across the road. Not the TV show.

And not because we needed help either. Don’t panic. This was the museum.

The service was the creation of Reverend John Flynn had worked in rural and remote areas of Victoria and was commissioned to look at the needs of Outback people.

In 1928, he formed the AIM Aerial Medical Service, a one-year experiment based in Cloncurry, Queensland. This experiment later became The Royal Flying Doctor Service, in 1942, the Royal being added in 1955 after a visit by Queen Elizabeth II who was impressed by the stories she heard about the work of the service.

Flynn’s missionary work had involved the establishment of hospitals in bush communities.

This, however, did not help those who lived far from any major community.

In his public speaking he would often retell the tragic circumstances that had befallen several bush settlers. The fate of Jimmy Darcy, in 1917, was one of the key stories.

Darcy was a stockman at Ruby Plains, a remote cattle station in Western Australia.

After being found injured, with a ruptured bladder, by some friends, he was transported over 30 miles (12 hours), to the nearest town, Halls Creek. Here, Darcy was met by FW Tuckett, the Postmaster, and the only man in the settlement trained in first aid.

Tuckett said there was nothing he could reliably do for injuries so serious, and tried unsuccessfully to contact doctors at Wyndham, and then Derby, by telegraph. He eventually got through to a doctor in Perth.

Through communication by morse code, Dr. Holland guided Tuckett through two rather messy bladder operations using the only sharp instrument available, a pen knife.

Due to the total absence of any medical facilities, Darcy had been operated on strapped to the Post Office counter, having first been made insensible with whisky.

Holland then travelled ten days to Halls Creek on a boat for cattle transport, a Model T Ford, a horse-drawn carriage, and even on foot, only to find that Darcy had died the day before.

The operations had been successful, but the stockman had died from an undiagnosed case of malaria and a ruptured abscess in his appendix.

It was from stories like this that Flynn, and his team at the AIM, became inspired to develop a route of communications that could solve the problem of remoteness, not only the planes, and today the service has 77 transporting people for life saving operations and taking medical staff to where they need to be.

This adaptations included improved use of reliable radio communication and the design of charts that ordinary people could use to describe their symptoms to a doctor over the radio.

The service is run by a private company, partly funded by government and partly funded by donations. It’s an incredible achievement.

The museum is a great place to visit, presenting the Service’s fascinating history with documentation, a powerful video presentation and by staff keen to tell you about the work. You can also see the screen where the flights taking place at that moment are tracked.

After lunch, my next stop was to the Women’s Museum of Australia at the Old Gaol.

This is essentially two museums for the price of one as it charts the history of the pioneer women who settled the Outback, through to the women who have been the first in their fields, as well as charting the history of the prison, its staff and the inmates.

The latter in particular is very sensitively done.

You can visit the cells and hear recordings of interviews with the people involved about their experiences here.

The matron, Telka Williams was an advocate of rehabilitation and listening to tell her story in her own words about her approach of introducing training opportunities – dressmaking, typing and a range of other skills – was uplifting.

At one point she says that it hadn’t occurred to her to worry, she didn’t see any situation as a problem.

Another feature was the kitchen, where murals painted by the inmates have been retained. They are stunning.

By this point, the day had warmed considerably… well, I say considerably… it was only 28°C and I had been expecting +40°C… so a couple of ginger beers were necessary.

Most of the people we have spoken to today have talked about the weather.

The temperatures are much cooler than usual and the rainfall at the weekend resulted in the Todd river flowing, briefly.

It was muddy this morning when I crossed it.

We had seen children playing in pools the day before.

People are enjoying the cooler weather for sure.

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