Monday, August 03, 2009

A Town Called Alice

On the afternoon of the day after we left Adelaide, we arrived in Alice Springs, a town of 27,000 that is about as close to the middle of nowhere as I’ve ever been. It’s also as close to the middle of Australia as most visitors ever get. This whole area is known as the Red Centre, and is indeed both red and central.

Two things about Alice reminded me of Arizona. One was the MacDonnell Ranges, a ridge of adobe-colored, weathered hills that looked like rocks I’d seen in the Southwest.

The second thing that made me feel like I was in Arizona was the sad collection of dilapidated houses on the outskirts of town. Watching the news the day we arrived, I saw a report about the Aboriginal people who lived in these houses. The structures were provided by the government but were so inadequate that residents had taken to cooking in their front yards. The situation shocked me a little, and reminded me of a depressing college road trip across a Native American reservation in Arizona.

Alice Springs was the first place where Pipi and I saw Aboriginal people in any number. I don’t mean to make the situation sound entirely bleak. A number of businesses in town did seem to be Aboriginal-owned, and galleries sold a lot of quality indigenous art. But it was hard to ignore the aimless crowds of Aboriginal people congregating in the dry riverbed that runs through town. Some sat reading like they were at the beach, some painted, and some stared into space like they were just taking a personal moment to regroup. But as we crossed the river on our way to dinner, it was clear that most were hunkering in for an evening spent drinking around bonfires.

Pipi and I were a little taken aback, especially since we had seen so few homeless (or under-housed) people so far in Australia. We had been hoping to learn something about Aboriginal culture, but this wasn’t exactly what we were expecting. Luckily, we were soon to see a more positive side.

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