Alice Springs

Alice Springs

Alice Springs, town (1991 pop. 20,448), Northern Territory, Australia. It lies in a pastoral area surrounded by desert near the center of the continent and is a stop on the Adelaide Darwin Railway. The town became important as a telegraph station on the overland route from Adelaide to Darwin. It is now the focus of tourism for central Australia. Gold, copper, tungsten, and mica are mined in the area.

Alice Springs is the second largest town in the Northern Territory of Australia. Popularly known as "the Alice" or simply "Alice", it had a population of 26,486 in 2005. Averaging 576 metres above sea level, the town is nearly equidistant from Adelaide and Darwin, close to the geographic centre of Australia. The site is known as Mparntwe to its traditional inhabitants, the Arrernte, who have lived in the Central Australian desert in and around what is now Alice Springs for more than 50,000 years.


In 1861-62, John McDouall Stuart led an expedition through Central Australia, to the west of what later became Alice Springs, thereby establishing a route from the south of the continent to the north. A settlement came into existence as a result of the construction of a repeater station on the Overland Telegraph Line, which linked Adelaide to Darwin and Great Britain. The OTL was completed in 1872. It traced Stuart's route and opened up the interior for permanent settlement. It wasn’t until alluvial gold was discovered at Arltunga, 100 km east of Alice Springs, in 1887 that any significant settlement occurred. Until the 1930s, however, the town was known as Stuart.

The telegraph station was sited near what was thought to be a permanent waterhole in the normally dry Todd River and was optimistically named Alice Springs after the wife of the former Postmaster General of South Australia, Sir Charles Todd. The Todd River was named after Sir Charles himself. The original mode of transportation in the outback were camel trains, operated by immigrants from Pathan tribes in the North-West frontier of the then British India and Pakistan who were misnamed ‘Afghan’ Camellers.

In 1929 the Palmerston and Pine Creek Railway was completed from Darwin as far as Birdum, while the Great Northern Railway had been completed in 1891 from Port Augusta as far as Oodnadatta, South Australia, 700 km south of Alice Springs. The lines wouldn’t meet until 2003. On February 4, 2004, the first passenger train arrived in Darwin from Adelaide.

During the 1960s it became an important defence location with the development of the U.S/Australian Pine Gap joint defence satellite monitoring base, home to about 700 workers from both countries, but by far the major industry in recent times is tourism. Almost in the exact center of the continent, Alice Springs is some 1200 km from the nearest ocean and 1500 km from the nearest major cities, Darwin and Adelaide. Alice Springs is now the midpoint of the Adelaide–Darwin Railway.

World War II

During World War II, Alice Springs was a staging base, known as No. 9 Australian Staging Camp, and a depot base for the long 4 day trip to Darwin. The Australian Army also set up the 109th Australian General Hospital at Alice Springs. Seven mile aerodrome was also constructed by the Royal Australian Air Force.

Indigenous history

The Arrernte Aboriginal people have made their home in the Central Australian desert in and around Alice Springs for more than 50,000 years. The Aboriginal name for Alice Springs is Mparntwe.

Three major groups Western, Eastern and Central Arrernte people live in Central Australia, their traditional land including the area of Alice Springs and East/West MacDonnell Ranges. They are also referred to as Aranda, Arrarnta, Arunta, and other similar spellings. Their neighbours are the Southern Arrernte, Luritja, Anmatyerr, Alyawarr and Western Arrernte peoples. There are five dialects of the Arrernte language: South-eastern, Central, Northern, Eastern and North-eastern.

Arrernte country is rich with mountain ranges, waterholes, and gorges; as a result the Arrernte people set aside 'conservation areas' in which various species are protected.

According to the Arrernte traditional stories, in the desert surrounding Alice Springs, the landscape was shaped by caterpillars, wild dogs, travelling boys, two sisters, euros, and other ancestral figures. There are many sites of traditional importance in and around Alice Springs, such as Anthwerrke (Emily Gap), Akeyulerre (Billy Goat Hill), Ntaripe (Heavitree Gap), Atnelkentyarliweke (Anzac Hill), and Alhekulyele (Mt. Gillen).

There are roughly 1,800 speakers of Eastern and Central Arrernte, making it the largest spoken language in the Arandic family, and one of the largest speaking populations of any Australian language. It is taught in schools, heard in local media and local government.

Many Arrernte people also live in communities outside of Alice Springs and on outstations..

Modern town

The modern town of Alice Springs has both western and Aboriginal influences. The town's focal point, the Todd Mall, hosts a number of Aboriginal art galleries and community events. Alice Springs’ desert lifestyle has inspired several unique and interesting events such as the Camel Cup, the Henley-on-Todd Regatta and the Beanie Festival.

Geography and climate

Topography and climate

The town of Alice Springs straddles the usually dry Todd River on the northern side of the MacDonnell Ranges. The region where Alice Springs is located is known as Central Australia, or the Red Centre, and is an arid environment consisting of several different deserts.

In Alice Springs, temperatures can vary by up to 28°C and rainfall can vary quite dramatically from year to year. In summer, the average maximum temperature is in the high 30s, where as in winter the average minimum temperature can be 7.5C.

The annual average rainfall is 279.2 mm, but in 2001 741 mm fell and in 2002 only 198 mm fell.

Source: Averages for Alice Springs Airport, 1940 - 2008, Bureau of Meteorology
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Notes: Temperatures are in degrees Celsius. Precipitation is in millimetres. Alice Springs Airport Latitude: 23.80° S Longitude: 133.89° E Elevation: 546 m ASL

Built environment

Alice Springs has many historic buildings, such as the Overland Telegraph Station, Adelaide House, the Old Courthouse and Residency and the Hartley Street School. Today the town is an important tourist hub and service centre for the surrounding area. It is a well-appointed town for its size with several large hotels, a world class convention centre and a good range of visitor attractions, restaurants and other services.

Parks and gardens

The Alice Springs Desert Park was created to educate visitors on the many facets of the surrounding desert environment. The arid climate botanic garden, Olive Pink Botanic Garden is a short distance from the town centre. They were named after anthropologist, naturalist and artist Olive Pink, who lived in the town for almost 30 years and died in 1975. She was well known locally and referred to by all as Miss Pink. She was a great Australian character who added history and colour to the local community.

The MacDonnell Ranges run east and west of Alice Springs and contain a number of hiking trails and swimming holes such as Ormiston Gorge, Ormiston Gorge Creek, Red Bank Gorge and Glen Helen Gorge. The 223 km long Larapinta Trail follows the West MacDonnell Ranges and is considered among the world's great walking experiences.

The Simpson Desert, southeast of Alice Springs is one of Australia's great wilderness areas containing giant red sand dunes and interesting rock formations such as Chambers Pillar and Rainbow Valley.


Local government

The Alice Springs town council consists of the Mayor and ten elected Aldermen. Elections are held every four years.

Council Meetings are held on the last Monday of each month.

National and Territory government

Alice Springs and the surrounding region have five elected members to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. There is one elected member of the Federal Parliament of Australia House of Representatives for the area outside of Darwin, the Electoral Division of Lingiari.


Alice Springs began as a service town to the pastoral industry that first came to the region. The introduction of the rail line increased its economy and productivity. Today the town services a region of 546,046 square kilometres and a regional population of 38,749. The region includes a number of mining and pastoral communities, the Joint Defence Space Research Facility at Pine Gap and tourist attractions at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Watarrka National Park and the MacDonnell Ranges.

Whilst Alice started as a result of the Overland Telegraph line, it is now very much reliant on Domestic and International Tourism. It is home to the Northern Territory's largest Travel Wholesaler, Territory Discoveries, which employs over 50 full time local staff members.

As well as Territory Discoveries, all major tour companies have a base in Alice Springs, including AAT Kings & APT, as well as numerous local operators, including Emu Run Tours, Anganu Waai! tours, and Alice Wanderer.

Alice is home to numerous hotels, from the 5 star Lasseters Hotel & Casino, to the backpacker standard Toddies Resort. Also, there are several Caravan Parks for the driving visitor.


In June 2004, approximately 26,058 people lived in Alice Springs with a total of 38,749 in the region.

Aboriginal population

According to the 2001 census, Australian Aborigines make up approximately 17% of the population of Alice Springs, and 29% of the Northern Territory. As Alice Springs is the regional hub of Central Australia it attracts Aboriginal people from all over that region and well beyond. Many Aborigines visit regularly to use the town's services. Aboriginal residents usually live in the suburbs, on special purpose leases (or town camps) or further out at Amoonguna to the South and on the small family outstation communities on Aboriginal Lands in surrounding areas.

The traditional owners of the Alice Springs area are the Central Arrernte people. As it is the largest town in central Australia, there are also speakers of Warlpiri, Warumungu, Kaytetye, Alyawarre, Luritja, Pintupi, Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara, Ngaanyatjarra, Pertame, Eastern and Western Arrernte among others.

American influence

The American influence in Alice Springs comes primarily from the proximity to Pine Gap, a joint Australian and U.S. satellite tracking station, located 19 km south-west of Alice Springs. While Pine Gap employs 700 Americans and Australians, there are currently 2,000 people in the Alice Springs district who carry citizenship of the United States.

American influence can be seen throughout Alice Springs, with large left-hand-drive 4WDs (sports utility vehicles) and the American population still celebrating all major festivals, including Halloween, Independence Day and Thanksgiving, a portion of the Australian citizens engage in the festivities from time to time. There is also a large influence of American culture in sport, including baseball, basketball, and American football competitions, alongside more Australian sports of cricket, Australian rules football and rugby.

Itinerant population

Alice Springs has a large itinerant population made up of:

  • Tourists
  • Australian Aborigines visiting from nearby Central Australian communities
  • Australian or international workers on short-term contracts (colloquially referred to as "blow-ins")


Alice Springs has nineteen public and private schools/ colleges, including two dedicated to Indigenous students, seven pre-schools and the Alice Springs School of the Air which delivers education to students in remote areas. The Alice Springs Campus of Charles Darwin University offers courses in TAFE and Higher Education. The Centre for Appropriate Technology was established in 1980 and provides a range of services to encourage and help Aboriginal people enhance their quality of life on remote communities.

Society and culture

Leisure and entertainment

There are many festivals and events for entertainment such as the Alice Springs Beanie Festival, Camel Cup, Henley-on-Todd Regatta and the Finke Desert Race. It should be noted though that Finke is some 400 kilometres south of Alice Springs in the Simpson Desert. Other leisure and entertainment activities include hiking in the nearby MacDonnell Ranges, driving the four-wheel drive tracks at Finke Gorge National Park and visiting the many art galleries in Todd Mall.

Literature and film

Nevil Shute's novel A Town Like Alice, and the resulting film and television miniseries, takes its name from Alice Springs, although little of the action takes place there. The local library is the Nevil Shute Memorial Library.

Socrates in Love, also known as Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World, is a Japanese film that used Alice Springs as its filming location. The television series, Star Trek: Enterprise, used Alice Springs as the location of an astronaut survival training station.

Listed below are a further collection of TV series and movies that have been partially filmed in Alice Springs.

  1. "Blue Planet, The" (2000) TV Series
  2. "Bush Mechanics" (2001) (mini) TV Series
  3. "Double Trouble (2006) TV Series
  4. "Familie på farten - med farmor i Australien" (2005) TV Series
  5. : ...aka "Familie på farten" (2005) (Denmark: promotional title)
  6. "Here Comes the Neighbourhood" (2005) TV Series
  7. "Soldier Soldier" (1991) TV Series
  8. Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The (1994)
  9. The Alice (2004) (TV)
  10. Equipaje, lista de espera, pasaporte, souvenir (1994)
  11. Evil Angels (1988)
  12. : ...aka Cry in the Dark, A (1988) (International: English title) (USA)
  13. G'Day LA (2007)
  14. Journey Out of Darkness (1967)
  15. Kangaroo Jack (2003)
  16. Last Frontier, The (1986) (TV)
  17. Outback Stripper (2001) (TV)
  18. Phantom Stockman, The (1953)
  19. : ...aka Return of the Plainsman (1953) (USA)
  20. Quigley Down Under (1990)
  21. : ...aka Quigley (1991) (Australia)
  22. : ...aka Quigley Down Under (1990) (Australia)
  23. Walkabout (1971)
  24. Welcome to Woop Woop (1997)
  25. Who Killed Baby Azaria? (1983) (TV)
  26. : ...aka Dingo Baby Case, The (1983) (TV)
  27. : ...aka Disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain, The (1983) (TV)


Each year since 11 July 2003 the music festival, Bass in the Dust has been hosted at Alice Springs and the Araluen Centre for Arts and Entertainment presents world-class ballets and orchestras, as well as local performances. Liz Phair included a song called "Alice Springs" on her 1994 album Whip Smart. The group Midnight Oil mentions Alice Springs in its song Kosciusko and in Warakurna ('There is enough in Redfern as there is in Alice'), and Pine Gap in its song Power and the Passion.


Alice Springs is Australia's art capital home to many local and Aboriginal art galleries. Indigenous Australian art is largely the more dominant showcasing the rich culture and native traditions that abound in Central Australia. Trade in Aboriginal art soared after the painting movement began at Papunya, a Central Australian aboriginal settlement, and swept other indigenous communities. Central Australia has borne some of the most prominent names in Aboriginal Art including Emily Kngwarreye, Minnie Pwerle, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Albert Namatjira and Wenten Rubuntja.

The annual Desert Mob Art Show sees art collectors and art lovers from all over the world travel to Alice Springs to see works from Aboriginal art centres in Central Australia, with works by artists from remote areas of the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia. This show is in conjunction with the Artist Association Desart and usually runs in September of each year at the Araluen Art Centre.


Australian rules football is a popular sport in Alice Springs. The Central Australian Football League has several teams and a high participation rate. The sport is particularly popular in Indigenous communities. The local stadium, Traeger Park, has a 10,000 seat capacity and was designed to host national AFL and cricket matches. Cricket is also a popular sport in Alice Springs. The Imparja Cup Cricket Carnival first was played in 1994 and attracts Indigenous teams from all across Australia.

In 2004, an AFL pre-season Regional Challenge match between Collingwood Football Club and Port Adelaide Football Club attracted a capacity sell-out crowd. Cricket is also popular in Alice Springs. A unique sporting event, held annually, is the Henley-on-Todd Regatta, also known as the Todd River Race. It is a sand river race with bottomless boats and it remains the only dry river regatta in the world. Another unusual sporting event is the Camel Cup. This is also held annually at the local racetrack, Blatherskite Park. It is a full day event featuring a series of races using camels instead of horses.

Soccer is also a large sport in Alice Springs, with A-League team Adelaide United making Alice Springs its second home.

Rugby League has been a part of the local sporting scene since 1963. The Australian Rugby League has held a number of pre-season games in Alice Springs, usually at the ANZAC Oval. The local competition is the Central Australian Rugby Football League, that has both junior and senior leagues.

The annual Camel Cup is held in July at Blatherskite Park, part of the Central Australian Show Society grounds.

Wild Cat Stew Challenge

On September 2, 2007, Australians in Alice Springs challenge featured wild cat stew recipe or casserole as solution to the millions of feral cats roaming the outback. But wildlife activists strongly opposed including the cat on the nation's menus. Yearly, felines, descendants of domestic pets, kill millions of small native animals, devouring almost anything that moves, including small marsupials, lizards, birds and spiders making them the most serious threats to Australia's native fauna. Aborigines roasted the cats on open fire since they considered the dish delicious. Scientists warned that eating wild cats could expose man to harmful bacteria and toxins.


Alice Springs is served by both local and national radio and television services. The Government-owned ABC provides 4 broadcast radio stations - local radio 783 ABC Alice Springs and the national networks Radio National, ABC Classic FM and Triple J.

Commercial radio stations are 8HA 900 kHz and SUN FM 96.9 MHz and community radio is provided by indigenous broadcaster 8KIN 100.5 MHz. Four broadcast television services operate in Alice Springs - commercial stations Imparja Television (callsign IMP9) and Seven Central (QQQ31), and Government-owned ABC (ABAD7) and SBS (SBS28). Imparja has a commercial agreement with the Nine network.

There are two local newspapers circulated in Alice Springs. The weekly publication, The Alice Springs News appears each Thursday with a circulation of 11,500, and the twice weekly The Centralian Advocate, which is published on Tuesdays ($1.10) and Fridays ($1.40)



Located on the Adelaide-Darwin railway, Alice Springs is accessible by train. Alice Springs railway station is visited by the The Ghan, operated by Great Southern Railway, on its journey between Adelaide and Darwin. The train arrives twice weekly in each direction.

The line first opened to Alice Springs in 1929, as the narrow gauge Central Australia Railway. It was not until 1980 that the current standard gauge line was opened, which was extended to Darwin in 2004.

The Ghan
Tennant Creek Alice Springs Kulgera


There are daily flights from Alice Springs Airport to Adelaide, Ayers Rock (Uluru), Cairns, Darwin, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

Alice Springs is a base for the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia.


There are daily express coach services to and from Adelaide and Darwin servicing Alice Springs. The Stuart Highway, running north from Adelaide to Darwin via Alice Springs, is Northern Territory's most important road. The distance from Alice Springs to Adelaide is 1530 km and to Darwin is 1498 km.

Sister Cities

In January 2005, a Sister City relationship was established between Alice Springs and the Afghan district of Paghman.


See also

External links

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