Things to Do in Alice Springs

Friday, May 27th

So really, what is there to do in Alice Springs??  It's a small town in the middle of the Outback, seemingly a place to stop in between Uluru and Darwin.  But we weren't going to Darwin.  We arrived in Alice Springs specifically for our visit to the Kangaroo Sanctuary.  But that wasn't until the evening.

There was a main drag where there were many places to eat and shop.  But that wasn't going to sustain us forever.  And we're in Alice Springs.  No one seems to go to Alice Springs.  We need to accomplish something.

School of the Air

Mom had asked at one point in the trip planning if we could visit a school.  Being a former First Grade teacher, she is always interested in seeing how schools work in other areas.  She also talks fondly about a group from Australia who visited her school back in the day.  I think they were in town with a reading program.  I could ask her, but that would involve work.  And I'm really tired today.  Frankly, I kind of ignored this request.  How do you visit a school that's in session??

I'm not always smart.

As we arrived in Alice Springs, we gathered the books and looked to see what we should actually do.  Enter, School of the Air.

School of the Air is a correspondance school that broadcasts lessons across the airwaves.  Living in the Outback, people/families can be pretty solitary.  Neighbors could be miles away.  Grocery stores, who knows??  It's a sparsely populated area.  Schools aren't always available.

In 1944, woman from the Royal Flying Doctor Service (you'll see in a minute or two) came up with the idea of a correspondence school in the Outback.  In 1951, they began broadcasting "school" for the kids living in the outer reaches of the Outback.  School of the Air was a literal name as the classes were held through what could easily be described as a ham radio.  School work would be mailed to the kids and they would have set times to listen to the radio, as their class would be held.

Fast forward a half decade and technology has changed.  These days, if a child is going to be enrolled in the school, they would get approximately A$10,000 worth of technology sent to their house.  Families would receive a satellite dish, computers, coursework and anything else the kids would need to complete their schooling.  So this isn't a school for a loafer.  Families also need a dedicated "helper" to work with the kids to complete their coursework.

A preschool teacher and her students.
Teachers broadcast out of Alice Springs with schedules that are almost like a TV network.  Grade 1 is on Monday from 9-10a.  Grade 7 is on Wednesday from 3-4p.  Or something like that.  This is very much not the real schedule.  Students log in and see their teacher via webcam.  The teacher teaches.  The kids ask questions and learn.  It's like a regular class, just over the air.

Returned Classwork #1
Returned Classwork #2 (I love this one)
We took a cab from our hotel to the School of the Air and we couldn't have arrived at a more perfect time.  Mom, Elias and I were the only people at the school, so we were in a tour by ourselves.  The tour was A$11 and started with a movie about the history of the school.  As we finished the movie, the tour guide came in and asked if we wanted to watch the Footballers who arrived at the school while we were viewing the movie.

It was a busy time in Alice Springs.  The Australian Football League had a big game in Alice Springs as Melbourne was up against Port Adelaide.  A few of the team from Melbourne had come to see the school.  And they arrived right at the time where the preschool teacher was teaching.

"Hi, Kids!!"
We sat in front of a window to the classroom.  Through the window, we saw the Footballers and the teacher.  Above our head was a TV screen that showed the boys, the teacher, and then little screens that showed the kids watching the class.  And that's when the fun started.

The teacher (a wonderful preschool teacher) got the Footballers to sing and dance along to young kid songs.  Monkeys on a Bed or other such songs.  They were adorable.  The kids were adorable.  It was just such a cute visual.

The Footballers were wearing blue shorts, which if you know anything about TV Production, you'll know does not go well up against a blue screen.  They look like they're riding on the camel on the screen at the top of the picture.
The boys finally had to leave.  And so did we.  So we asked the women at the school to call us a cab.  They tried, but to no avail.  Did I mention that Alice Springs was kind of busy??  Yeah, that football game drew a crowd to the city. The head of the school was helping call for a cab and she finally said to forget the whole thing.  She would drive us to the next stop.


Yep.  She cemented Alice Springs as the place with the nicest people ever.  This woman, who does not know us at all, drove us to the next touristy stop.  We thanked her profusely, marveled at how nice she was, then realized we just saved A$20 in cab fare.  Score!!

Side note, we were surprised that every time we got in a car or bus in Australia, there were signs telling us to put on our seatbelt.  On a tour earlier in the trip, the bus driver wouldn't move unless we were buckled in.  I asked our vehicular savior the story behind this.  She said the law in Australia was to use seatbelts.  If someone was in a car without being strapped in, the driver would instantly get a ticket.  No questions asked.  Noted.  I mean, we had been using the seatbelt anyway, but now we knew the rules.

Royal Flying Doctor Service

The second touristy stop in Alice Springs was the Royal Flying Doctor Service stop.  On our bus ride from Ayers Rock last night, our driver mentioned his wife worked for this museum, so it was on our mind.

Again, we are in the Outback and civilization is not super close by most people.  It took us six hours by bus from Ayers Rock, so nothing is close in this area.  If someone gets sick, it's a big deal.  The RFDS serves communities both with emergency and general practice services.  It's also a non-profit service.  Which is pretty darn impressive, coming from the US.

Also impressive, the idea that this service began in 1928.  Patients would call in to the center at Alice Springs (or other capital cities in the Territories), where dispatchers would start by asking the callers where it hurt.  They would narrow down the issues, deciding how/if to send out a plane to help the patients.  Sometimes, the dispatcher could diagnose issues over the phone, telling the patient what kind of medicine they need to consume.  Other times, they get a pilot and a doctor or nurse ready to take off.  You never know.

A cross section of a RFDS plane.
The museum cost A$15 for Adults and includes a Hologram Movie that details the history of the service.  Once the movie is over, there is a small museum which includes old-timey boxes of medical supplies and plane simulations.

This box was provided to a handful of people in the community.  It included all kinds of medicine (including heavy drugs) that could be used in an emergency situation.  
A simulation of the 911 center (for lack of a better way to explain it)
Both stops in Alice Springs were impressive and made me think about how hard it would be to live in such a remote area.  I mean, I am mostly a hermit.  The idea of living far away from others can be quite appealing.  But when you're so far away from the basic necessities, it would be hard when things happen.  It's amazing that not only did these two services begin so long ago, but that they are still going strong.

Looking back at Alice Springs, there wasn't truly a ton to do.  But we learned what it takes to live in the Outback.  And those people that do...they really are impressive.  That was the reason to visit Alice Springs.



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