Thursday, February 12, 2009


FEBRUARY 8, 2009 - 31/101 - THE GHAN (DAY 2)

Our compartment was too warm over night and neither of us slept well. We had been warned that the train would stop for several hours during the night and it did. We began to move just after 6:00AM. The sun had peeked over the horizon sometime prior to our beginning to move. The land is changing from the denser brush, small trees and grasses of the tropics to a more arid dessert landscape. To the south we see the land is also beginning to roll a bit with taller ranges in the distance also.
Breakfast again is on the weird side, stewed fruit with goat’s milk yogurt, some sort of grilled meat, sausage, tomatoes and mushrooms combination or a salmon crepe with hollandaise sauce, grilled mushrooms and asparagus. We both have the salmon which was served on the Indian Pacific and it is good.

We are in an area of ridges and red dirt with very little grass now. It is definitely much less green. We arrive in Alice Springs at 11:00AM and are warned that it will be 104F+ with a UV index of 16. The approach to Alice Springs is "stunningly beautiful" with junk yards of wrecked automobiles, rusting heavy equipment, discarded shipping containers and large piles of broken concrete. It looks like any has-been town in West Texas or the desert southwest of the US.

We are picked up by the helicopter tour company and, along with a couple from the UK, are driven out to the airport where Alice Springs Helicopters’, Chris, gives us a pre-flight briefing and then takes us on a twenty-five minute flying tour out to Simpson’s gap, a narrow gap in the Mc Donnell Range with a pool of water ideal for swimming.
It is interesting to see all the geology of the area from the air. We both enjoy the flight and the different view of the area. Actually Alice Springs doesn’t look bad from the air.
Chris drops us in beautiful downtown Alice Springs at the Mall where we find a bite of lunch and fight the ever present flies. People are walking around with fly netting over their hats and heads and that has to be the best idea I have seen in awhile.......unless, someone would be so kind as to crop-dust the whole continent with DDT.

We have been developing our opinion and attitude about the aboriginal peoples of Australia and our perception of their condition. We admit we are new to the subject and probably not entitled to an opinion. However, since the world feels free to comment on the politics and social condition of the US and our minority issues, we have an opinion and feel free to express it here.

Ours may very well be like the opinions formed by visitors to the US about the Blacks and Indians where they go away thinking the small sampling of street scenes and TV clips tells the true story, which we, as citizens, know is not the whole truth. Be that as it may, we have met and visited with aborigine park rangers and they were nice, knowledgeable, educated and articulate. We have also, more commonly, seen these aborigine people in scenes of abject poverty and degradation lying on the streets and in the parks while dressed in rags and, in many cases, seemingly drunk.
Everywhere the nobility of the aborigine is extolled in much the same way that elements in the US have, on occasion, extolled the nobility of the Native Americans (Indians to those of our generation). We submit that just because a culture and society have existed, unchanged, for 40,000 years that is not necessarily a good thing. Life goes on and all things should evolve for the better and, if they don’t, history shows that they go extinct. Perhaps that is what is happening to these poor unfortunates who, only 200 plus years ago, encountered a society and civilization so much further advanced than themselves that they are, in many cases, unable or unwilling to adapt and adjust.

Our perception is that they (have been) are kept segregated in from the greater Australian society much as Blacks were in the US up until the civil rights movement of the 1960s. There are aborigine schools and clinics in evidence but, at best, they appear to these observers to be "separate and equal" and are, in reality, probably "separate and unequal." One would hope that the Australian government has programs to encourage and assist all aborigines to come into the 21century and be productive citizens, and not to continue to exist as just another tourist marketing ploy. The Aborigine or Indian or, for that matter, any culture’s history, traditions and language can be cherished, but the people of that culture must move on. Actually, we saw the same large scale promotion of the Maori culture in New Zealand. But, there we also saw many people who were obviously of that native ancestry and they were active in the life of the area and much more a part of the everyday life of the greater community in which they live.

Anyway, our brief exposure to these people and their condition has left us with a poor impression of them and of the country in which they live. To our eye, they are very obviously second class citizens of a very low economic and social stratum. The only place we saw them working was in Katherine Gorge. We did not see any employed in any other area.

By 2:00PM or so the shops are beginning to close on this Sunday afternoon and we catch a cab back to the train station and return to our most welcome, cool and fly- free compartment.The train begins its last leg south to Adelaide and the conductor for our compartment bings us tea sandwiches, dried fruits and a nice pastry for" tea". We skip the tea part, go get a bourbon and coke from the bar for the room and enjoy our repast as the Red Center slips by outside our window.

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