Alice Springs: History


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



In 1861-62, the explorer John McDouall Stuart led an expedition through Central Australia, to the west of Alice Springs, creating a route from the south of Australia through to the north. John Stuart is responsible for navigating and mapping the country for white settlement. His efforts opened up the centre of Australia particularly to pastoralists to take up leases in the centre of the country


The Overland Telegraph

The creation of the Overland Telegraph Line traced Stuart's route as Stuart had found plenty of timber on the route to fell for making telegraph poles. One of many telegraph repeater stations was built on the route near what was then thought to be a permanent water hole. The site of the station was called Alice Springs. The Overland Telegraph cut communications times between Australia and the world from months to minutes and carried messages until the bombing of Darwin in WW II.

A small settlement formed near the site of this station. The settlement boomed five years later in 1887 when alluvial gold was discovered about 100 kilometres away at Arltunga.

Originally the name Alice Springs referred only to the telegraph station and the settlement was called Stuart but in 1933, to avoid further confusion, the two were combined.



In the early days the common form of transport in the central outback was by camel. Immigrants from what was then called British India were the operators of the camel treks.

By 1929 the railway line linking Alice Springs with Adelaide was completed and railway trains replaced camel trains. Alice Springs started to become less isolated. Later, motor and air transport to the Centre grew more frequent and reliable.


World War 2

By 1939, Alice Springs was a small community of approximately 900, then servicing the outlying pastoral industry. With the onset of WW2, the town became the army railhead, central troop reserve and arsenal for the northern operations. Nearly 200,000 troops passed through the town during these war years.

Alice Springs became a staging base, known as No. 9 Australian Staging Camp, and a depot base for the long four-day trip to Darwin. The historic-listed Totem Theatre still exists from this camp.

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.

Railway Transport

An extensive amount of railway track had previously been laid both in South Australia and in the Northern Territory but nothing connected north to the south until 2003. On February 4, 2004, the first passenger train arrived in Darwin from Adelaide. The train was aptly called the Ghan and its name honours the Afghan camel train drivers who played such a valuable part in the opening up of the centre of the country.



Alice Springs Central Location

Almost in the exact centre of Australia, 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.







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