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A brief history of Alice Springs

The Arrernte Aboriginal people have made their home in the Central Australian desert in and around the site of the future 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).

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.

On 11 March 1871 an Overland Telegraph Line (OTL) surveyor, William Mills, discovered a waterhole and named it Alice Springs after the wife of Charles Todd, the Superintendent of Telegraphs for South Australia. The area adjacent to the waterhole was established as a repeater station for the OTL. The final join in the OTL was made on the 22 August 1872.

Pastoral leases were taken up in the district and after a ruby rush (in fact garnets) and the discovery of gold at Arltunga, drovers, miners and others flocked to the area. This unexpected influx put pressure on available facilities and a town site 3 km south of the Telegraph Station was surveyed in 1888 and named Stuart. In January 1889 an auction was held to sell 96 of the 104 lots in the new town. Only 5 lots were sold and the population of the district continued to concentrate at the goldfield at Arltunga. By the turn of the century most of the grazing lands had been taken up and Stuart was still a very small town.

The Northern territory was administered by the South Australian Government until 1911, when control was relinquished to the Federal Government who also took on the responsibility of the long planned transcontinental railway to Darwin. Construction of the railway extension from Oodnadatta to Stuart began in 1926. Stuart then boasted a population of about 40 white residents. The railway arrived in 1929 and this saw the town enter a period of expansion and development.

A nursing hostel had been built by Rev. John Flynn, the Catholic Church was built along with the new government offices and residences, and a new post office followed. The population was now about 200. With the shifting of postal facilities to town, confusion arose over the name of the town. This was settled in 1933 when the town was proclaimed as Alice Springs.

The late 1930’s saw further development with a new hospital and gaol, further government residences being built and the commencement of power reticulation in the town. The population had now reached 950.

World War 2 saw Alice Springs become a major army supply depot. The army occupation left behind it a new power house, new aerodrome, water reticulation and many other capital items.

Post war expansion continued with subdivision of the East Side in four stages; establishment of an industrial area north of town and in the 1950’s expansion south and west.

The population of Alice Springs passed 3,000 in the mid to late 1950’s; 5,000 in the early 1960’s and 20,000 in the early 1980’s.

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.

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 Alice Springs and on outstations.

The 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 (50°F) in one day and rainfall can vary quite dramatically from year to year. In summer, the average maximum temperature is in the high 30°s, whereas in winter the average minimum temperature can be 7.5 °C (45.5 °F), with an average of 12.4 nights below freezing every year.