latitude = Havana, Cuba
Alice Springs, population 29,000, serves as the gateway to the outback and the aboriginal world today. It's located more or less in the geographic center of the country. After another short flight, our first stop here was at the Telegraph Station Historical Reserve. It commemorates the efforts made to link Adelaide to Darwin by telegraph, which meant that Morse Code messages could arrive in London in twenty minutes, a huge improvement over writing letters which took six months to make the trip by boat. In this inhospitable environment erecting the 16,000 poles and stringing the line was a herculean task. They started with wooden poles which were eaten by the termites as fast as they buried them. The wire was uncoated and vulnerable to the environment. Typically, a message could travel 200 miles so there was a convoy of relay stations manned by Morse Code operators who received the message and then re-sent it.
We have already run into a surprising number of Americans here. They are related to folks working at Pine Gap, a top secret military base we have here that no one is supposed to know anything about. However, people seem to talk about it quite freely. It has something to do with satellite surveillance. Don't tell.
Because we wanted to add an unplanned stop, time was short and we stopped at the grocery store to buy some quick eats to take back to the hotel room since we wouldn’t get back to the room until 8pm. This gave us a chance to observe a few of the local Aboriginals, who still have the appearance one would expect from photographs since they generally do not intermarry with whites here. They do not like to have their pictures taken. You can ask for permission, but they have learned this is a good way to make a quick buck. The asking price can be as much as $20. We saw them wandering around aimlessly in the woods and sitting on the ground apparently not doing much of anything. I do not want to stereotype, but my first impression gave me the feeling that they are lost souls.
We raced to the hotel, threw our purchases in the fridge and ten minutes later were on a bus going to a kangaroo sanctuary. Kangaroos eat grass and other vegetation. When it rains, they move away from civilization to graze, but when it is dry the water vapor given off by cars keeps the grass by the side of the road greener longer. Kangaroos are nocturnal eaters and on the road they get hit by cars. Females carry their babies in pouches for 6 - 8 months, so a dead mother can still have a live baby inside her. Their pouches have muscles which tighten up enough so that the mother can swim without the baby drowning. When the car hits, her stomach muscles also tighten and the padding of her body keeps the baby safe.
No one wants to dig around in road kill, but caring locals do just that, bringing the babies to the sanctuary. The owner feeds them every four hours and carries them around in bags and pouches to the life they would have had with mom. It’s a huge commitment. It often works best to raise two or more orphans at once so they can keep each other company in the pseudo pouches. The roos that have not had too much interaction with man, can successfully be released back into the wild. The males can grow as tall as a man and are very territorial. They stand on their hind legs and box and kick an interloper to death. The refuge owner learned this the hard way. As his orphan males matured, they turned from loving. cuddly creatures into killing machines. He had long scars on his back from where they raked him with their claws and had groin injuries as well from his male roos. He said there were two cases where male roos attacked male humans and kicked off their penises. Better stick with the girls.
It goes without saying that our encounter was only with females and babies. We took turns carrying the babies around, giving them some of the extra physical contact and love they lost when they lost their moms. I got to feed one a bottle. In the pouch they seemed mellow and content. When he let them out to stretch their legs, they hung around just waiting to to back into the pouch. When we first got there, they were waking up from their day's sleep. In the bush it ws hard to see them until they popped up. Erect, they feel like a totally different creature.
Throughout the day we were plagued by flies who try to go in your eyes and ears. They do not bite, but there are so many of them, it’s hard to concentrate on what you are doing. The kangaroos did not like them either. We hope we can find somewhere to buy head nets tomorrow. We hear that the flies are even worse at Uluru.