The Arrernte Aboriginal people have made their home in the Central Australian desert, in and around Alice Springs, for more than 50,000 years. This country is rich with mountain ranges, waterholes, and gorges; as a result the Arrernte people, being excellent land managers, set aside 'conservation areas' in which various species were protected. According to traditional stories the landscape was shaped by caterpillars, wild dogs, travelling boys, sisters, euros (Kangaroo like creatures) and other ancestral figures. There are many sites of traditional importance, such as Anthwerrke (Emily Gap), Akeyulerre (Billy Goat Hill), Ntaripe (Heavitree Gap), Atnelkentyarliweke (Anzac Hill), and Alhekulyele (Mt Gillen). Pronunciation of these words can be very difficult. This is because their language was a spoken one and was not written until German missionaries used their own language to transcribe it!
In 1862, John McDouall Stuart led an expedition into the area where Alice Springs is located. The telegraph line linking Adelaide to Darwin traced his route and opened up the interior, but it wasn’t until gold was discovered just outside Alice Springs in 1887 that any significant settlement occurred. The Todd River was named after the first Postmaster General of South Australia, Sir Charles Todd. It was he who optimistically named the telegraph station sited near a waterhole, in the normally dry river, ‘Alice’ Springs after his wife. Cattle Stations then opened up the interior of Australia, with stations the size of small European countries being established.
The original white settlers’ preferred mode of transportation in the outback was camel trains, operated by immigrants from Pakistan who were misnamed ‘Afghan’ Cameleers. Thriving in the climate, camels were, and continue to be, farmed and exported to the Middle East. Australian Camels are of pure-breed and often free from hereditary disease, due to the fact that the isolated desert centre has rarely afforded any opportunity for cross breeding over the years, in contrast to the situation in the Middle East.
During World War II, the Alice Springs Airport was constructed and a number of covert locations were set up in and around Alice Springs to monitor world events. One of these was a bunker dug into a mound which held seismology instruments to detect possible nuclear testing in the former USSR. One of these bunkers was recently discovered and is now heritage listed.
Today, tourism is the major industry in Alice Springs, with well developed facilities for travelers of all kinds.