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Home > Travelogues > 2009 Travelogues Index > Alice Springs to Tennant Creek
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Alice Springs to Tennant Creek - A journey through the centre of Australia

Leaving Alice Springs we head north on the Stuart Highway on the route which will eventually take us to Darwin, with so much to see along the way over the next five weeks. 

 

One kilometre past the Tanami turnoff, we reached a marker showing the highest point on the Darwin to Adelaide route at 727.2 metres above sea level.  Downhill all the way to Darwin – well in theory. 

 

Once again we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, leaving the southern latitudes behind for another two months. 

There are numerous plaques, markers and monuments along the Highway.  One is this memorial to explorer Peter Egerton-Warburton.

The Aboriginal name means ‘back of the shoulder’ and refers to the shape of the Range.

 

Native Gap Conservation Area surrounds a section of the Hann Range; a small rocky ridge.  The vegetation near the range is far richer than the surrounding country, including native Cypress Pines, other trees including Ficus and wildflowers.  There used to be a native well here, but in 1880 workers on the Overland Telegraph Line enlarged the well by blasting, but lost the water holding rocks.  There is a picnic area and a short walk trail into the Range.

The Stuart Highway follows the route of the Overland Telegraph Line, constructed to link Adelaide to Darwin.  The project was headed by Charles Todd and took two years to build, being completed in 1972.  A subterranean line from England to Java was linked to Darwin, so with this completion, Australia could communicate with the other side of the world in hours rather than weeks. History of the Overland Telegraph Line  

Ryans Well is across the road from the Glen Maggie Station Homestead ruins, with both being within the small Ryans Well Historical Reserve.  
 

Ned and his brother Jeremiah (Jerry) dug this 23 metre well by hand, in addition to a number of other wells. Water was drawn by a windlass to fill the stock trough and some of the posts still remain. Later a tank was added and the bricks from where it stood can be seen.  A stone structure was paced around the well with a wooden head frame to assist water drawing. Only the stone structure remains.  A plaque details the complex process of water drawing by horse drawn whip. 

 

Read more about Ned Ryan click here

In 1914 the Nicker family settled at Ryan’s Well after their dray collapsed on the route north. They built a home of mulga and clay, naming it Glen Maggie after their youngest child Margaret. Sam Nicker and his family established a sheep and cattle station here. Ryan Well was their main water supply.  This homestead was built in 1918 to replace the family’s original mulga wood and mud dwelling. 

 

From 1921, the homestead also served as a small store and telegraph office for the growing population of the areas.  The family sold Glen Maggie Station to neighbouring station owner Norrie Claxton in 1929 and it became part of Aileron Station.  However this building continued to operate as a store and telegraph office.  In 1932 it was well known as the last supply point for hopeful miners heading north west during the Granite gold rush.  The building was finally abandoned in 1935 and the telegraph equipment moved north to Aileron. 

 

The stone ruins remaining once constituted the bedroom and sitting room.  The additional rooms including kitchen, dining room, bathroom and store were probably later additions of a less durable building material and are long gone. 

 

Seventy kilometres north of the Ryans Well Historical Reserve is the roadhouse and small community of Aileron, with large metal statues, the most obvious being of a man with a spear placed on a hill.

This line opened up the previously little known interior, and as a result of transport through the regions, gold was discovered in locations such as the Tennant Creek area, and new pastoral grazing areas were discovered. 

The Central Mount Stuart Historical Reserve commemorates the discovery of Central Mount Stuart, which was calculated to be mid way between Brisbane and Shark Bay, the north coast and the Great Australian Bite, thus declaring it as the centre of Australia. This is quite some distance from the Geographical Centre, known as the Lambert Centre, near Finke and the Simpson Desert, traditionally known as the centre of Australia. 

 

The 3178 kilometre line was built in less than two years and joined on 22 August 1872. It linked Australia to an undersea cable from Indonesia that came ashore at Port Darwin and made communication between Australia and the rest of the world possible in hours rather than weeks. The project was under the direction of Sir Charles Todd, KCMG, MA, FRS, FRAS, FRMS, FSTE, Superintendent of Post and Telegraphs. The first telegraph messages from overseas were received in Morse code in this building on 22 October 1872 via the Overland Telegraph Line.

 

In an inhospitable climate and environment and sometimes meeting hostile natives, travelling through this unknown land was not without incident.  As a testament to the harsh conditions, we passed a Memorial to C. Palmer; a teamster who died along the way.

Barrow Creek, nestled in scenic hills, was the site of one of fifteen a repeater stations for the Overland Telegraph Line.  The Telegraph Station can be visited at the north side of the tiny town, which now has little more than a roadhouse.  Lack of water limited any growth of the town. 

 

During World War II Barrow Creek was used by the Australian Army as a staging camp for convoys of troops and supplies, which was known as No. 5 Australian Personnel Staging Camp. It was the first overnight stop on the northern trip from Alice Springs to Birdum (which was six kilometres south of the present day settlement of Larrimah).  Overnight staging camps were Barrow, Banka Banka, Elliot and Larrimah (Birdum).  The New Barrow Staging Camp was situated thirty kilometres to the north of the Barrow Creek Telegraph Station.  It was the largest of the staging posts, housing up to 1,000 troops and their equipment. Little now remains but roads, concrete slabs and a few rusty drums over a large and flat area. 

The historic site is now part of Neutral Junction Station, but can be visited by responsible travellers.  The site is approximately one kilometre east of the Stuart Highway, thirty kilometres north of Barrow Creek.  This was the first of many WWII historic sites we visited in the Northern Territory; a journey into Australian War history we knew so little about. 

New Barrow Staging Camp from signage at the site

Warburton had already made many exploratory expeditions, and the Warburton River (South Australia), and later the Warburton Ranges and Warburton Mission (Western Australia) were named after him.  His last trip was financed by Sir Thomas Elder who hoped to uncover mining resources and new pastoral lands. 

 

Read more about the explorer Peter Egerton-Warburton click here

Peter Egerton-Warburton

Left the known here for the unknown

On April 18th 1873

With his son Richard, J.W. Lewis, Dennis White, Charley, Sahleh and Halleem,

After suffering many privations, hunger and thirst crossing the Great Sandy Desert, the party reached Roebourne W.A. with no loss of life on Jan 26th 1974.

Erected by his relatives

To commemorate the 100th Anniversary of his death November 5th 1889

A giant carpet snake ancestor came out of the small waterhole near this Gap.  Before leaving the soak he sang a song which was so full of emotion that it brought a lump in the throat of the young maidens.  The snake travelled north west to the foot of the range where the fig trees grow.  Once again he sang and the young women were choked with emotion.  The great snake rested his head on the range.

Buried in this vicinity

C. Palmer - Teamster

Died August 1871

Whilst serving with a survey party during the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line.

John McDouall Stuart and William Kekwick ascended and named Mount Sturt on 23rd April 1860.  Later the name Mount Sturt was changed to Central Mount Stuart in honour of the explorer.  Stuart’s other companion on this expedition was Benjamin Head.

This staging post was the first overnight stop for troops moving north from Alice Springs and was mainly operated by the 5th Australian Personnel Staging Camp from approximately 30 May 1942 until 28 February 1945.

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Connors Well was used to supply water which was carted to Glen Maggie Station.  While there is no evidence remaining of the original well, a dam with tank and trough now supplies water to the station cattle. 

 

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Glen Maggie Station Homestead Ruins. These ruins are a reminder of the early days in Central Australia when life was a lonely struggle. 

 

The Overland Telegraph Line, linking Adelaide and Port Darwin, was completed in 1872.  Its chain of water supply wells provided a corridor for travellers and the new settlers of inland Australia. 

 

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Read on as we continue heading north to Tennant Creek
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Barrow Creek
See Where to camp along the Stuart Highway between Alice Springs and Darwin 
 
and Distances between fuel outlets on the Stuart Highway

Native Gap (Arulte Atwatye) formerly known as Native Well Gap