Round 18 – Melbourne v West Coast: AFL footy in the Red Centre (Part 1)

The stunning Glen Helen Gorge where the beautiful water is icy cold, and yet some hardy souls in my tour group still took a winter dip.


Part 1 – Pre-game travelogue.


The journey to Alice Springs for the Round 18 clash between Melbourne and my West Coast Eagles began on Thursday, when I departed Melbourne for Alice, going via Adelaide.  The flight out of Adelaide was full, and among the queue to board, I spied a number of passengers already sporting the blue and yellow.


There were some spectacular views of enormous inland lakes as we flew north.  I think it was probably the lakes to the west of Woomera that I could see on the left side of the aircraft.  The rugged but ever-changing landscape was fascinating to watch, and with clear skies all the way from Adelaide into Alice Springs I had some amazing views.


After arriving in Alice, I spent what remained of Thursday exploring the streets and shops in and around Todd Mall, where here again I could see signs of the anticipation and excitement building towards Sunday.  One local travel agent had a sign on the shop window offering free tickets to the match for each holiday booked.  There didn’t seem to be many people out on the streets, but the mall cafes still had a quiet buzz already.


On Friday I hired an e-bike from Outback Cycling in Todd Mall, to continue my exploration of the town.  Over the course of about 5 hours I pedalled sedately from the town centre to some of the main tourist attractions in Alice.  First stop was the Alice Springs Desert Park, where there is an amazing nocturnal house with all manner of mammals and reptiles, and the park is also famous for its bird show, although unfortunately I didn’t time my visit to see this.  The park has a spectacular backdrop of part of the Macdonnell Ranges which pretty much encircle Alice Springs.


From there I headed to the School of the Air Visitors Centre where the very important work done by this not-for-profit organisation is showcased.  The School of the Air provides vital education services to pre-primary, primary and secondary (up to year 9) students who live more than 50km from a school.  It was established in 1951 and the Alice Springs branch covers an area of 1.3 million square kilometres.  There was a very informative video presentation about the history and operations of the school, and the visitors centre is decorated with several beautiful quilts made by students over the years, and alot of the old radio equipment that was used in the early days.  There are also viewing windows into the 2 classroom studios where teachers now deliver the daily lessons via webcams and the internet.  The school provides each new student family with a package that includes a large satellite dish and the computer equipment to connect them to the school and rely on public donations in addition to the government funding they receive.


From there I did a circuit of the town along the Todd River.  There is quite an expansive network of well-maintained concrete dual-use paths all over Alice, so I was happy to stay off the roads as much as possible.  I rode along Gap Rd past the entrance to TIO Traeger Park where there were already plenty of marquees and shade structures in place, as well as the scaffolded platforms for the TV cameras to broadcast the match.


My final destination for the day was the Royal Flying Doctor Service Visitors Centre where there is a museum showcasing the history of this vital service, a walk-through replica of one of the current aircraft in use, and some creative presentations using holograph technology to bring founder John Flynn back to life.  There is also a great café on-site and I was just in time for a delicious slice of chocolate and pear mud cake before they closed for the day.


Saturday was the last of my pre-match entertainment, and it consisted of a day tour with Emu Run Experience to explore the “West Macs” (West Macdonnell Ranges).  This was a really enjoyable way to see some of the amazing landscapes around Alice Springs, and we were lucky enough to visit the John Flynn Monument, Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm, The Ochre Pits, Glen Helen Lodge and Gorge (with a beautiful lunchtime view of the Finke River and ranges), the Mt Sonder lookout, Ormiston Gorge and finally Ellery Creek Big Pool.  The purchase of a $10 insect net at Glen Helen Lodge made the afternoon sightseeing way more pleasant as the bush flies were being overly friendly.  For anyone coming to Alice, I can highly recommend this expedition as the scenery is amazing at every stop.


There was one tiny downside to my Saturday expedition as it meant that I missed the chance to attend “Captain’s Run” training where the Eagles threw open the gates to Traeger Park to allow fans to watch their training session, and get some much-prized autographs and selfies.  This got plenty of airtime on the local TV news and it looked like there was quite a crowd.


And now it is game-day.  I’ve been out briefly this morning to explore the Todd Mall Market which occurs every second Sunday, and there was a massive showing of blue and yellow wandering along the street and packing out the mall cafes for breakfast.  This town seems to have totally embraced my West Coast Eagles, and I only saw just one Melbourne scarf amongst all the blue and yellow.  The match is a sellout, which is great news for this outback town, and just cements my view that they are footy-mad.


To put this in some context – Alice Springs has an official population of 26,534 (according to the ABS 2018 stats), and TIO Traeger Park (the venue for this AFL match) holds 7,164 spectators.  For the statisticians, that means 27% of the official population of this town can fit into this ground.  If we extrapolate that to Melbourne, we would need a stadium with capacity for 1.34m spectators (i.e. 13.3 times the current capacity of the MCG).


My 10 minute walk to the stadium starts shortly………GO EAGLES!!!!!


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Hi Cathi, I spent some time in Central Aust last year and had a fab time there. We spent a few days at Glen Helen Gorge exploring the area which is truly magnificent. I must admit I was a bit ignorant about the area as the focus tends to be on Uluru etc but the West Macs were absolutely fantastic. I’m hoping to get back up there to spend more time exploring, perhaps do some more of the Larapinta trail.

  2. E.regnans says

    Love it, Cathi.
    We were in town (briefly) in January. July is a much more sensible option.

    I cherish memories of the West MacDonnells from earlier trips… Glen Helen Gorge (camping there in a tent, 1995)… Ellery Creek Big Hole (riding bikes there from Alice, 2004)…

    The land that time forgot.

  3. Onya Cathi. My first reaction when the game started on TV was “we should have gone”. The scenery outside and the atmosphere inside the ground looked wonderful. The Avenging Eagle (who was a School of the Air teacher in Kalgoorlie back in the pedal wireless days) and I have made a pact to visit the Red Centre in the next few years (with or without Eagles).
    Looking forward to Part 2.

  4. We lived in Alice for 7 years and agree that the west MacDonnells are great scenery and environment. East Macs also, for those of you who have not been there. Looking at you, Peter_B above…. Traeger Park is a great venue, I saw a young Adam Gilchrist make a start on his career there against a touring west Indies team. Several other great sport facilities in the Park too. Hope you enjoyed the whole trip Cathi.

  5. Mark Duffett says

    Similarly to Bucko, I was Alice resident for five years, both our kids were born there. Looks like you’ve unerringly hit pretty much all the high points possible in the time available to you, Cathi.

    I had a lot of time to appreciate Traeger Park in the course of the hundreds of kilometres I’ve run there. For my money, its scenic backdrop is second to none.

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