Outback heritage holidays

Outback heritage holidays

When we think of historic locations in Australia, we tend to think of the big cities or the gold rush towns. However, the outback is also packed with heritage, and many locations have attractions with strong links to a fascinating past. Amongst the best are this little lot...

The Royal Flying Doctor Service Visitor Centre

Where: Various locations.

Former PM Robert Menzies said that the single biggest factor in making Australia's vast outback inhabitable was the emergence of the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). Set up by the Reverend John Flynn as a one-year experiment in Cloncurry, Queensland in 1928, the service has saved countless lives across remote communities in Australia. And it still has a vital role today.

The RFDS has visitor centres spread across the country, where tourists can explore the history and current work of these magnificent men (and women) in their flying machines. In NSW, there's one at Broken Hill, while Queensland has centres in Charleville, Mt Isa and Cairns. WA has the most — Jandakot, Port Hedland, Derby, Meekatharra and Kalgoorlie — but arguably the most impressive is in the Northern Territory at Alice Springs.

On the tours of the centre, visitors see the radio control room in action. Arrive at the right time, and it's possible to see operations being managed over the airwaves. There's also a museum which contains equipment from days gone by and a top cafe for those in need of a bite to eat.

Find out more: The Royal Flying Doctor Service

Daly Waters Aerodrome

Where: Daly Waters, Northern Territory.

It may be just a tiny township now, but in a way the aerodrome at Daly Waters has played as big a role as the Flying Doctor bases in the development of Australia.

Believe it or not, this was Australia's first international airport, and as such it had a massive part in connecting Australia to the rest of the world. It first got used during the 1926 London to Sydney air race, where it functioned as a stop-over point for the planes.

It had a more vital role to play in World War II. After the bombing of Darwin, it was felt that for the safety of the planes, the Northern Territory capital was no longer a suitable place for the main airbase. So operations moved south to Daly Waters.

There's a small museum in one of the old hangars — visitors can learn about the heritage of the airbase there.

The Boab Prison Tree

Where: Just south of Derby, Western Australia

An absolutely huge tree with a rather oddly shaped trunk, the Boab Prison Tree is a tourist attraction purely because of the way it looks. Imagine a witch's house in a cartoon film directed by Tim Burton and you're just about there.

Apart from looking comical, however, the tree did have another use back in the days when the Kimberley was being explored and settled. Because of the massive distances involved, people needed somewhere to stay overnight on their way to bigger settlements. These people included prisoners, who had to be kept somewhere secure.

And that's where the tree came in — in the 1890s the guards used it as a temporary jail, and shackled prisoners inside it.

Arltunga Historical Reserve

Where: East McDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory.

An absolutely fascinating ghost town, the Arltunga Reserve is accessible as a day trip from Alice Springs. From the discovery of gold in 1887 to the cessation of mining operations in 1912, Arltunga was rather bustling. Now it's just a few deserted old buildings, mine sites and cemeteries. There's a visitor information centre where it's possible to find out more about the past here, but most of the memories come from just ambling through and soaking up the atmosphere.

For more on Australia's mining heritage, try the Mining Hall of Fame in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.

Pichi Richi Railway

Where: Quorn to Port Augusta, South Australia

For fans of heritage railways, the Pichi Richi is a must. It follows the route of the old Ghan railway, which connected the Flinders Ranges to the coast, and was vital in linking what was a pretty remote community to rest of the state.

Now it operates as a tourist railway, going from Quorn to Port Augusta through the scenic Pichi Richi pass, and usually pulled by a steam train. It's run and managed by volunteers on the oldest remaining part of the former Ghan route, and it represents a fantastic chance to step back in time to a bygone era.

Find out more: Pichi Richi Railway

Kakadu National Park

Where: Northern Territory

When talking about outback heritage, it's impossible to ignore the proper history — that of the indigenous Australian people. Australia is home to the world's oldest continual culture, and some researchers believe it goes back 50,000 years. So to regard history as what's happened in the last 200 or so years is a bit out of order.

There are many sites across Australia where it's possible to learn about Aboriginal Heritage — Uluru, the Arnhem Land and the Coorong National Park are just three examples — but perhaps the best place is Kakadu.

Much of the national park here is owned by the traditional owners, and it's possible to learn a lot at the Bowali Visitor Centre near Jabiru or the Warradjan Cultural Centre in Cooinda.

However, the most fascinating lessons come from the rock art at Ubirr and Nourlangie. Some of the carvings are thought to date back around 6000 years, and it's possible to see history recorded in the form of rudimentary drawings. It's very easy to date some of the pictures — the men with guns could have only arrived on the scene at one time.

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