Review Blog

Jan 11 2017

Alice Springs: From singing wire to iconic outback town by Stuart Traynor

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Wakefield Press, 2016. ISBN 9781743054499
(Age: Secondary) Recommended. Stuart Traynor spent 8 years researching the history of central Australia for this book, and it shows in the meticulous detailed recording of the lives spent in the outback - from the explorers who tried to find a path through the middle of Australia, to the linesmen who worked against the clock to string a telegraph wire from Adelaide to Darwin, to the men, women and children who carved out a life on that lonely frontier, not to mention the Arrernte Aboriginal people whose lives were changed forever. Traynor presents an impartial account that draws on historical records to piece together the jigsaw puzzle of interconnecting lives. He tells of the brutality and the massacres within the context of the prevailing mindset of the time. Other writers, e.g. Nettelbeck and Foster (2007) in their book In the name of the law, have delved deeper to reveal a darker heart of Australia, but while Traynor describes the trial of William Willshire for the murder of Aboriginal men, it is but one incident in the wider picture of the good men and bad who all struggled to make a life in very demanding circumstances. However his account of the stolen generation housed, if you can call it that, in the appalling conditions of the 'Bungalow Half-caste Institution' is not glossed over in any way and the story of the desperate plea of the 16 year-old girl 'longing to have someone to help her' escape the sexual demands of the Superintendent is particularly poignant. In his postscript 'An iconic town' Traynor writes that he hopes that we can learn from our past and weave together 'a new life-giving culture' that can be shared by all.
The book is supplemented by a collection of historical photographs, a detailed timeline 1860-1960, reference notes for each chapter, and a bibliography and index. There are some maps at the beginning of the book, showing the path of the submarine cable from England to Australia, and the main towns on the cable line from Darwin to Adelaide - my only quibble would be to wish for a more detailed map showing the many smaller places described in the book. However the book as a whole is an amazing feat of research and would be an excellent reference for students studying this era in Australian history.
Helen Eddy

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