It felt good to be back in Alice Springs. However, it was Sunday, Alice seemed more bedraggled than before, and I had an unfortunate encounter with an Aboriginal woman and, in my opinion, a presumptuous local. I learned that Alice has experienced an increase in crime lately and, unfortunately, a growing racial divide. We had already seen many of Alice Springs better attractions, like its outstanding Desert Park about 4 miles west of town.
Almost exactly between Darwin and Adelaide in the middle of the Outback and 468 miles from Uluru, Alice Springs is hot and with bothersome flies most of the year despite its mountain locale. In the MacDonnell Ranges, Alice has an elevation of almost 2,000 feet and close to 24,000 residents. Having been there before, I was now free to see some of its smaller attractions, like the unusual Olive Pink Botanical Garden and the well-stocked Reptile Centre, which Ruth avoided.
I was lucky. As I approached the Reptile Centre a bus arrived. As I entered it, about 75 girls from a school in Melbourne were getting off this bus. I talked to one of their teachers and found out that she brought a group of students to Alice Springs every year to visit here because she had really bonded with its owner Rex Neindorf, who always gave her students special attention. I asked if I could join them for his introductory presentation and she said, “Yes.” I’m not especially fond of reptiles, but this turned out to be one of the more memorable experiences of this trip.
Rex greeted them and soon plopped a motionless gecko in the middle of the floor. The girls were seated around the large room’s perimeter. Immediately engrossed, they squealed when they saw this critter from an extremely large group of lizards. There are 60 species of geckos native to just Queensland. Next, Rex showed them a Western Blue Tongue Lizard. Always tying his demonstration to a lesson, Rex showed them how to hold a Blue Tongue so that it didn’t shed its tail. “It hisses loudly,” he told them as he circled the group so that the girls could see it up close. Those who were willing felt the blue tongue on their noses as their classmates whooped. Many shuddered and refused.
Australia has some of the most poisonous snakes in the world. Rex didn’t produce one of them for the girls to see up close, but he did tell them that the King Brown species has already killed 3 Australians this year, one of them a 15 year-old girl. The King Brown’s venom takes only one hour to cause death. The girls were clearly enthralled. Some screeched as Rex told them how to avoid encounters. “Never surround a snake or get too close,” he warned. “And don’t wear pink.”
Next, he showed them a tiny fang, which virtually disappeared in his large hand as he circled again telling them that all Australian snakes have tiny fangs, so they should wear long pants in The Bush to be safe. Then he circled with a photo of a bite victim. Several screamed.
Rex next draped a python around his neck and asked for a volunteer to join him. Three of the girls boldly rose. Even though about 11,000 Indians died each year from snake bites, India is not #1. Rex told them that there are 20,000 deaths from snake bites in Sri Lanka every year.
Not planning to go to Sri Lanka any time soon, I went off to see what else was in this Reptile Centre. Since the year 2000 Rex has collected over 100 reptiles representing 60 different species to offer the largest display of this type in Central Australia. I saw a Carpet Python, a Sleepy Lizard, a Thorny Devil, a huge, sunning Perentie Goanna. Terry, the resident salt water croc, was not visible due to murky water. I was not disappointed.