Is the never ending story of the unsealed Mereenie Loop Road Central Australia’s answer to Ground Hog Day? Every time a downturn in tourist numbers makes the headlines, that road’s surface is named as the reason why the punters are staying away.
But could it be that numbers are down because it costs too much to get here, it costs just as much to leave, there’s not much to do once in Alice and what there is to do can be expensive?
Or how about that all those who still haven’t seen Uluru can fly there direct, see it, and then move on?
Annie’s has closed, the Todd River (and the Todd Mall?) is a no-go area after dark, Monte’s gets hammered as a matter of course, and we want people, especially young people, to come here to spend money and have a good time?
As they say, good luck with that.
Alice and her environs need a new theme, although what that will be I do not know. And while a journey on a sealed or unsealed Mereenie Loop Road will always be part of what we offer, Alice has to be more than the gateway to the Rock.
We do have the Larapinta Trail and some of the best mountain bike tracks in the world. We also have annual races featuring off-road bikes and buggies, camels, and boats in a dry river. But is all that enough to sustain a moribund tourist industry? Maybe not.
Perhaps, blasphemy of blasphemies, the tourist industry wants to take a step back and stop pretending that it’s the reason for Alice being here.
A question to consider is what are we if not primarily a tourist destination? I can suggest three good answers to that question, and one fairly ordinary one.
We are the cultural centre of a still remarkable and ever renewing art movement, as anyone who has visited the current Desert Mob exhibition at Araluen can see.
We are the service centre for various experiments in remote living that continue to offer challenges and possibilities.
And we are gearing up to host a fine dynamic between Green growth and energy mining.
On the more ordinary side of the ledger, one of our growth industries seems to be in law-n-order. A new court house and the innovative Temporary Beat Patrols limiting access to take-away grog are stand-out examples. Both are necessary, but neither are drawcards.