By ALEX NELSON
Today is the anniversary date of when this splendid photo was taken exactly 62 years ago (photographer unknown) – and, like today, it was a Saturday.
It depicts Prince Phillip stopping to talk with a group of delighted school girls at ANZAC Oval, during his first visit to Alice Springs in November 1956. From left: Sandra Mitchell, Elaine Stephens, Valerie Tuncks, Maisie Webb (at rear), Thelma Burrows, and Judith Litchfield.
The Duke of Edinburgh was on his leisurely way to Melbourne to officially open the Olympic Games on behalf of the Queen. He arrived in Alice Springs on Friday afternoon, 16 November (most likely he flew the aircraft himself as Prince Phillip was an accomplished pilot) after having travelled to various destinations in the NT. He stayed at The Residency for two nights.
The Duke toured Alice Springs extensively on Saturday, commencing that morning with a visit to the top of Anzac Hill and then was shown the new Eastside suburb, as detailed by the itinerary verbatim:
“From Anzac Hill return to the Stuart Highway by the same route, thence continue left along Wills terrace over the Todd River Causeway, turning right along Sturt terrace, thence left around sections 395 and 396, continuing along Lindsay avenue past Gillen Park on the right, thence right again around section 424 into Undoolya road to the south-eastern extremity of Ross Park, thence left along Winnecke avenue for its full length, turning left at Gosse street and left again around section 691 into Lindsay avenue to its intersection with Undoolya road, thence turn right along Undoolya road, re-crossing the Todd River Causeway, continuing along Wills terrace, thence turn hard right at the entrance gate to the Recreation Area, this being a continuation of Todd street. Turn hard left around tennis courts, then around the oval, taking a wide left turn to the front entrance of the Alice Springs Higher Primary School.”
And thus we arrive at the moment when this photo was taken.
It’s of interest to note that house blocks in what is now the Old Eastside were referred to by their section (lot) numbers – street numbers didn’t commence until 1958. And when the Duke travelled over the “Todd River Causeway” there was no footbridge beside the road – it was built the following year. The “Recreation Area” was the name then in use for ANZAC Oval.
After greeting the students near the school, the Duke was then taken to visit the Royal Flying Doctor Service and then out to Connellan Airways aerodrome, at that time well outside the town to the west. The official party then spent some time at Eddie Connellan’s private residence.
On Sunday, 18 November, the Duke and his entourage attended a church service at the John Flynn Memorial Church. Considering the short distance between The Residency and the church, one might assume they would have walked but no:
“Leave the Residency from the front entrance in Parsons street, turning left into Hartley street, then left again at the intersection with Gregory terrace, thence left again at the intersection of Gregory terrace and Todd street, entering the John Flynn Memorial Church drive-in.” After the service was over, Prince Phillip remarked that the pews were the “damned hardest” he’d ever sat upon.
Later that day Prince Phillip left The Residency to “turn left into Hartley street, continuing on to its intersection with Stuart terrace, thence left along Stuart terrace to its intersection with Todd street, thence turn right, continuing along Todd street to the aerodrome” from where the Duke of Edinburgh departed Alice Springs on his way to Melbourne.
The road to the aerodrome (now the heritage-listed 7-Mile Aerodrome) in those days was via “Todd Street” (Gap Road) and then out on an unsealed road. It was many years before Telegraph Terrace existed.
Prince Phillip’s visit was highly popular: “Schoolkids all over the Northern Territory reckon that His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh is just tops. Because. You’ve guessed it.
“Monday will be a holiday for schoolchildren from Borroloola to Birdum and back – and that includes Alice Springs.
“Thanks, Duke. But you should hear what the mothers have to say!” (Centralian Advocate, 16 November, 1956).
Note of related interest: “Royals at The Res: Curtseys, Chaudfroid and the Shigella Shame”, an exhibition including video work by Pip McManus, is showing until 30 November.