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Outback offers glimpse of Aboriginal culture

Aboriginal art


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Oldest instrument

Desert wildlife

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ALICE SPRINGS, Australia (CNN) -- It's said that if the Australian Outback had a capital, it would be Alice Springs.

Founded in the 1870s by white settlers as a telegraph station, today it's a bustling community with more than 25,000 residents.

For many visitors, Alice Springs is their first exposure to the Outback and original culture, and many galleries downtown exhibit a cornucopia of art by the Outback's longtime residents.


Some of the most authentic works are sold at the Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre here.

The Aborigines have been on the continent at least 40,000 years, and some archaeologists believe they may have lived here for as long as 150,000 years. With no written language, art is the way aboriginal stories have been passed down through the generations.

Oldest instrument

Also for sale is one of Earth's oldest musical instruments, the didgeridoo. If you don't know how to play it, you can get an hourlong lesson at "Didgeridoo University," complete with a glimpse of how the instrument is made and a diploma upon completion.

Visiting Aboriginal communities is difficult to do and discouraged, given their isolated location and shortage of tourist accommodations. But there are plenty of ways to see and learn about the Aboriginal culture.

Among the focal points is Ayers Rock, the giant red monolith that the Australian government transferred back to traditional landowners in 1985. It's also a sacred place for the Aboriginal people.

"We have an old saying: the land is our mother and if you don't look after your mother, the mother's not going to look after you," said Arthur Ahchee of the Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre.

Desert wildlife

Alice Springs Desert Park is an attraction just 10 minutes from town that features a mile-long walking path exploring three major regional habitats.

The wildlife includes 350 species of plants and 120 species of animals, cockatoos, ghost bats, hopping mice and geckoes among them.

Far from barren or desolate, the Outback has sustained the Aborigines for centuries, both spiritually and physically.

"Bush bananas -- they're a food source; they're also a water source. A lot of the plants around us are also not only food sources but also they're medicine trees," Ahchee said.

Riding the Ghan Across the Australian Outback
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The Top End: Australia in the rough
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A dash over the hump, down under
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Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre
Alice Springs Desert Park
Alice Springs: Gateway to Central Australia
Welcome to the Outback: Australia's Northern Territory

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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