Visiting Palm Valley in the 1950s

Palm Valley is still a 4WD adventure…

Yes. We know it’s been a while since we posted. So let’s start off with something interesting.

Palm Valley – that outback oasis 130km west of Alice Springs.

Over the past 12 months, we’ve had so much rain in Central Australia, that the rickety 4WD track into Palm Valley has been closed more than it’s been open!

In fact, twice the road across the Finke River at Hermannsburg – the big concrete causeway- has been completely washed away.

Gary has had to do a mercy dash out on 2 occasions to ferry overseas tourists back into town after they’ve been stranded by floodwaters and missed their flights.

One poor couple had to leave their hirecar stuck in the river and then pay to have it recovered.

The road has now been repaired reopened and thankfully, we’ve stopped having torrents of rain!


Driving to Palm Valley Now


If you’ve never been to Palm Valley, and you’re wondering where it is, then this page will help.

A few quick facts:

  • Palm Valley is located approx 130km west of Alice Springs
  • Palm Valley is part of Finke Gorge National Park
  • Finke Gorge National Park is 46,000 Ha in size (it’s BIG)
  • Finke Gorge National Park is now being jointly managed by the Parks and Wildife Service and Western Arrernte Aboriginal people

Driving to Palm Valley requires a 4WD. You drive in bed of the Finke River for most of the way. The last 5km into the palm groves are the bumpiest and the ones where you need to take the most care.
This clip (taken by Gary) shows you exactly what driving into Palm Valley is like when there’s water in the Finke River:

Working at Palm Valley in 1958


So if the track is like that in 2011, have you wondered what it might have been like 50 years ago?

Edna Bradley worked for one of the pioneers of Central Australian tourism, Len Tuit, and has written an account of visiting and working at Palm Valley in the late 1950s: A Rock to Remember.

I was surprised to learn that road to Hermannsburg was bitumenised back in 1958. I guess it was a single lane strip, much like the Plenty Highway is today.

(Come to think of it, the last 80km of road to Hermannsburg was a single lane bitumen strip until 2004. I remember doing a sacred site clearance for it in mid 2003.)

Another surprising thing was that you couldn’t go into Hermannsburg at all. The Finke River Mission forbade it. Today, Hermannsburg is an Aboriginal community that welcomes visitors. Today visitors can stay in a camping area or cabins.

Edna’s account focuses on her journey in and her work:


Palm Valley is set in a canyon on the southern tip of the West MacDonnell Ranges and can only be reached by four wheel drive vehicles that drive along  the dry bed of the Finke River. Our bus rocked and groaned in the deep sand.”


Les Tuit had built a camp (a chalet) at Palm Valley, in further along the valley from where the camping area is now. Edna describes more of the hairy jounrey in:


We continued along the riverbed, often over huge boulders and the bus rocked from side to side then it would drop into deep sand. I wondered if we would be stuck and stranded straddling one of the boulders. I thought, Angus really knows how to drive this bus. The rough track continued until we reached the Chalet, nestled beside a high rocky cliff.”


Although I’m unable to find any photos of Len Tuit’s tourist chalet at Palm Valley, Edna’s account makes it sound like a combination of very hard work, exploration and fun.

If you’d like to read Edna’s book, A Rock to Remember, which covers tourism in Central Australia in the 1950s, then you can buy a copy from Red Kangaroo Books in Alice Springs.




1 Comment

  • Alexander Dietz says:

    Dear Gary and Amanda,

    the contact form on your homepage does not work. I did enter the right word, but nevertheless it was stated that I would have entered the false word. Therefore I will write to you at this place.

    thank you four your pleasant website. I myself am German. It is Aboriginal culture and languages which fascinates me very much. It is great to see that you have seperate articles on Aboriginal languages and culture. I would like to ask you questions about this topic.

    I have read on the web that Aboriginal languages are now being taught in some mainstream schools. Is it possible to visit Aboriginal lands for the sake of linguistic and cultural immersion?

    Do language centers give support to everybody who wants to learn a language other than the few “great” Aboriginal languages?

    Is it possible for Australians to use language skills by volunteering in Aboriginal lands?

    Is it possible in Alice Springs to use language skills of Central Australian languages up to every day?

    Do students who are learning/have learnt Arrernte in Alice Springs usually use their skills, too?

    Which is the reaction of an Aboriginal person on being addresses in his/her language by a non-Aboriginal Australian?

    When I hear from the Outback, I think that Aboriginal languages simply belong to it. In Paraguay, settlers did adapt Guarani as national language until our days. I wonder why it did not happen in Outback Australia.

    Thank you very much for your reply.

    Yours faithfully,

    Alexander Dietz

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