If you were ever wondering what it's like here in Alice Springs, I'll try to give you a quick description.
Throughout much of the affluent parts of the world, Australia has a certain cachet that is unparalleled by other parts of the world. For whatever reason, it has a reputation as a beautiful, wild place unsullied by the modern world. Its indigenous peoples have nobly suffered while maintaining their traditions, and the people are charming, friendly, and good looking.
As a result, many wealthy tourists from overseas come to Australia in search of some kind of authentic experience that will be something like what they've imagined. This is nowhere more clear than here in the Alice, where there are literally dozens of Americans, Germans, Japanese, Dutch, and other wealthy foreigners roaming the streets in search of that elusive Aussie experience.
However, the reality of the place is pretty grim. There's nothing that makes me angrier in tourism than what's going on here: because there is basically no other place in the world that could paint itself as the capital of the Outback, the ground zero of the romantic Aussie experience, Alice Springs is it. The problem here is that people don't care, and cynically exploit the situation for maximum financial gain.
Like it or not, a place can't really be a fantastic place without a certain amount of interpretation, explanation, exploitation, something I can't quite put my finger on. Kyoto, for example, is a pretty damned ugly city hardly worth visiting, but if the tourist office can give you a map showing how to get to the beautiful gardens and temples you'd always fantasized about, it will work out okay for you. This, combined with friendly locals, good quality (and good value) hotels, restaurants, and other tourist facilities, should make up a rewarding tourist experience.
This, alas, is not the case here in town.
Because we'd been camping for several weeks, and because nighttime temperatures are going below freezing, I thought I'd splurge (A$115 a night, relatively expensive) on what the Lonely Planet guide says is the best hotel in town, the Rydges Plaza Resort. The disappointment started when we checked in: everything looked depressingly like something built in a speculative bubble in the 1980s and that had been subsequently allowed to go to seed, á la Moldova. The room must have been swank fifteen years ago, but it's crap now: a mildewed shower that barely works, bleach stains in the carpeting, banged up furniture. (As a bonus, I found my first ever Euro coins in the desk chair! Guess a Spaniard stayed here recently.)
Back in town, we roamed around the mall after dark. Store after store were selling the prepackaged Aussie souvenir experience: the local internet café is even (honest!) called Didgworld. We thought we'd eat at the Red Ochre Grill, but at 7:30 they told us they couldn't possibly seat us until 8:30, even though they had empty tables. When we did eat there, they had run out of the only reasonably priced wine on the menu (the house wine), and substituted parts of dishes without telling us, admitting they'd done so after I asked them. So, not great.
It got more depressing the next day, when tourist attraction after tourist attraction charged ridiculous amounts of money for very little in return. Compared with other places in the country (the national museum in Canberra, the Qantas founders museum in Longreach, the tropical Queensland museum in Townsville, etc), the museums here are crap. The central Australian museum has some bones and rocks; that's it. No information on local Aboriginal culture, etc., noting only that they promise not to show any artefacts so as not to upset the Anangu. Wow, duh. The desert park was the worst: A$18 to enter, no signs around the plants, very few animals on display, and endless crowds of screaming children and cages of birds. >>>YAWN<<<
So, I'm disappointed, but not surprised. Australia at times is the world capital of "good enough" - there's a national feeling of "she'll be right" which I tend to read as "well, it's basically crap, but it'll do". This is depressing, because if they just tried harder, they could both earn a bigger profit through increased tourist numbers, and increase the general amount of happiness in the world by giving good value for money.
I think the solution is obviously to get out of town and go for a good long bushwalk.