The following diary extracts were supplied by Helen Blackall. Her Grandmother (Nanna, as we called her) lived only 2 miles from their home and was very much a part of their family life. She was born Ethel Frances Balfour (known as Beth) in 1890, married Charles Franklin Crosby in 1920 and died in 1973. Her family was very involved in the Presbyterian Church at Culcairn, NSW (now the Uniting Church). The following extracts of Beth’s diary detail her 3,500 mile return journey to Alice Springs for the opening of the John Flynn Memorial Church in May 1956.
Monday 30 April 1956
Left Culcairn 6:30 am Monday 30 April. Bob drove me to Albury. Met Vivien there. Murray Valley coach left Albury 8:20am. Lovely day. Morning tea at Yarrawonga, lunch Echuca, Swan Hill 5:30 pm. White Swan Hotel for the night. Started to rain on Monday night and rained steadily till Wednesday am so couldn’t see anything of Swan Hill.
Tuesday 1 May 1956
Left by coach for Mildura at 1:30 pm. A shocking road. Poured all the way so saw almost nothing of the country. Much of the country very barren but several lakes. Reedy Lake, the largest Kangaroo Lake. Lake Tutchewop salt on one side of the road and fresh on the other. Lake Boga 4 miles each way. During the war Lake Boga was used as a base for flying boats. Met Mr and Mrs Lean and Mrs Sleep on bus who told us to look out for Mrs Mary Cox at Alice, an ex Australian Inland Mission (AIM) sister. Arrived Mildura at 5 pm stayed the night at MV Travel Lodge. Rang Mrs McIntosh at Merbene and she met the coach on Wed as we went through.
Wednesday 2 May 1956
Left Mildura at 9 am. A lovely day. Passed many vineyards and orange groves. Country near Adelaide very dry.
At Victorian and SA border at 11 am and put back watches 30 mins. Arrived Adelaide 5 pm. Stayed the night at the Grosvenor – very nice place. Rubber mattresses and foam rubber pillows. Tried to book in on the way back but unable to as it was race week in Adelaide.
They recommended us to Mrs Moloney at Wayville, a near suburb.
Thursday 3 May 1956
Went to Steel Co and got map specially prepared for Flynn Church opening. Left by TAA plane Skymaster “John Gould” for Alice at 11.15 am. Wonderful trip over Lake Eyre at 1.30 pm. Lake 70 miles long – a lot of water in it but they say it has only twice been filled in the history of the white man. Travelled at a speed of 225 miles air speed and 235 miles ground speed and height of 6300 ft. Captain A L Roberts, 1st officer K J Pickloves, Hostesses S Cordin and R James. Very nice lunch on plane. Arrived Alice aerodrome at 3.30 pm – 1040 miles.
Met at drome by Ray with Tuits Tourist Bus and at Tuits depot Mr Darlison from the Commonwealth Bank met us and took us to his home where Mrs Darlison welcomed us and gave us a cuppa. Also a nice hot dinner later. After that we just had bed and breakfast there and out for the other meals.
Mr and Mrs Darlison very hospitable and made us very welcome. Had family of three girls – Margaret 14, Elizabeth 10 and Patricia 8.
Friday 4 May 1956
A trip to Stanley Chasm leaving at 9.30 am. Three bus loads. Stopped at Flynn’s grave 4 miles west of town at the foot of Mt Gillen 3,000 ft high named after J F Gillen one of the early officers of the Overland Telegraph.
Took snap of grave but light very bad. Saw twin ghost gums. They are said to be the male and female spirits of Namatjira’s tribe therefore he will not paint them. Saw Mt Conway the highest peak in the Macdonnell Range. Also the Chewings Range of which the Razorback is a part. Saw Jay Creek Mission Station in the distance. Saw few goats, cattle and horses. Started to rain before we got to the Chasm and rained steadily for the rest of the day. Walked up the valley – very wet and cold. Back to buses where drivers had lunch ready but all had to sit in buses. Back to Alice at 3.30 where after a lot of searching found a tea shop and had nice cup of coffee to warm us. Stanley Chasm about 35 miles from Alice. Home and changed then tea and to meeting in church. Handing over of the keys of the church by architect Arthur Philpot to the Rev J Gray Robertson, convenor of the board of the AIM and handing over of gifts to the church.
Saturday 5 May 1956
To town, got fly veils, films and post cards. Took snap of Aborigines in street. Early lunch and to the church before Ernabella choir sang “This is the House of God”, 1 pm. Had very good seats. Opening of the church at 2:30 pm by Gov General Sir William Slim. Lady Slim and Mr and Mrs Menzies also present. 1500 present. Looked like a downpour but only slight drizzle. Later inspected the church. Very beautiful. Outside walls of bricks made of pink and white granite mixed with cement and washed. After opening ceremony dedication of church and contents. Communion table white marble surrounded by blue anodised aluminium and supported by twelve white pillars to represent the twelve apostles. One pillar short and carrying no weight to represent Judas. Steps to pulpit and floor of church pink marble, walls pale blue cement, ceiling pale blue in centre with dark blue boards on either side. 5 windows on each side in colours of blue, red, green, yellow each colour being a symbol. The divisions in the windows being white porcelain. Red for sacrifice, blue for the sky, yellow for the sand and Spinifex and green for citrus trees. In each window a J.F. One window given by Corowa people in memory of their son Willis, an airman represented a flight of planes. At each end of the church big white pillars on either side with concealed lights, red and white. Fluorescent lighting the whole length of the church both sides.
Behind the pulpit a huge wall or shield of red sandstone 28 ft high and representing the crusaders. A similar one at the back of the church represents the achievers. 40 tons of sandstone in each wall, all quarried from the Macdonnell Ranges round Alice. The walls all 18” thick. In the wall behind the pulpit a big Latin cross made of 18 small St Andrews crosses, 12 up and down and 3 each side across. Crosses made in white porcelain the same as window divisions. Each small cross has opening to allow sunlight to come through and at night are lit with electric light. Upper walls blue cement lower walls of church glass. One pane blue, then clear glass windows which slide open then lower blue. Pulpit and reading desk, also chairs and pews Australian Oak. Pews have steel legs like guttering to hold books. Round the pulpit and reading desk blue anodised aluminium the same as round the communion taqble to look like curtains.
A red velvet banner hung over the pulpit which had as much red colour in it as whole of the wall at back of pulpit. Baptismal font one piece of pink marble very beautiful. The stand was a piece of bore casing painted. Then three fingers of light in glass representing the Holy Trinity.
On the marble were carved three crosses, the Iona, the Southern and the Ecumenical. The pink marble was quarried 75 miles north of Alice. Outside pillars were of white marble chips mixed with cement.
Entrance bridge symbolising how Flynn bridged the distances, the ponds how he was always looking for water. The lilies were all brought from places where Flynn had been. And in the ponds there are mosquito eating fish.
On Saturday evening had tea in AIM hostel grounds with Mr and Mrs. Russell. All AIM nurses present were introduced to Sir William and Lady Slim. Many speakers, Mr Menzies the best.
Sunday 6 May 1956
Church in am. There before 10 and got inside the church. Very good sermon by Moderator General Frank Rolland. Psalm 8 verse 4 “What is man that thou art mindful of him”. More outside the church than inside.
Ernabella choir sang Psalm 122 in their own language. In afternoon to Flynns grave, Address by Pastor Albreicht. Later to old settlers homes. Very nice semi-detached concrete 1 room for each man and share laundry and bathroom. Each house named – Don Thomas, Brisio, Partridge, Kenneth, Wilkinson, Plowman, St Vincent West, Traegar. Very fine vegetable garden and citrus trees. Vegetables sent to Darwin.
Stayed at home in the evening.
Monday 7 May 1956
Started for Palm Valley. 20 on the bus, very big load. 1 bus, 1 jeep, 1 blitz wagon. Drove along bed of Finke River through heavy sand. At Hermansburg had to change into 4 wheel drive bus, before getting to Finke River. Finke River starts at Mt Sonda in the Macdonnell Ranges and runs into Lake Eyre. Mt Sonda 4400 ft, first to come above water. Saw Mt Hermansburg in James Ranges. Crossed many dry rivers. Jay Hugh and Finke. Saw Chewings Range and Mt Conway, the highest point. Took snap of Aborigine Billy, Kangaroo Tribe. Arrived camp 5 pm. Found tent and got bedding from glitz wagon and made up beds. Cuppa about 6pm. Ray the bus driver had to light fire and get tea. Dinner at 9 pm. Mushroom soup, good grilled steak too tough to eat. Ready for bed.
Tuesday 8 May 1956
Breakfast 9 am. At 11 to Palm Valley. Lovely spot but very dull day, no good for photos. Baboon rock at entrance to valley. Amazing what the bus could go over. Saw lone palm tree Livistona Mariae only living fossil. These palms grow nowhere else. Palm Valley is in James Ranges in Willywagtail Creek or Dilderagerie (Dancing Girl). Cycad Gorge very beautiful. Tall Livistona palms in valley and cycad palms growing up sides. Wild pineapples very poisonous. Lunga nut off cycad palm. Grubs eat some trees and they die. The dust left on the trees by grubs very poisonous. Natives shake the dust on emus eggs in nests and the emus are blinded when turning the eggs then natives catch birds Saw wild passionfruit trees and a whitewood tree from which natives make spears and shields. Lunch in valley and walked back to camp. Camp fire in the evening.
Wednesday 9 May 1956
To corroboree site and ground in the morning and Amphitheatre in afternoon but boys couldn’t tell us anything. Ray had to go to Hermannsburg to get 12 more for camp. Bus stick in sand and all had to walk to amphitheatre. Lovely day. I climbed hill lovely view over two valleys.
47 in camp on Wed night – far too many and not enough beds. Some had to sleep on the ground. Mrs Russell and Pat amongst the 12 to arrive. Sanitary arrangements very poor and shortage of water. Ray had to go to Hermannsburg each night for water 15 miles over very bad road.
Thursday 10 May 1956
Breakfast 7 am. Left for Alice 8.20. Another lovely day. Blitz wagon driven by Ray broke down three times then all his passengers had to crowd into big bus and jeep which were already full as far as Hermannsburg, 34 on our bus which before had 14. Terrific load and all through heavy sand. However got through and met other bus at Hermannsburg and so lightened our load. Lunch on road at 2 pm and then on to Simpsons Gap. Magnificent spot. Wonderful colouring. Jeep went straight to Alice as girl wanted to catch train. Alice at 5.30. Had tea in café and home.
Friday 11 May 1956
No trip. Looked round town and in pm went to see Rex Battarbee’s paintings. Bought some Aboriginal prints and some of Rex’s cards. Went to shop and bought an original painting of Elea (Albert) Namatjira’s.
Spoke to young woman in the shop and held her baby for her and later heard she was Daphne Campbell the heroine in the Overlanders. She is now Mrs Calder has 4 girls and is living on a station 2000 square miles. Her husband manages it. She is the only white woman. Home after early tea and read and knitted in evening.
Saturday 12 May 1956
Saw hospital, very nice big place with lovely orange trees round it. Monument near hospital to John McDouall Stuart who hoisted the British flag on Central Mount Stuart in 1860.
Went to Flying Doctor station and heard the galah session . To Emily and Jessie Gaps in pm. Charles Todd, Postmaster General SA when overland telegraph completed between Adelaide and Darwin through Alice in 1872. Emily and Jessie Gaps named after his two daughters, Alice after his wife, Todd River after himself and Heavitree Gap an old family name. At Emily Gap many of the scenes in the overlanders taken and at Jessie Gap a native painting on rock.
Passed the Pearly Gates on way to Gaps where old Pop Clapman used to live – an old tartar. Later climbed Anzac Hill and had birds eye view of Alice.
Sunday 13 May 1956
Church at 9.30 am. Dinner with the Darlesons by special invitation and caught train to Adelaide at 5 pm. Mr and Mrs Darleson and Elizabeth saw us off. Nice little carriage to ourselves, about half a mile to walk for meals. Very long train and very bumpy.
Monday 14 May 1956
Morning tea 6.30, breakfast 7.30. Over Gibber Plains. Oodnadatta 7.30am. Mt Dutton siding 8.45 am. Long stop to take water. Took photo of train at Edward Creek. Mungillaroo changed drivers. William Creek hotel photo. Coward Springs Lake passed huge train empty trucks. Went along Lake Eyre for some time, very pretty.
Tuesday 15 May 1956
Still plains. Changed trains at Port Augusta arriving 10.15 and not leaving till 11.40. Changed again at Port Pirie at 2.15. Adelaide 5.30. Pouring rain. Difficulty in getting taxi to Wayville and then had to go out for tea in pouring rain. Only bed and breakfast at 180 Park Terrace. Glad to have a comfortable bed.
Wednesday 16 May 1956
Town in am. Up to top of Shell building – wonderful view of city but nearly blown away. Booked at Murray Valley for return on Friday. Wired Bob at Moulamein and Rose at Tallangatta. Drive in afternoon along Torrens Gorge and good afternoon tea at Gorge Tea House. In evening drive to Windy Point to see city lights – very wonderful. Bus dropped us at Park Terrace on way home.
Thursday 17 May 1956
Drive to Kuitpo Forest, Port Noarlunga. Saw Clarendon Weir and Mt Bold reservoir. Went through Tintara Winery and sampled wine. Also saw through Davey Art Pottery. Left 10.45 am and back at 5 pm. Had lunch at 12.30 and afternoon tea at Christie Beach – very lovely. Tea in city and home early to pack.
Friday 18 May 1956
Breakfast 7 am, taxi to NP. Coaches at 7.30. Raining but soon cleared and had good run. Morning tea at Blanchtown, lunch Barmera – lovely spot, pretty gardens and nice view of Murray at Renmark. Took snap of river boat, Coonawarra, from bowling green. Pretty tour, big hotel. Mildura 5 pm to MV Travel Lodge.
Saturday 19 May 1956
Left Mildura 8. Swan Hill 12.30 pm. Very bad road. Stayed at Royal Hotel, not at all nice and poor meals. Had walk in pm with Miss Howard and in evening played three handed Bridge.
Sunday 20 May 1956
Left Swan Hill 9 am. Full bus – lot of children. Lunch Echuca, afternoon tea Yarrawonga. Water lying everywhere and over the road in several places between Rutherglen and Hume Highway.
Arrived Albury 6.45 pm. Ron Webster met Vivien and drove me to station where I waited till the 11 o’clock express. Mr and Mrs Deslon on Culcairn station and drove me home.
And so ended a most enjoyable and unusual holiday.
 an occasion on which people from remote areas converse with each other by radio