Tourists who come to Alice Springs, Australia, are usually on their way to the outback, the rough-and-tumble red rock wonderland that embodies the spirit of the continent down under.
But for Latter-day Saint teens who live here, Alice is more than a jumping-off point. It’s home, a small, laid-back town where everybody seems to know everybody, where LDS youth are well known because of the things they’ve done. For example:
Many of the LDS kids in Alice attend St. Philip’s, a private school run by another church. Like most Australian schools, St. Philip’s has a strict dress code. Everyone must wear uniforms, and there are even rules about jewelry—only one pair of earrings, no bracelets, no rings.
That was the rub for the Mormon kids—no rings. Like many Latter-day Saints worldwide, they like to wear CTR rings. But they were told to remove them, even though exceptions had been made before for jewelry with “religious significance.”
“I’d explain why it was important to me,” says Lavinia Archibald, 16. “But one of my teachers kept saying to take it off or she’d confiscate it.”
The LDS students and their parents (including branch president Mark Webster) talked to the principal, who knew the LDS youth as some of his best students. He talked to the faculty, explained that CTR stands for “choose the right,” and gave his approval for Latter-day Saints to wear the rings.
“Now the teacher is fine about it,” Lavinia says. “She’ll have you reach your hand out, then say, ‘Ah, you’re allowed.’”
But that isn’t the only thing that’s getting LDS students noticed. In their religion classes (which are required in Australian schools), the Mormons keep volunteering to give the prayers, and they always know the subject matter.
“The principal and my father are friends,” Yasmin Webster, 12, explains. “He would come up to my dad and say, ‘What am I going to do about my religion classes? Your Mormon kids know as much as the teachers!’”
“We were studying New Testament in early-morning seminary, then the same thing in religion class at school,” says Steven Yeckley, 15. “We knew all the stories. We knew the answers. One teacher even invited me to teach the class the story of Saul.”
And Latter-day Saints here stick together.
“At school, kids say, ‘If you hang out with her, I’m not going to hang out with you,’” says Melanie Webster, 16. “Or they say, ‘You can’t talk to him; he’s not cool.’ But the Mormon kids are loyal to each other. Don’t be ashamed of your Mormon friends, ever.”
“Lots of Church members who come through Alice say the youth here are the closest they’ve ever seen,” says a third Webster sister, 13-year-old Sherri.
“Dad is always telling us to remember we are Mormon girls, so we should act like them and dress like them and set good examples,” Yasmin says.
It’s a similar story for the Marriott boys.
Fourteen-year-old Jason and his brother Simon, 15, are nearly inseparable. They look enough alike to be twins, and they have a family history in the Church that stretches across three generations. Their grandmother was one of the first to join the Church in Alice Springs. Their father was branch president for years. Everyone in Alice knows that Marriott and Mormon go together.
“We don’t make apologies for our beliefs,” Jason says.
“Even if we were all alone we’d live the gospel,” Simon adds, “because we know it’s true.”
But it’s not only in public ways that the gospel helps the youth in Alice Springs. For Ivan Munn, 18, the gospel has brought the reassurance that he can turn to the Lord for help.
“I’ve learned some things the hard way,” Ivan says. “I fell away from the Church, but now I’m back. I’ve stopped doing the bad things, and I’m working to show my love for the Lord. Repentance is a hard job, but it’s worth it.”
Ivan says Church friends have made a difference. “The youth here, the missionaries, the branch president, the mission president—they’ve all helped me sort things out,” he says. “But faith in the Savior and in Heavenly Father is what keeps you going. In the Book of Mormon it talks about the servant and the master in the fruit fields. [See Jacob 5:3–77.] It talks about cutting out the bad fruit so that good fruit can come forth. I think that symbolizes my life. With the Lord’s help, I’ve cut away the bad fruit. I believe the good fruit is starting to come forth.”
Ivan speaks with great conviction of an experience he had as an 11-year-old. “I had just joined the Church. We were celebrating someone’s birthday at the chapel when all the lights went out. Someone whispered to me, ‘Why don’t you say a prayer, Ivan?’ I knelt down and said, ‘Heavenly Father, please let the lights come back on so we can continue.’ And the lights came back on.
“Children have incredible faith. Now I’m trying to have that same childlike faith. My life went dark. But I have prayed and believed with everything I have, and the lights are back on.”
Talk with the LDS youth here about what really matters, and you’ll learn something interesting about Alice. The town may be the gateway to the outback, but the LDS branch here is a gateway to the gospel. And that’s a wonderland more exciting than any earthly scenery!
Take this group of Aussie latter-day youth, add in a good mix of Yanks (Americans) who’ve come to Alice because of fathers in the military—like Ian Schneider, 16, and Susan, 16, Steven, 15, and Thomas Yeckley, 13—and you’re likely to join them on an outing in the outback.
You’ll definitely do some bush bashing, some sightseeing, and some learning about nature. You might eat Vegemite on toast (a salty mix of yeast, vegetables, and oil), an Aussie burger (complete with beet root and pineapple), or pavlova (a dessert made of baked egg whites, sweetened cream, and fresh fruit).
In town, you can tour historic Alice Springs, see the water source and the old telegraph booster station, visit the aboriginal museum, go ice blocking or sand sledding, or join a lively game of volleyball. But regardless of where you go in Alice, you’ll find the LDS youth are widely known and widely respected.