Between airports

We were lucky. As we parked the car at Alice Springs airport after the agreed return time, the man who had hired the car to us and helped to get it started days before, just happened to be in the carpark.  We fell about him offering profuse apologies.  No extra charges were added to our account!

The Alice Springs Airport is delightfully airy even while you look out at a searingly dry heated landscape. Rich colours and patterns made this airport interesting to look at.   Wikipedia provides factual information here.

Our destination was Connellan Airport which services the Ayers Rock Resort (Yulara) and access to Uluru (including Mititjulu) and Kata Tjuta.Alice and Yulara and Mititjulu.JPGWe were lucky in our flight choice.  Very few passengers had booked on the Qantas Link plane so every guest had a spare seat next to them if they chose, and a window seat from which to see Uluru and Kata Tjuta and the wide land beneath.  The attendants were relaxed and comfortable to chat (or not depending on need ) because they had time on their hands and no unruly passengers to divert their attention.  The views were expansive. Grand. More salting lakes. 20170830_141048.jpg

20170830_141350.jpgAnd then.  My heart missed a beat. From the haze that monumental ‘loaf of bread’ took shape. I was on my way to Uluru (previously known as Ayers Rock).  It would be days before I understood the geology of its existence as a high prominence in an otherwise flat land.20170830_142255.jpgDirectly below, the way the vegetation dotted the land indicated to me that some aboriginal paintings are simply a realistic depiction of the randomness and the clustering and the odd open spaces between.  They are not stylised symbolic depictions.  They can be true representations.20170830_142327.jpgPhew! Another highlight.  Another grand vision.  There on the horizon sat the aged Kata Tjuta (previously known as The Olgas). I felt I stopped breathing.  Here I was in a machine only recently invented in the bigger scheme of things, flying above one of the oldest surfaces on earth. I found all the ideas difficult to put together.20170830_142459.jpgThe closer we flew to the ground the redder the earth seemed. We landed at Connellan Airport and red roads and red soil brightly packed itself across the landscape.  I realised that when aboriginal painters use this red colour as a base, they are creating a realistic depiction of the landscape.  It seems I am a ‘doubting Thomas’ who has to see to believe, to understand, and to know.

Outside the airport under the shade of a long overhang, an air-conditioned hotel shuttle bus waited for us.  The driver was an excellent source of information about the Ayers Rock Resort/Yulara complex and all its services.  I can see clearly that people who drive themselves here cannot know what we learnt, and therefore will not know how to get the best out of the Resort and the access to Uluru and Kata Tjuta.  I am so pleased that Betty and I decided not to hire a car.  Half a world of relevant and useful information would have passed us by and we would not even have realised our ignorance.

Between the airport and the resort complex, Uluru was visible.  Betty and I took over the front four seats and marvelled at unforgettable views of the landscape. 20170830_144957.jpg

20170830_145102.jpg  Kata Tjuta was barely visible from within the bus but it was out there, poking up from the horizon.20170830_145125.jpgI was in awe of the big sky.  An expanse of azure. Then I spotted the moon.  Stunning.20170830_145159.jpgToday we had travelled 600 or so kilometres from one environment to a new location.  Central Australia is a huge space.Uluru - map of resort.JPG

Leaving Ross River Resort

Tuesday – Betty and I were booked for another 12 hour excursion; this time into and around Alice Springs for cultural and social history, and general tourism sites.  But we were too tired from Monday’s trip to the West MacDonnell Ranges. We turned over and went back to sleep.  Eventually we spent the day meandering around the Ross River Resort, reading, chatting, beginning to repack our gear and generally enjoying a laziness along with others.

Wednesday – The day of departure from the Stuck in the Middle With You’s event.20171026_084213.jpgWe had a hire car to return, a Qantas Link plane to catch, an arrival at the Connellan Airport  that services the Ayers Rock Resort/Yulara, a sighting of Uluru and Kata Tjuta, and a dinner amidst a Field of Lights to encounter. After packing, I walked around taking my last photos of the Ross River Resort.

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20170830_081148.jpgWe had been Stuck in the Middle … with a diverse group of women for almost five days.  I am immensely grateful for the initiative of the organisers. Without their planning I would never have visited this extraordinarily beautiful part of the world.  I would never have scheduled so much time in such a place.  Only with that length of time did I have the mental and physical space to ‘feel’ the land and begin to appreciate its scope, age, diversity and spectacle. It was here that I learnt that dust, red dust was simply a part of central Australian life.  Over time, it became part of me and I grew to love the fact that in a small way the land was reclaiming me.

Now it was time to leave. We donated our excess water bladders and food to other women and then Betty was driving and we were on our way westwards to Alice Springs. Leaving the East MacDonnell Ranges.20170830_082854.jpgOn arrival in Alice Springs we decided to find the Araluen Arts Centre which, back in 1988, I had visited when organising the education program for a nationally touring exhibition for the Bicentennial celebrations: The Face of Australia. These days this Centre is part of a much larger complex and we explored some of it.

Once we parked the car, my attention was attracted to brilliant examples of flowering Sturt’s Desert Pea.  An aboriginal woman passed me while I was taking photographs and told me stories about these flowers in terms of indigenous culture – alas, I have forgotten those stories (this makes me realise I don’t  live in a culture of oral stories).20170830_094556.jpgA website explaining the symbolism of Australian native plants, provides information about the attached indigenous understanding here: ‘An archetypal story of doomed love, a young couple elope against the wishes of their kin (she is already betrothed to another), leaving the woman’s tribe to live with the man’s people far away. The woman eventually bears a child, a son whom the couple love dearly. The woman has a gift for channelling the songs of the spirits, and would often sing their words. One day they warn of impending danger and also of immortality for their son. The woman warns her husband but he is too complacent, disregarding the message as foolishness. Shortly afterwards, in the dark of night, the woman’s former betrothed sneaks upon them and he and his men slaughter them all – man, woman and child. Their blood stains the soil and the boy’s body is transformed into the first Sturt’s Desert Pea – his immortal life is begun. A season later, the man returns to gloat over the bones and finds instead the flowers growing abundantly. The Great Spirit, in retribution, sends down a bolt of lightning, killing him instantly and transforming his body into a rock, which is shattered into millions of pieces. The tears of the grief-stricken song spirits dry and turn to salt, causing the salinity of the lakes in that region. This flower symbolises pain and endings, perhaps representing a loss of enthusiasm or something ending in your life, if encountered. Yet this loss in the Dreaming results in something beautiful – the Sturt’s Desert Pea! The flower appears as if it has a black eye in its heart. When something is black it normally denotes something very negative or even evil, however we can choose to regard this part of the flower as that part of us which can see through any pain and suffering to view the immortality or unchanging aspects of our spirituality. The solace Sturt’s Desert Pea can bring is that there is a higher purpose behind every tragedy in life, and if something appears wrong, then the laws of karma will certainly even things out in the long run!’20170830_094549.jpgInitially, we entered the performance theatre building of the Araluen Centre with its large foyer hung with fascinating and very attractive works of art (none of this was built when I last visited). Adjacent to this was an extensive private art gallery selling all manner of artworks produced in the region, plus a public gallery space displaying some of the permanent collection.  The website shows lots of colourful images to give you the feeling of the place – look here.    A map of the Araluen Cultural Precinct can be examined here.   We looked in on other buildings at craft exhibitions.

I found the item marked number 10 on the map to be the most interesting. It was an 18 metre long outdoor sculpture formed in the nature of a giant caterpillar by artist Dan Murphy working with local indigenous participants (remember Emily and Jessie Gaps contained paintings of the sacred caterpillars – Yeperenye).  As you walked through, the sound of voices explaining certain aspects and singing could be heard.  In addition, various interpretation panels could be read.  With the dazzling light coming through at all sorts of angles I found it was impossible to photograph.  One online image will give you an idea of what I saw – note there is more than one image so use the forward arrows to see all the photos.

Before heading off to the airport, we sat comfortably out of the heating sun in Yaye’s café within the Araluen precinct and enjoyed a cuppa. We felt so relaxed that we didn’t have the energy to look at all the offerings in the precinct – opportunities such as The Central Australian Aviation Museum, the Museum of Central Australia, the Strehlow Research Centre, the Kookaburra Memorial and the Big Sister Hill (a sacred site).

Lazily back on the road again, we were drifting down the Stuart Highway when suddenly we jumped with urgency –we would be late returning our hire car.  It is a 20 minute drive from Alice Springs to the airport – we left around 11.45 am and the car needed to be returned at midday. Of course, we fretted about the possibility of additional charges but there was nothing to do except continue onwards.

Notetaking in the East Macs

While I was Stuck in the Middle with You’s at the Ross River Resort in the East MacDonnell Ranges, and laying on my bed, I thought about Haiku poetry.  A haiku is a three line verse with 5 syllables on the first line, 7 on the second and 5 on the third – for this blog post because of formatting limitations I needed to separate each of the three lines with a forward stroke. I wondered if I could write a narrative about some of my Ross River experience using this format (even if it did not have the traditional character and I didn’t follow the other intentions that Japanese haiku masters are noted for).  As I lay in bed and as I walked around the Ross River Resort, I started creating my  haikus. Then I wrote them down.  Here are some below, as a string which represents a brief note-taking that helped to remind me later of a selection of my experiences.  As such, my haikus have been an excellent tool for writing the blog posts.

As you read these haikus, you may recall earlier blog posts which told a fuller story, and there are ideas below not previously expressed. I am under no illusion that these haikus are good poetry; this is raw writing.

At a great distance/Central Australia waits./I flew to meet it

Hobart to Melbourne/From Melbourne to Alice Springs./Landed in dry air

Heading out eastwards/On the road discovering/Histories. Landscape.

MacDonnell Ranges./Only they run east and west/North to south elsewhere

Gentle Emily Gap/The Caterpillar Dreaming/Red ochres painted

Jesse Gap empty/Two caterpillar paintings/No welcoming soul

Corroboree Rock/But Corroborees not held/Here at this tower

Real solo women/Independent travellers/Coming together

Riding in convoy/Zigzagging Australia/Focused together

Rollers on the road/Queued for long hot hours with us/Meeting. Greeting. Smiles.

Women collecting/Apprehensive but eager/To stop, meet, see, learn

Five hundred women/Stuck In The Middle With You’s/Met at Ross River

Five days – Ross River/Activities. Adventures/East of Alice Springs

A safe place to be/Motorhomes, caravans, tents/In fields of women

Powerful leader/Managed the maddening crowd/Capable person

Staff in turquoise shirts/Handled challenges with care/Unfailing service

Campervan Irene/Offered welcome cups of tea/Which we guzzled

Suede brown big foot/Watched the landscape closely/Remained oblivious

Sybil and sister/With lively vivacious eyes/Came from Woomera

Red cheeked Jenny/Surprised with local knowledge/She was not correct

I’d not seen sadness/Then her swollen red rimmed eyes/Told unknown stories

I’d seen fatigue/With bus seats reclined low/Eyes shut, mouths agape

Exuberation/I had seen joyful laughter/And sparkling tutus

Party animals/Sequins and false eyelashes/Adding brightness there

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At eighty six years/She worked all day moving chairs/A model to me

Along the road verge/Eighteen hundred and nineteen/Chairs stood in a line

Guinness world record/Achieved when the chairs touched arms/Surveyor said yes

The camping chairs stood/Fourteen hundred metres long/For cancer research

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I followed a road/Towards the N’dhala Gorge/A Dingo moved. Ran.

It was lean, agile/Dusty yellows reds and browns/Shy. Nervous. Private.

I was so surprised/I forgot to take photos/I watched with pleasure

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Sign said ‘Scenic Walk’./The track visible nearby/Disappeared uphill

Loose rollable stones/Spiky grass tufts that pierced skin/Very steep incline

I tried clambering/For a panoramic view/I was defeated

…………………………………………

Long bus trip out west/Western MacDonnell Ranges/Namatjira land

Chasms, waterholes./Desert spring flowers blooming./Ancient ochres pit.

Grandchildren number?/Fingers and hands in the air/Confusion galore

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Thoughts of departing/Plans for departure tomorrow/Leaving new friendships

BBQ dinner/For carnivores and vegans/Spread on bar benches

We shouted with pleasure/For collective photograph/Outside old Homestead

Flew from Alice Springs/Landed Connellan airport/Seeking Uluru

The prominent rock/Shaped like a loaf of red bread/Rose high from the land

Into the Centre/Among ancient well-worn rocks/I was dusted red

West MacDonnell Ranges-Namatjira

One of the reasons I wanted to visit the West MacDonnell Ranges was to see the landscape which I knew so well from the paintings of western Arrernte artist Albert Namatjira and his younger relatives.  Albert Namatjira  (born Elea Namitjira in 1902) became a household name from the 1950s as the foremost indigenous artist in Australia. He was the first person to record and document the look of the landscape around the West and the East MacDonnell Ranges.

At the Glen Helen Homestead, the owners have decked out one room with paintings by Albert and other relatives.  All show the landscape typical of the West MacDonnell Ranges.

You can read more about this remarkable artist in a National Library of Australia fact sheet. Earlier this year Menzies Auction House were selling a number of works and these are reproduced here. The internet presents images of many of his works and these include some related to the locations I visited.

A watercolour painting of Standley Chasm can be seen here.

A watercolour of Mt Sonder can be seen here.

The Glen Helen Gorge can be seen in this watercolour painting.

Ormiston Gorge can be seen here.

A gigantic River Gum at Ellery Creek can be seen here.

Simpsons Gap can be seen here.

During my day trip I saw white trunked River Gums similar to those Albert Namitjira painted, I saw the piercing sunlight drain colour from the vegetation, I saw the rocky outcrops and ridges which featured frequently in his work, and I saw dry rivers curving across the landscape and water on sandy land within gaps in the Range.

There is more, much more to see in the West MacDonnell Ranges than the few sites I visited. If you can travel to this part of Australia, please allocate many days so you can fully explore the main roads and sub-roads and tracks in the broader region – give yourself time to absorb all your thinkings so you are fresh for more.  I know that once Betty and I returned to the Ross River Resort, we recognised our tiredness came from being overwhelmed with images and experiences over a solid twelve hour period of travel.

COPYRIGHT

In 1957 Albert Namitjira (who died in 1959) sold 87.5 per cent of his interest in his copyright for ten pounds in what has since been deemed an exploitative deal. In 1983 the copyright was sold to a company and the deal to recompense Namitjira’s estate the 12.5 percent stopped.  This meant his family received no royalties and monies stayed in non-family private bank accounts.  The unfairness of the situation has been a source of much discussion amongst Namitjira’s family and the Australian art world and attempts to right the wrong have continued for decades.  I am delighted to say that a deal has been negotiated mid-October this year to transfer the ownership of the copyright to the Namitjira family.  You can read more on ABC online news.

Edging closer to the Stuart Highway

Gradually our itinerary was shortening, despite the fact there are many more sites that could be visited and walks which could be undertaken to explore the land more thoroughly. This is a large and complex country which seems, from the experiences of our one day trip, to be worth visiting over many days.  Our bus continued eastwards. Only one more site to visit at the end of a long day of varied experiences; we were headed for a cultural history site relating to an aspect of a non-indigenous past.Flynns memorial turn off.JPG

Over 100 years ago John Flynn arrived in central Australia.  His findings led to the establishment of the Royal Flying Doctor Service in 1928.  We arrived at John Flynn’s Grave Historical Reserve.20170828_171818.jpg

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20170828_171540.jpgIt wasn’t clear to me what the big rock was doing on top of the structure that displayed the plaque until I read the interpretative panels.20170828_171706.jpg

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20170828_171712.jpgYou could rest on a seat here – with images recognising  the early non-indigenous pioneers in the area.20170828_171621.jpgBehind the memorial, the uplifted West MacDonnell Ranges peered over us. Seeing these sunlit was a pleasing end to this stimulating day.20170828_171543.jpg

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West MacDonnell Ranges – Simpsons Gap

We headed off for another gap in the Range.  This time we arrived at Simpsons Gap.20170828_161744.jpg

20170828_163541.jpgThis was pleasant walking with the sun shining brightly although it was behind the Range and did not strain our eyes.  When I look at the photos below and take time to absorb the details in each, I realise how large everything was. How massive.20170828_163614.jpg

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20170828_163850.jpgThe dry river bed was wide for some distance before we reached the water hole.20170828_164000.jpg

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Water rests in the Simpsons Gap, and long grasses have sufficient moisture to flourish.  20170828_164546.jpg

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20170828_164130.jpgEither side of the water and dry river bed, cliffs and rocky slopes appear as dramatic verticals.   20170828_164250.jpg

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20170828_164259.jpg We left this area with the afternoon sun striking strongly at the top of rocks.20170828_164606.jpg

West MacDonnell Ranges- Ellery Creek Big Hole

From Ormiston we continued to a new gap in the Range; the Ellery Creek Big Hole is the deepest waterhole in the West Macs.   20170828_143548.jpg

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20170828_143806.jpgObviously this is another much visited ‘hole’ if the quality footpath is a measure.20170828_143842.jpgBy this stage I have realised that every gap in the East and the West MacDonnell Ranges has its own unique character and ambience.  I particularly liked the feeling emanating from this place. Very welcoming.  20170828_144311.jpg

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20170828_144513.jpgThe ‘river’ flows in peak times over stony ground.  20170828_144759.jpg

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20170828_144729.jpgThe vegetation was tough. Dry. Sparse.

 

 

 

And then there were the parasitic mistletoes looking incredibly healthy while living off another sparse and hardy plant. A website shows some photos of such plants but none have the brilliant red flower that I spotted near Ellery Creek – on a lot of different shrubs.20170828_144038.jpg

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West MacDonnell Ranges – Ormiston Gorge

After leaving Glen Helen Homestead we began retracing our steps eastwards along Larapinta Drive. The intention was to stop at major ‘gaps’ in the Range that we bypassed during the morning. Ormiston Gorge was the first of these.  Be amazed looking at the two maps below; look at the shape of the landscape and how the Ormiston Gorge cuts through the West MacDonnell Ranges. Glen Helen and Ormiston Gorge.JPG

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20170828_131258.jpgAs usual, the Gorge was a gap in the Range.20170828_131638.jpgThe Northern Territory Government provides information about this permanent waterhole here. The Ranges have their own site with one page providing photos and information here.  As the Travel Outback Australia notes ‘Ormiston Gorge is gorgeous’ here.

West MacDonnell Ranges- Glen Helen Gorge

Our next destination was the Glen Helen Homestead Lodge with nearby Gorge, where a salad smorgasbord lunch awaited us.    20170828_114951.jpg

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20170828_115141.jpgA Northern Territory tourism website presents better photos of the Glen Helen Gorge and site than I took; go here for a good look.

An interpretation panel welcomed us to the area.  20170828_115223.jpg

20170828_115251.jpgThe Homestead was basic and further reinforced the idea that a Resort is not necessarily 5 star glamour. The spectacle is the landscape and the Gorge.  I ate lunch outside the Homestead facing the massive cliff with the Finke River at its feet, with my back to the building – and I felt I was in the landscape. Grand. Wonderful!20170828_115640.jpg

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West MacDonnell Ranges – Mt Sonder

On the road again heading further west there were more hills and more gaps:  20170828_111529.jpg

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20170828_112211.jpgThen we pulled up at a viewing site to consider Mt Sonder with the mostly dry creek bed with occasional water hole of the Finke River (Larapinta is the local Arrernte name for this river).  20170828_11281720170828_113013.jpg

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20170828_113028.jpgAnd I loved the informative panels pointing to and naming peaks in the distance.  Some of these features were on our itinerary for the remainder of the day. 20170828_113041.jpg

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West MacDonnell Ranges – Ochre Pits

Back on the road again driving past seemingly endless kilometres of a Range with features quite different to those in the East MacDonnell Ranges.  My photos seem to flatten what I remember as being high and endlessly impressive.   20170828_101557.jpg

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20170828_102036.jpgAt some point we turned right onto Namatjira Drive and eventually we arrived at a carpark leading to Ochre Pits that were a source of colours with which local aboriginals could paint on rock walls. Local Aboriginals mined the ochres for their ceremonies, and also for trading with other groups.  20170828_104639.jpg

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20170828_110029.jpgI quite liked this ‘coach tour’ because there was little control of us nor guidance, so we would find our own way in our own time, and make our own judgements and assumptions.  There never seemed to be any time pressures to be ‘back at the bus’, by a set time.   20170828_104010.jpg

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20170828_104126.jpgSeemingly the land beneath our feet was an extensive spreading  coloured earth. Before I reached the main pit, a tiny (by comparison with what I saw later) ‘quarry’ was examined by me and many others.  Obviously thousands of tourists pad their way here and formalised paths provide a simple crowd management tool. 20170828_104608.jpg

20170828_105602.jpgThe large scale of this ‘quarry’ surprised me. The principal ochre colours were white, yellow and red with variations.20170828_104900.jpg

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West MacDonnell Ranges – To Standley Chasm

Monday – Prior to arrival in central Australia, Betty and I booked ourselves on a daylong excursion to the West MacDonnell Ranges, locally known as the West Macs – the West MacDonnell National Park (Tyurretye) stretches some 200 km west of Alice Springs.

West MacsMy advance research indicated these ranges and their features were extensive and so I wondered how much of that territory we could see in one day, and which major sites would we not have time to visit.

At 6.30 am two large coach loads of women staggered their departure from the Ross River Resort and we didn’t return until around 6 pm. We were exhausted. Mentally fatigued from an extraordinary day of sights and sites and information and immersion in a range of experiences.  A brilliant day albeit tiring.

First we covered the 80 or so kilometres on the Ross Highway back to the Stuart Highway leading to Alice Springs.  Looking at the country at a time earlier in the morning than when we travelled to the Ross River Resort, made the landscape look quite different. The light was different and therefore the colours seemed fresh and new. I was equally excited at seeing this beauty as I had been a few days before.  It all seemed brand new to me. 20170828_080903.jpg

20170828_081000.jpgAfter about an hour or so we reached and crossed over the Stuart Highway and onto Ilparpa Road heading west past the Ilparpa Swamp Wildlife Protected Area.  This road connected with Larapinta Drive where we turned left.  20170828_081151.jpg

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20170828_082323.jpgSo much big country! So much big sky!

About 20 kilometres later we turned right into the road leading to the famous Standley Chasm.  A gap in the range.20170828_090500.jpg

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20170828_083703.jpgApart from walking to and from the geological feature, this was our early morning tea stop. But it was the walking and the experience of the cool morning air in an almost empty ‘gap’ that I looked forward to; I walked so much slower than the rest so that many had left on the return journey by the time I arrived in the Chasm.  Excellent tourist path.  Wonderful white trunked River Gums.  20170828_083910.jpg

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20170828_084627.jpgThe vegetation beside the track was dense in places with eucalypts and ancient cycad trees.  Gardening Australia explains:  ‘They are ancient cone-bearing plants that co-existed with dinosaurs and covered vast areas of the Earth’s surface 200 million years ago, before flowering plants evolved.’  One species of cycads is unique to the MacDonnell Ranges, and Standley Chasm was displaying dozens of specimens proudly as they grew naturally near the path. Some were massive. 20170828_084253.jpg

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20170828_084806.jpg I could look up to the sun tipped rocky hill tops. The contrasts of light and the diversity of vegetation created a very dramatic environment.20170828_085151.jpg

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20170828_090801.jpgThere were options for longer walks – for another visit.20170828_085232.jpgThen I realised the Chasm was ahead and around a corner or two.  20170828_085622.jpg

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20170828_085727.jpgInterpretation signs explained the local geology.20170828_085707.jpg

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20170828_085651.jpgStandley Chasm, or Angkerle Atwatye (its original aboriginal name) was striking. You may have seen documentaries or photographic images of the Chasm and they are always spectacular. Being present you have the other sensory experiences associated with sound, temperature, smell and touch that layer on additional meanings and value.20170828_085816.jpg

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Through a camping area

After meeting the horses, I continued along the track which ended at the start of Ross River Resort’s large caravan park and camping area.  I wandered through amazed at how many had solar panels. I felt many were glamping rather than camping. Good luck to them – what an amazing lifestyle.   20170827_094313.jpg

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20170827_094408.jpgThe little Gidget ‘caravans’ piqued my interest.  Across the Resort I remarked on an number of different brands.  One woman showed me around hers.  Tiny. Inside room for a double bed and nothing else – you could sit up but not stand inside. Some storage at one end but the rest (marquees etc) must be packed into the area where you sleep. So I would not like to be setting up in rainy weather.20170827_094622.jpgFinally I was onto the road back to my cabin and passing the signed road to N’dhala Gorge.  I looked back along that road and realised how much the terrain changed as the road curved through the hills. What a beautiful morning! 20170827_095127.jpg

20170827_095131.jpg Then I set off to walk back to the Homestead and cabin. In the other direction were the ranges opposite the Ross River Resort.  20170827_095139.jpg

20170827_095445.jpgWhile walking, I mused over the most spectacular memory of the morning.

That event occurred early in my walk; I had passed the Bloomfield Bluff and passed the place where later I would see the three cows.  I was walking wide-eyed with wonder feeling quite hyper with excitement about how lucky I was to be able to walk in this environment. Then the slightest of movement in the distance brought me to an immediate halt. The pale sand/rusty colour of an animal’s back fur was my first observation; in that split second I thought of wallabies and kangaroos. Then, in the next split second, I knew I was seeing a dingo something I had never seen in the wild before.  Being so private and shy, the dingo took flight and ran across my vision diagonally into the distance until it disappeared behind a rocky cliff. I used the word flight but the dingo didn’t fly. At the time I tried to find a word to describe its movement. Dogs lope and this animal didn’t have that up and down motion of a lope, of hitting the ground then bounding up for subsequent strides. Instead it was a smooth fast glide seemingly off the surface of the earth. Almost a blur; perhaps a streak.  Light and lean.  Healthy. I was stunned; too stunned to remember I was holding a camera.  I wanted more. After walking a little further following my sighting of the dingo, I decided that perhaps it was time to turn for home and not have my noises disturb more of these precious animals.  And back to the Resort I walked, as reported in this and previous blogposts.

That concludes the account of my morning walk along the road towards N’dhala Gorge.  Exhilarating!

Returning towards the Resort

Leaving Bloomfield Bluff presented new views. The sun was higher and the landscape seemed different from earlier in the morning.   20170827_085801.jpg

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20170827_090940.jpgNear the sign for the Gate and down near the river bed a couple of campervans were set up.20170827_090947.jpgI decided to wander down. In particular, I wanted to look at whether it might be possible to return to the Resort on the other side of the River in order to bypass the wide water that I had encountered across the road when I started out. People emerged and while chatting, again out of the corner of my eye I saw movement.

In wonder we watched as a handsome stallion, closely attended by a mare and foal, descended from the steep hills onto the creek bed. There was a pool of water and they began to drink. Before long a new string of wild horses followed down the path and joined them.20170827_091623.jpg

20170827_091737.jpgThis 30-second video shows the glossy healthiness of the horses. I hope you can feel the warmth of the sun (and please do your best to ignore the man; just enjoy the horses and the amazing landscape).

Closer to the Resort, I crossed the dry creek bed through animal worn pathways between high rushes, and found a track at the bottom of the hill. 20170827_092847.jpg

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20170827_092859.jpgAfter walking for a while, I stopped suddenly when around the corner ahead of me came a brown head followed by a lean proud brown body. He stopped and we looked at each other. ‘This is your territory’, I said as I walked up the hill a little way and sat down, in case this horse and those following wanted to walk on my path.

I watched as this family of wild horses rolled around enjoying dust baths and then they strolled or ran down to the rushes. At some point I realised they knew that the green rushes indicated the natural spring water that elsewhere crossed the N’dhala Gorge road.  They never had any intention of coming my way that day. They were after a drink.  This video gives a new view of the landscape and the horses passing through.20170827_093631.jpg

20170827_093708.jpgMeanwhile, beside me the hill rose steeply. How marvellous it is to get outdoors and see the world!20170827_093534.jpg

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Back to the Bluff

Slowly I retraced my steps back to Bloomfield Bluff and, in getting closer to and then walking next to the cliff, I was able to appreciate its diversity of vegetation and structure.

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20170827_081414.jpgOnce I was at the base, I could see only a couple of reducing pools of water remained.  20170827_081541.jpg

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20170827_082449.jpgThe high water mark is evident in the photo below, as are the hoof holes from cattle coming for a drink.20170827_082606.jpgThe Ross River is forced to bend by the immovability of Bloomfield Bluff.  The volume of water and the speed of the river have created deep sand dunes in this area.  For half an hour or so, I settled into the bank of one warm sand dune and could have slept comfortably. Low down and out of sight of the road.  Remote. Wonderfully alone. I lay there listening to birds and seeing the landscape awake.

Then I began the walk back to the Resort.

To Bloomfield Bluff and beyond

The Ross River Resort Manager told me a major feature along the route to N’dhala Gorge was Bloomfield Bluff.  The Resort’s website provides the historical background and explains who Bloomfield was: “Ross River Homestead is … a tourist resort formed around the original Loves Creek Homestead built in the 1890’s, and was first established as an outstation of Undoolya Station. It is thought that Alfred Tabe, the foreman at the nearby Arltunga Gold town built the homestead in 1898.  With close proximity to the Arltunga Goldfields, in 1901 Albert Wallis the new owner established gardens and supplied fresh vegetables to the miners at Arltunga.  In 1908 the leasehold was sold to Lewis Bloomfield, a name synonymous with Ross River and the reputation of producing great horses.  Lewis was an expert horseman as were his sons and, in addition to running cattle, they bred horses for the Indian Remount trade (Army) during the time of the British Empire.”

I imagined that the Bluff would be my walking goal and limit. In the end I walked much further as marked in red on the map below.N'dhala Gorge roadmarked red.jpgWhat a glorious morning it was to be alive. As the sun defined the tops of surrounding hills, I loved the awakening of colours around me. Each new turn in the road showed me enticing vistas. I found the pale chartreuse green colour of the vegetation most unusual (compared to what I am familiar with elsewhere in Australia) and very attractive.    20170827_071413.jpg

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20170827_071838.jpg20170827_072619.jpgThe road was, in parts, wonderfully corrugated so I was glad to be walking.20170827_071932.jpgThen the monumental Bloomfield Bluff began to loom.  20170827_073211.jpg

20170827_073326.jpgBut I kept on walking. Later I returned and looked closely around the base of Bloomfield Bluff. For the moment, I followed the road shared by cattle; although early on I did not see the animals only their tracks. Often the River crossed the road and they melded.    20170827_073602.jpg

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20170827_073801.jpgClearly no water ran in the Ross River bed at this time of the year.  But the signs (debris caught around trees) were there indicating the river was fast and high at other times of the year.20170827_073157.jpg20170827_073908.jpg

20170827_081435.jpgLooking back in that early morning strong light I took two photos from the same spot.  Grand.20170827_073814.jpg

20170827_073818.jpgThen onwards with commanding white trunked River Gums either side of the road.

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20170827_080354.jpgI felt overwhelming joy in that ancient landscape. I can see in the silhouette below that I am still wearing my beanie and thick jacket. It was a few low brisk degrees at that stage of the early morning.  By the time I had returned to the Resort, these items of clothing were in my backpack. The air warms quickly.20170827_075413.jpgAt one point I decided to walk off road over to the dry River bed curving beneath the hills, partly because I could see evidence of man’s intervention.20170827_080357.jpg

20170827_080421.jpgWhile standing on the River bank a movement caught my eye. In the photo below, can you see the three black bits in the distance on the other side of the River?20170827_080454.jpgThese were three black steers who seemed to have spotted me and were on their way in my direction, or so it seemed (later I realised they were heading towards Bloomfield Bluff with its small amount of water at the base).  Nevertheless, at the time I thought it was me they were interested in. I like cattle but always worry that, if they are too curious and come too close, then their tonnes of weight might stand on my feet –this thought makes me somewhat skittish.  I used their approach as a final incentive to turn around and start my return journey – despite still feeling fresh and excited and happy to walk further.

Starting on the road to N’dhala Gorge

Before I arrived in central Australia I knew I wanted to travel to N’dhala Gorge because it contains over 6000 individual petroglyphs (prehistoric carvings) as well as rock paintings and shelter sites; research indicated that it was located only 11 kms from the Ross River Resort. I was hopeful that some women would want to travel there to discover its aboriginal artefacts.  The reality was that once the women had travelled for thousands of kms across Australia they had no intention of moving again during the Stuck in the Middle With You’s event.  Try as I might no-one was interested to take me there. I realised that walking the 11 km there and back, plus the walking around the large site, in the hot sun alone would not be smart so I was stuck.  Then I realised I could walk some of the way simply to see a different aspect of the landscape. On the Sunday morning I was up and dressed as dawn was breaking light around the Resort.

As I walked past the Homestead I told the Manager and another guy my plans.  ‘There’s a lot of water for you to cross near the beginning of the walk’, they told me. ‘No worries’, I replied. ‘I can wade through. I can take my boots off if necessary’.  I imagined a bit of water and probably stones to hop around on and, with my good ankle-covering walking boots, I didn’t expect to get wet.   The other guy walked off and I continued chatting with the manager in the half-light (while the tips of the mountain ranges were receiving their first rays of sun) – part of me was deliberately letting someone know where I was going and what my plans were as a security measure.20170827_070844.jpgBefore long I set off. A 100 metres or so later I heard a yell. I looked and there was the other guy from the earlier conversation.  ‘Come on’, he said gesticulating for me to walk over to him. ‘Get in my ute and I will drive you through the water’.  This was good I thought.  It would cut out the distance of the walk to the start of the N’dhala Gorge Road.  So I accepted and off we went.  Marvellous stuff.

And then we reached the water.  It was wide and it was deep enough in places that would have wet me to the crotch. From a natural spring.  He drove me through and up to a gate across the road.20170827_071647.jpgYes I was most grateful. I stood at the gate and watched him return.20170827_071407.jpg

The hill behind

Steeply rising behind our cabin was a stony grassy hill. Nearby was a sign pointing to a barely visible ‘Scenic Walk’ track.20170826_173655.jpg

20170826_173701.jpgAfter watching the occasional woman clamber up and step down with care, I wanted to give it a go (prior to this trip I had fallen over rather badly and my knee and leg were somewhat damaged) even if it meant being slower than slow.  Perhaps I could reach the top and see the 360 degree view.  Meanwhile Betty was enjoying a cup of tea and reading her novel in the restaurant area with its high window through which walkers on that hill could be seen.20170826_105609.jpg

20170826_105739.jpgWhen I started up the hill my farewellers (as if they cared) was a peacock with his two hens.20170827_155710.jpgNote the stony surface below; the stones released themselves from the dry soil as soon as you stood on them. Movement when you did not want it. Uncontrollable.20170827_155808.jpgThe track criss-crossed the hill to some extent as a means of slowing the downward slide, so that height was not gained quickly. And it certainly was not easy.20170827_155821.jpgLook at the hills beyond in the photos below. I was able to block out the unimaginative architecture, and marvel at the colourful East MacDonnell Ranges in the distance.20170827_160107.jpg

20170827_160110.jpgHigher up the hill I created a panoramic shot which gives an idea of the landscape. To some extent the photo makes the range in the distance look rather ordinary and I find this disappointing.  My memories of the experience is one of awe at the grandness and the expansiveness of what lay in front of me.20170827_161143.jpgI was persistently troubled by the slippery slope and the ever increasing steepness of the hill.  My fear of falling and causing my body further hurt was at the forefront of my mind. At one point I would have needed to kneel up to get to the next level. I realised that getting back down that ‘jump up’ (considering my leg and knee) could be next to impossible so I stopped climbing at that point. Therefore, I did not reach the top as other more nimble women (like goats) had done. However, I climbed high enough to be over the top of the Ross River Resort and that satisfied me.

Then I came down very carefully, trying not to slide with each placement of my feet. Meanwhile and unbeknown to me, women were sitting in the restaurant watching me.  Betty heard their concerned comments, hoped for the best and tried not to watch my descent. Obviously I must have looked most unstable.  No surprise there. I felt unstable.

Later I watched a woman with two dogs on a lead going up.  ‘You need both hands up there to help you. You can’t hold the lead and climb up nor down that hill’, I thought.  I waited, worried, in the restaurant until it was almost dark – finally I saw her returning. But the dogs were no longer on their leads. Even they were careful as they stepped down the path.

I am surprised to find I took a selfie (not my most attractive moment) once I was down from that hill.  Smiling. Looking pleased with myself that I hadn’t come a cropper.Helen on Scenic Walk uphill-1.jpgIt is always worth giving something a go and seeing how far you can stretch yourself; seeing how far you can take yourself outside your comfort zone.

After sundown I was able to catch a different look at that hill; still beautiful glowing with the residue of the day.20170828_062032.jpg

Things to do

The Stuck in the Middle With You’s website offered many different workshops and activities throughout the 5 days of our stay at the Ross River Resort.  In addition, the surrounding country was ready for exploration.

We booked a couple of options in advance and then determined to wing it after arrival. Some were free and to these we devoted our greatest attention.  In the end I was happiest wandering around generally, while Betty stuck at some for longer than my attention span. I watched lots of different groups set up in buildings, out in the open, around campsites etc doing all sorts of things.  Some activities flowed over into other times and locations.  For example, the knitters persisted and could be found as individuals or in clusters around the Homestead throughout the days. If a woman had a skill or knowledge that others wanted, then impromptu information/training sessions just happened.  I was simply happy with ambling around the site (perhaps 1-2km in length) and being rather dazed and glazed over.  One feature affected me strongly.

Associated with Stuck in the Middle With You’s, a fundraising event designed to support breast cancer research was organised. Prior to attendance we were all asked to send money for the purchase of a collapsible chair; these arrived at the Ross River Resort in truck loads.  500 women – has to be 500 chairs. Right?  Wrong. People could buy more than one so the number increased dramatically. The idea was to create a Guinness World Record for the longest line of chairs.

During Saturday an army of women unfolded the chairs and lined them up on the road leading out from the Ross River Resort. When the auditor came to testify the World Record was ours, 1819 chairs stood in a line.  Arm to arm, they stretched 1.4 kilometres – the line disappeared around a corner in the distance. An amazing achievement.   20170826_104440.jpg

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20170826_153429.jpgA moment of amusement for some, and frustration for others, occurred once the chairs were in position; a small group of semi-wild cattle was wandering their usual landscape (no fences in this area) and came across the line of chairs. Strange they thought. What are they? They shouldn’t be there. Well let’s see if we can keep going. So chairs went everywhere as the cattle nudged and kicked and created a gap. Then women who didn’t understand that the cattle simply needed to be let through to go safely onto the other side would shoo them and so the startled cattle would retreat a little.  Then return. This ridiculous to and froing continued for a while until the cattle asserted themselves and trotted over the road heading around the Resort to a water hole.  And the chair returned to the line.

One of the most popular activities was quad biking; every two hours a new group of intrepid riders travelled off into the distance.  The rise of dust in the following photos signals their return from one trip.20170826_153124.jpg

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The Ross River Homestead

The building was a composite of a nineteenth century house with modifications and additional rooms, and operated purely for reception, eating, and relaxation. Accommodation was in the cabins a little away.  20170826_105039.jpg

IMG_0530.JPGWith its many rooms and nooks and crannies, there was always a place for us depending on mood. The thick walls of the old section would provide useful insulation in the summer.20170826_105209.jpg

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20170826_105518.jpgOn our arrival on the first afternoon, it was the Stuck in the Middle With You’s volunteers who greeted and directed us. It was not until day two that I met the Ross River Resort owner’s deputy, and the current excellent manager and manageress (5 stars to those two and their handpicked staff!)in the Homestead’s reception area.  It was only then that I had the benefits of a proper reception – access to information in terms of what was where, the facilities we had access to, and broader knowledge of the environment. 20171026_084328.jpg

20170826_105139.jpgShould I join another similar event in the future, I realise I need to go to the main Reception of the accommodation to gather information and not to feel like I am perpetually in the dark as was the case, at least in the first day or so, when asking women who seemed to be associated with the organisers of Stuck in the Middle With You’s.

Outside and in front of the Homestead was a large area with tables and chairs. In one ‘corner’ a large rock edged fireplace was surrounded by logs to sit on. This became a meeting place for many, including those who had travelled with their musical instruments.20170826_105004.jpg

20170826_104227.jpgAnd sitting below in green is yours truly; happily ensconced. Outside homesteadThe Ross River Resort site extended for almost 2 kms from one end to the other.  We all walked back and forth as necessary to get to activities or meals.  I admired the women who lugged their chairs along the way.

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20170827_095454Special ‘installations’ featured beside these roads. Always helped keep a smile on your face.20170827_095753.jpg