The Field of Light will stay lit

Months ago when I visited Uluru in Central Australia I posted a story about the sculptural installation known as the Field of Light. I explained this remarkable land-covering spectacle would be removed early this year. I urged people to come and experience this. Well – stop press news!  The exhibition is being extended until 31 December 2020.

So give yourself a break, a much needed holiday. Travel to Uluru and while you stay somewhere in the Ayers Rock Resort complex, make sure you dedicate one dark evening to exploring this Field of Light.

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Off to dinner- not just any dinner

Uluru airport.JPGThe airport shuttle bus dropped us at our accommodation, the Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge after driving around the Ayers Rock Resort circuit with the driver noting key spots for our information – other hotels, cafes and restaurants, the Town Square, staff quarters, walking tracks, the caravan and camping park (where 300 or so Stuck on the Middle With You’s women lodged themselves) vantage points to watch sunrises and sunsets on Uluru, and much more. 20171026_084610.jpgAt reception we bought our bus passes to transport us to and from Uluru and Kata Tjuta (me a 3 day pass and Betty a 2 day pass). 20171026_084506.jpgWe wandered around our Hotel complex and found shops, bars, restaurants, laundries, kitchens, a swimming pool, and more.  We stayed in the Hotel while the Lodge buildings seemed to be designed for low priced accommodation suitable for backpacker type guests who chose not to camp.

At 5.30 pm packed with all our warm gear, Betty and I joined our pre-booked coach for sunset over Uluru, dinner in the desert, a talk about the stars, and the experience of the Field of Lights sculptural installation.20171026_084546.jpgAs the sun was setting the landscape coloured richly.20170830_175221.jpgI noticed thousands of tall trees with a narrow shaft of vegetation.20170830_175402.jpgIn subsequent days I learnt that these trees grow in this way until their tap root reaches water very deep down, and then they give themselves permission to grow out as well as up. In this way they grow to look like what we might think of as a typical rounded bush tree top shape.

I do not seem to have photos of the sunset over Uluru (perhaps the endless sparkling wine in my glass and the delightful canapes kept both hands full) but I do have shots of the sun setting near Kata Tjuta.20170830_182911.jpg

20170830_182920.jpg When a dusky light covered the land and my camera was not facing the too bright light of the sunset, Uluru stood out prominently.20170830_182954.jpgWe walked along a red dirt track until we reached a cluster of round tables with crisp white fabric cloths.  At random, we were grouped into eight people and directed towards a table.  The wine and bush tucker inspired food flowed for hours. As did the laughter.  We were so fortunate to sit at a table with entertaining people who were loving the experience. Portable heaters kept the air warm around us. And millions of stars sparkled above us. An astronomy expert, a Star Talker, with an excellent conversational style introduced us to configurations in the heavens, and we all looked up in wonder (that is if my experience is a general one, often wondering whether we were looking at the right thing – the many glasses of sparkling wine made distinguishing the stars in the sparkling night sky challenging). But that part of the night was another vital ingredient in a mix that was endlessly entertaining.

Finally it was time to leave the dinner table and my congenial companions for the Field of Lights, in an area larger than two MCG grounds. Over the hours we had seen, in the distance, part of the landscape colouring with light. Now it was time to experience this extraordinary installation up close. Bruce Munro is the artist and he shows some of his work here.

The Ayers Rock Resort website says ‘The exhibition, aptly named Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku or ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ in the local Pitjantjara language is Munro’s largest work to date, with more than 50,000 slender stems crowned with radiant frosted-glass spheres over an area the size of seven football fields.’ Please go to this website and look at the photos – as you can see below my camera was most inadequate for night shots of the Field of Light.

20170830_213146.jpgThe artist Bruce Munro has said ‘I saw in my mind a landscape of illuminated stems that, like the dormant seed in a dry desert, quietly wait until darkness falls, under a blazing blanket of southern stars, to bloom with gentle rhythms of light.’ The look of this site-specific light installation was spectacular. The scale of the installation was larger than I imagined.  The colours varied and blinked. And there were multiple pathways through these slender lit stems so that, as I walked (we were free to self-guide our way), I became immersed in that strange landscape. I felt like ‘picking these flowers’ – that is how it seemed to me. Another Northern Territory website presents a colourful view of the lights. Hypnotic. Dazzling.  A big idea for a big space. A world of visual magic.  This installation was due to be dismantled earlier this year but by popular demand it’s life in the central Australian desert has been extended to March 2018.

From our morning in Ross River dust and rustication, to experiencing an aerial view of the big land,  to the sophistication of a technological marvel at the end of the day in pristine night air, I was moved through extremes of thought and emotion. It was a big day of rich encounters. I hardly recall getting on the bus, travelling back to the Hotel and falling into bed after 5 hours of endless delights. But I know I did, because the next day involved me in new monumental  episodes.

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.