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.We 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.
We 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.On 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).A 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!’Initially, 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.