Oz’ Red Centre
Country: Australia by Lisette
Whoo hoo, I spent ten amazing days in the bush and desert! I had such a great time with newly made friends, learned a lot about Aboriginal culture, smelled and tasted the desert and walked a fair bit. I decided to use Heading Bush for my tour and that was well chosen in hindsight.
It was fun to cook our own food and sleep in a swag under the stars. We had a wonderful guide and a great group of peeps. Soon we adopted ‘Down Under’ as out theme song and wrote the lines on the dusty windows of the 4WD so we could practice during the long hours of covering vast distances.
The tour started in Adelaide and the first part covered Flinders Ranges. This mountain range is gorgeously impressive with numerous rock carving sites. The Adnyamathanha people (meaning “Hill people”) were the inhabitants for tens of thousands of years as cave paintings and other artifacts indicate. Aboriginal legend shares that Flinders Ranges is formed by one of their ancestors, the rainbow serpent. It is believed the giant snakes created Wilpena Pound and the gaping jaws of one of the serpents is impressive. In 2009 the Federal Court recognized that the Adnyamathanha people hold Native Title over much of the Flinders Ranges. For more information about the Native Title Act, see my blog post about the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra.
The first white people were explorers’ lead by Matthew Flinders in 1802. Since 1845 some people moved here with the first pastoral leases being granted in 1851. To this day, some ruins of sheep farms are found. A little further are small towns Leigh Creek that is mostly famous for its huge open mine for brown coal and Lyndhurst which is known for white, yellow and red ochre used for cave paintings, body paint and ceremonies.
Nearby, “Talking Alf” lives a solitary lifestyle and he claimed to have rewritten the alphabet. Each letter is a symbol and the P is for People of the Sun, meaning the Aboriginal people. Next was the stunning salt water Lake Eyre that was quite empty when we arrived, reminding me of the dry waterfall at Kakadu National Park. It is claimed that Lake Eyre receives millions of liters of water during the rainy season and that it all evaporates in one day! The entire lake only fills up once or twice in a century, but partial flooding happens regularly.
Several times, we’re passing one of the longest structures in the world: dingo or dog fence. It stretches 5,614 kilometres and has stopped many a dingo (which I can vouch for, having seen several rotting bodies) to protect sheep. The fence featured in the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence about the Stolen Generation.
As I wrote in an earlier blog post, the sad similarities between the Stolen Generation in Australia and the Residential Schools in Canada shocked me. May reconciliation efforts continue to take place in both countries. The Native Title Act may not be perfect, yet it seems Canada’s officials could learn a great deal from the effort to work together with the Assembly of First Nations.
What was almost too good to be true was driving through Painted Desert. The scenery is so beautiful and stunning that it took our breath away at times. Wikipedia told me it is created over 80 million years and that the effects of erosion on the residue and the leaching of minerals in the soil are the reason the desert has a multitude of colours today.
I loved the short time we spent in Marree where an Aboriginal Elder set up a cultural centre and museum, Arabunna Centre. This link provides several educational videos. This wonderful man has collected hundreds of unique photos throughout the past and his knowledge is vast. He was very eager to share information and encourage questions, so I and a few others kept asking him more and more for a couple of hours. Of course, us not being of Aboriginal descent and me being a female meant not all questions were answered, but he certainly tried to share a lot of knowledge within the boundaries of his culture.
On the way to our next stop, Coober Pedy, we saw a small flock of emus running away from us! We tried to chase them with the van for a little bit! Coober Pedy is nicknamed the Opal Town of South Australia but I disliked it a lot. There were too many tourists and prices were soaring high. Besides, I had learned enough about opals in White Cliffs.
All this is part of the Oodnadatta Track. Once we got there we visited a RAS, Remote Area School. I was surprised to see the state of the school; it seems not a lot of money is directed to these types of schools. I loved seeing how the curriculum was modified to fit the remote and rural lives of children and the oral culture of Aboriginal children. Must admit I felt more could be done, but had no idea how. The great distances are in the way of developing proper relationships with parents (though I suppose in latter years the flight of Internet must have helped enormously in this regard) and having so much of the Aboriginal culture lost must also make it more difficult.
Day 6 is characterized with driving through Kulgera and cooling off in a swimming pool with a lot of Aboriginal children who all jumped out of the water as we dove in it. Slowly they returned but stuck for the first few minutes to swimming in the other side of the pool. The rest of the day was spent driving to get us closer to Uluru.
Uluru is a magical and spiritual place, I absolutely loved being there. It was unfortunately very very busy but impressive nonetheless. We walked around the entire rock. It is a lame 9.4 kilometers and took us four hours in the heat. Gladly we noticed that most tourists did not walk beyond the first kilometer, giving us the chance to enjoy the largest monolith of the world quietly and with appropriate attention.
Uluru lies in the territory of the Anangu people and is sacred to them who have settled in the area over 10,000 years ago. The first Europeans arrived in the 1870s and named the place Ayers Rock after the Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers. Only more than a hundred years later was the land returned to its traditional owners.
“The world was once a featureless place. None of the places we know existed until creator beings, in the forms of people, plants and animals, traveled widely across the land. Then, in a process of creation and destruction, they formed the landscape, as we know it today. Anangu land is still inhabited by the spirits of dozens of these ancestral creator beings which are referred to as Tjukuritja or Waparitja.” (Anangu traditional landowners)
These ancestral creators lived during the Dreamtime and all over Australia there are records of them, and Uluru is considered one of the most spectacular. It is believed that various features are sacred to specific spirits whom can be communicated with at times. We also saw several rock art sites. It stung me that many tourists completely ignored its spiritual significance and went ahead to climbing the rock. It is awful to realize that the government (whom the Anangu people have to lease the site to!) promotes rock climbing through its tourist companies. Only in 2012 is the controversial issue discussed again but only because fewer tourists opt to climb.
There are two legends about Uluru’s creation, though only the Anangu people know the complete truth. One legend explains Uluru’s existence as a result of grief over a great battle. This slight to the hosts resulted in battle and many were slain. Another legend says that the scars on the sides of Uluru came about during great wars between tribes of Lizard people.
After this mesmerizing visit we saw Kata Tjuta (“Many Heads”) or plainly called the Olga’s. It is Uluru’s sister formation and has 36 domed and coloured shapes covering about 35 square kilometers. The scenery is spectacular and again, it has many Aboriginal sacred sites. It is home of the snake Wanambi, Mice Women, Liru Men, and Malu the Kangaroo Man. More information about the Dreamtime can be read here.
The very last visit of this tour before we hit Alice Springs was Kings Canyon. Amazing walk with steep heights to cover but with steps cut out, it wasn’t too bad. Luckily for me, the walk down was less steep as I do suffer from vertigo. Although I conquered my fear little by little in Australia it was always present, for example when I was in Kakadu National Park, ballooning over the Atherton Tablelands, or stepping behind a waterfall on slippery rocks.
The last night we were bush camping a girl prepared a little speech and said nice things about everyone. She even made “awards” for everyone as a remembrance and I received the “Best Singer Award” because I eagerly learned the words from the song Down Under as well as the “Honorary Award” for prepping lunch. Once more, try out Heading Bush if you are interested and find them on Facebook!