Central Australia

Simpson’s Gorge.

The Gorge.

He rolled into the Simpson’s Gorge with the intention of hunting down a mechanic. His vehicle was having issues, classic campervan problems like the CD player glitching on an eternal loop of Slim Dusty’s Greatest Hits and the kitchenette cupboards banging open on every bend. Those, however, were an easy fix with duct-tape and an ocky-strap. He was in need of a mechanic, this was a professional job. The engine light had been glowing for a solid ninety kilometres and made strange hissing sounds when he stopped to pop the bonnet, but he was too far from the Alice to turn back.

Simpson’s Gorge had a self-contained truck-stop with adjacent caravan park, a line of motorhomes with fringed awnings and potted succulents, unphased by the furnace-breath breeze. A transient space for the ones who chose to rest their calloused feet under yellowing bedspreads. The independent petrol station backed onto a general store-come-pub complex, which boasted ‘The Coldest Beer In The State’. Beyond that, the gorge glittered silver sparkles in the late afternoon sun and flocks of lime budgerigars peppered the deep blue sky. Smears of white in the distant blue hardly threatened a drop of rain. Not that the area needed it of course- the gorge overflowed with still waters, the occasional ripple of aquatic life surfacing for just a moment, or two.

Jerking about his legs, he arched his back and heaved a mighty yawn. He hoiked up a wad of phlegm and noted its grit as flecks of red dust congealed on the ochre earth. He walked through the petrol station, paused to delight an aviary of caged finches, then pushed into the general store. A splintering piano covered in old leather boots adorned the front porch and a dusty kelpie raised its eyebrows as he passed. Beyond the holey fly-screen, the general store was a few degrees warmer than outside, accompanied by the low hum of a freezer sporting ‘fresh calamari’ well past its use by date. Dust stirred about his shoes as he rested his elbows on the counter beside a glass terrarium housing a thick web and a very active Black Widow spider.

A sun-kissed woman in her mid-forties came up to the counter flaunting her leathery breasts spilling from a low-scooped singlet. “How ya doin’ love? I’m Lorna.”

“Yeah, not bad thanks. Look, I’m after a mechanic. Stupid vans, can never trust ‘em.” He flashed her a smile.

The woman leaned forward and he noticed the faint smell of jasmine. “I’m sorry sweetpea, just missed him. He comes back next Monday, you in a rush?”  This threw the man a little. He cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck. This wasn’t ideal, but maybe the unscheduled pit-stop would grant him a little ‘me-time’.

“Uh, sure, I- well would I be able to stay till then?”

With a bat of her eyes, she perked up, “Absolutely! Stay as long as you like, in fact stay forever if you want!” she joked. “Don’t be a stranger, make yourself at home.  Want a spacious room?”

“Nah, think I’ll just stay in the van, yeah. Get a lot of privacy in these parts?”

“For sure. I’ll come hook you up to the electricity and water, that okay? ‘Far as privacy goes, you could scream for days and no one would hear you for miles. Pure bliss. Sure you don’t wanna stay in one of my vans? Gets cold at night.”

“Um, actually,” he stammered. “No need to worry about hooking me up. Looks like your pub should do the trick,” he winked.

“Sure, no dramas,” she smiled. “There’s a long drop, but that’s it for amenities. If you need a wash, most of the campers go to the gorge. Want me to fix you up something for dinner?” The thought of a lump of rare steak got his blood pumping. In a flash, she was serving him, then sat herself beside him. A cockatoo sat perched on a bar stool and cocked its head to the side. “Don’t mind Jack, he’s my precious boy. Anyways, wanna come back to my cabin for a couple of drinks after I close shop? My treat.”

He looked down to his navy workman’s singlet and thickly haired arms. “Sorry love, you’re too good for me.”

“Oh, stop it! Catch ya, love” and as she took his empty plate, he gave her slap on the ass and she shrieked. Before he left the store, he bought a packet of deep red hair dye, a half-litre of grape juice, some crackers and marmalade.

Back in the campervan, he crawled up the ladder to the double-bed overhanging the driver’s seat, unfastened the safety net and rolled himself beside a girl. Her breathing was slow, her wrists bloodied from where the cable ties bit into her, her streaked mascara created a dry roadmap of enlacing lines. He snaked in beside her and lay on his stomach.

“Got us some wine to celebrate our little holiday! Well, it’s only grape juice, but it’ll do. Got you some crackers too, and some marmalade. What a smorgasbord! It’ll be like having High Tea.” Her eyes fluttered and she gasped, coming to her surroundings. At this, he started, climbed back down the ladder, grabbed a syringe of ketamine and jabbed her in the neck.

“Phoar. Anyways, I bet you’re up for a wash. I’ll help you. It’ll be nice. Got some dye for your hair too. Jean was more of a red-head see, but you’ll do.”

Her eyebrows twitched as sweat trickled and tears surged. He loaded up a sling bag with things for the picnic and grabbed the rug, planning to give her hair a quick rinse through, and watch the sunset by the water. Afterwards, well that was up to how she behaved in public. “Remember these?” he showed her the wire-cutters and bamboo toothpicks before slipping them into a side-flap. He added a wink too, for he loved her reactions; her breath quickening, her lips quivering. He found paralysis most effective, almost thrilling. It was like playing with a doll, only softer and warmer. He could do anything he liked.

He hauled her up onto his back for a piggy back, pushed open the door and trudged on into the twilight.

The water at Simpson’s Gorge was clear. Murkier in the depths as shadows moved with a thick silt to create a cooler undercurrent. A willy-wagtail kept watch and a water monitor sunbaked in the last rays of the day, leering over at him from a couple of yards away. The water lapped the banks where he very carefully lay out the picnic rug and meticulously arranged the food and drink. He inspected his fingers, dismayed that such a delicate job be done by dirty hands such as his- red dirt was caked under and around his fingernails.

He lay her down on the water’s edge and tore open the auburn hair dye with his teeth. He didn’t need to read the instructions, his hands ran on autopilot. He undressed her, trying unsuccessfully not to reopen any old wounds from before. Her fresh blood coursed in a steady flow into the water like a ruddy stream- must’ve pulled off a few crusty scabs. At that, the reeds began to rustle as the wind picked up a melancholy howl through the gorge. The water monitor looked on, unblinkingly. As her body became submerged in the water, the undercurrent seemed to draw her in. The silent waters of the gorge were no longer still and the mud sucked her down.

He rinsed her hair. In the water, the red plume clouded with her rusty blood. With the gradual lapping of the water, her ivory skin became enveloped in a thick mask of river mud, and silt. The nutrients from the ancient waterhole soothed her wounds and clothed her after he had so salaciously undressed her. Her shoulder-length hair splayed out into the water, like searching tendrils.

He was stopped mid-rinse by a whisper among the reeds and a rustle from behind. He turned to see the monitor destroying his High Tea set-up, then it locked eyes with him. Covered in red dye up to his elbows, he hitched up his waterlogged shorts and made for the reptile, fire welling in his chest. The willy-wagtail whistled an alarm that set off a chorus of shrieks from all around him, setting off the caged finches from the pub. Jack back at the Lorna’s bar cried in reply.

The calm waters offered the girl solace and cool respite. She slipped into the shallows.

He turned. “What. The. Fuck.” It all happened so fast. One minute she was there, the next, well there wasn’t even a ripple. He spent a good fifteen minutes searching the empty shoreline, in a heavy silence, wading in for his exquisite Jean.

After some time, he felt the bite in the air that came with dusk. He wandered in a confused daze back up to the lights. Lorna was wiping down all the surfaces, making sure all the glasses were streak-free. The captive spider reared up and Jack the cockatoo screeched when He walked in.

“Ready for that night cap?” she purred.

“Fuck me, been a helluva day.” He slumped on a bar stool.

She sidled up to him, and perched herself on his side of the counter. “Tell me ‘bout it, love? Been a while since… well it’s been a while.” She caressed his neck.

“Don’t really wanna talk about it.” He hung his head in his hands.

“Your hands, is that the dye you bought earlier?” She stopped touching him, her brows knitted. He had nothing to say. “Did you bring a woman here? And after you was flirtin’ with me so? After you lead me on?”. They locked eyes.

He recalled the sting of the smack. He filled his fist with her hair, breathing in her floral scent and closed his eyes. He could dye her hair too, he figured. She would do as a replacement. “I love way you smell,” he panted.

Spying the auburn dye and the red caked under his nails, she tilted her head. She plastered on a saccharine smile, the kind of smile that doesn’t reach the eyes and regained composure. “Come here, pumpkin.” She planted a sticky kiss on his cheek.  “Lemme show you somethin’.”

She took him by the hand into the darkness outside, peering over her shoulder at him. “This is the long drop I was telling you about. If you look inside, you can see where all the lovers have etched their initials.” He stalked into the outhouse and peered into the black abyss. “It’s kind of a thing around here. Leave your mark behind. Wanna leave yours?”

He felt a blinding crack on the back of his head, then tumbled into the blackness.

Lorna hotwired the engine of his campervan and backed it up beside all her Winnebagos.

With the threat removed, the gorge returned the girl. She resurfaced at daybreak.

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Travel Blog to Central Australia; Day Eight

My trip to the Red Centre must end, but my long, transitive and spiritual moment will never.

Sunrise this morning saw the arrival of a full, rich, golden disc. Saffron perhaps? The colour of a peach’s flesh? The surrounding clouds shifted from a dusty pink and lilac to a brilliant peachy orange. Kata Tjuta emerged from the horizon with the back forms catching the light so that the foreground forms remained in a silhouette. I turned and a few moments later, the light had changed, ever so slightly, to the foregrounded rocks taking a deep burgundy colour against their clouded, black sisters in the background.

Uluru itself is picturesque. As the cloud cover gently peels back, streams of sunlight enlace the now blue sky. People doing the climb are no bigger than ants on the rock and this gives me a sense of contentment that I chose against climbing. The rock, an ancient testament to spirituality and time carries significance and grandeur that does not need to be conquered by foot. The rock stands solitary and seems to reveal no emotion, one cannot personify it. It just seems to rise above man’s need to dominate. It’s peaceful. It’s calm.

The Kapi Mutitjulu waterhole at the base of Uluru is neither calm nor tranquil. Rather it goes with a legegnd of strength and resilience. I feel a strong presence of power. This place has power, the water has power, the wind and people have power.

Together, we are strong.

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Uluru in colours.

 

Travel Blog to Central Australia; Day Seven

Today we walked 7.4kms through the Olgas. The track is long and arduous, but the views are astounding. Towering on all sides are these gentle monsters of conglomerate rocks, sitting placidly and gracefully. Their presence is wholesome and full and yet they loom with no danger. They humble and instil an eerie sense of humility, they do not belittle. The rocks, they are so hard and so steep and yet there is green in their crevices. Swallows nest and finches live and there is life in this sacred site and the Valley of the Winds breathes freedom.

Sunset from our campsite overlooked Kata Tjuta and Uluru. A glowing golden sunset silhouettes the Olgas and frames Uluru. The haze of rain and dusty wind creates the perfect mist, capturing elemental magic. The sky is still powder blue, the sunset a wildflower golden. The horizon is a gust of red dust, so that Kata Tjuta and Uluru emerge as shapeless giants. Lightening strikes.

We had dinner at the Outback Pioneer Hotel and I had the Outback Combo- Emu, Buffalo and Beef sausages with Crocodile and Kangaroo skewers. The coat of arms, regrettably, tasted quite good. Over dinner, I was asked; “What have you taken away from this trip, hmm?” to which I thought to myself for a few moments. I finally answered with the idea that is is impossible for anyone to capture the true nature and beauty of the outback landscape with any visual or literary medium. Dorothea McKellar is very close when she claims; “I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, of rugged mountain ranges, of drought and flooding rains…” It isn’t until you immerse in the red dust that you fully appreciate these four lines.

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The Olgas from Lookout Two.

Travel Blog to Central Australia; Day Six

Uluru is sacred, stunning and magnificent. There is no way anyone can capture it’s brilliance through any visual or literary medium. We arrived on a cool and overcast day and the Rock graciously stood, with an air of regality. A deep purple-brown, this rock just stands, eroded  but graceful.

Before we saw Uluru, we stopped to see Mt Connor and the Salt Flats, but Uluru was absolutely the most ethereal and timeless image to ever have emerged from under any cloud cover. We chose to walk 10kms around the base of the rock. From a distance, the rock is iconic and seems all too familiar, your thoughts dally between complacency at such an iconic landmark, and dumbstruck awe at the sheer beauty of the place. Although stunning from afar, this giant is properly experienced up close. Touching it is surreal and a very personal and intimate experience. One can feel the profound weight of the rock through their fingertips, touch places that have been touched by thousands of people over thousands of years.  Each crevice is different, each hole of erosion has a different personality and all of these combined add character to the rock.

If you are silent, you can sense something else. When you stand beside the giant, you can feel something else.

At sunset we sat with our wine and cheese and we watched, not the colours of the sky, but the shades of the rock. It changed, gradually, from a fierce orange to a soft, tawny shade, then finally to a deep burgundy and then a silhouette. The change is ethereal and gradual, but at the same time, very natural.

 

Wine and Cheese at Uluru at sunsetImage

Travel Blog to Central Australia; Day Five

Long drops, wild dingoes and startled Brumbies.

Kings Canyon makes me more nostalgic for places I’ve never been to and times I’ve never seen. The place is thriving with life and yet, there is no sound. The occasional bird whistles and then there is a stillness and a nothingness that engulfs the entire area. The profound weight of the emptiness of the surrounds is vastly humbling and yet one remains in constant awe of the ancient life it possesses. On the topmost peak, there you can stand on a red plateu, dotted with spinifex and trees and if you look down, you can spy on a fossilised riverbed underneath your feet, an image from over 600 million years ago. To stop and wonder at the giants who roamed that ancient earth is awe-inspiring.

The Canyon itself was created by a crack, then a split in the rock, leading to a chasm that has been eroded away over millions of years. Finally, the chasm imploded and massive chunks have fallen into the chasm. This leaves a beautiful visual of the stratigraphy of the earth. The split of the red rock looks like a slice of caramel mud cake and the cross-section of sedimentary layers over the years makes the rest seem like either stacked pancakes or a marbled vanilla mudcake.

The trek was 6kms and without water or rhythmic breathing, the hidden beauties of the Canyon would most certainly have been overlooked. The Garden of Eden was a paradise surpassing all others, a rare beauty of such ancient wonders, of cycads and greenery of timeless measures.

The immense beauty here was not unlike that of Kathleen Springs, a place where we took a break on our long journey to the Canyon. This place is sacred to the Indigenous peoples and is believed to be home to the Rainbow Serpent. Here, the 1960’s saw the land being used as a trapping station, with the gorge forming a natural barrier to close in livestock. To the Europeans, the waterhole was essential for travelling drovers, to me however, the waterhole itself was one of the most significant, tranquil and clear places of pristine waters and vibrant multi-coloured dragonflies, that I have ever had the privilege to see. Sheer rock faces with small over-hanging blossoms just added to the breathtaking beauty of this serene landscape.

 

 

King’s CanyonImage

Travel Blog to Central Australia; Day Four

An early rise meant an early entry into the Alice Springs Desert Park and therefore a guaranteed first-row seat in the Bird Show. This educational park was like none other. It had aviaries of flitting birds, nocturnal displays as well as separate sectors of Woodlands, River environs and Sand deserts. The Connellan Aviation Museum was a marvel. With fantastically preserved and maintained aircrafts and memorabilia, decades of histories, flight records and developing technologies were open for all to see for a free entry. The Araluen Cultural Precinct allows visitors to taste both natural and cultural history. A gallery of artworks, both traditional and contemporary Indigenous showcased works from local communities and helped fund their aid. Works from Albert Namatjiri record spectacular watercolours and the biography of one of Australia’s more famous Indigenous Artists. The Natural History Museum was a diverse array of displays covering the stages of evolution as one of the main permanent exhibits. With fossils and meteorites, a cosmology and theory of evolution was shown, then palaeontological records displayed recreations of prehistoric fauna, those which roamed the Earth. Taxidermed animals filled the room and it was so very sad to acknowledge that many of these animals were seen alive in the Desert Park earlier in the day. The museum also covered the history and interactions of the missionaries working in early Australia and their relations with the Indigenous peoples. That night, we dined in a Vietnamese paradise in the middle of the desert; the Alice Market Restaurant. This shrine was alfresco dining under vines and flowers and coloured fairy lights, fish-ponded courtyards and shrines to Buddha. The food was of the highest quality and freshness and I recommend the Salt and Pepper Chilli Squid. It was here that I had my first taste of Crocodile.

Travel Blog to Central Australia; Day Three

An early rise meant we captured the beauty of the place in the morning light- stunning features and majestic rolling mountain ranges emerge through the haze. So far I’ve seen fire-tails, zebra finches, a wedge-tailed eagle, all kinds of kites and Gouldian Finches. Breakfast at Glen Helen Gorge was lovely and a small bushwalk to the main waterhole was fresh and sparkly. Surrounded by reeds, the great gorge remains a refuge for many waterbirds and pond life. Water plants, where there seemed to be leaf litter floating on the surface were full plants, their roots in fact extending down through the water to the sediment at the bottom, each facet of this gorge aided the calm waters, and even calmer visitors. But it’s getting too hot too early to stay.

I keep trying to stick an emotional personal to the landscape. Is it lonely? Tired? Resilient? I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t. it is in this nature that everything is nothing and nothing is everything. There is a sense of eternal timelessness, a certain completion. Little pin-points of rosie-lilacs and saffron tell me that there is no positive or negative to the landscape, there just is, just endless blue and endless ochre and nothing more and nothing less. It is not harsh or unforgiving, it just is, come rain, fire or drought, man or animal, the little puffs of wattle yellow will remain. The Ochre Pits make the rocks seem like they’re bleeding and to think of what the ochre was used for and meant to the Indigenous people, is something very deeply spiritual, not spectacular, just spiritually humbling.

No emotion, just trying to exist.

When looking at the panoramic view from the campervan, it seems like a photographic sepia, where colour has thankfully graced the top third- the darkened ash and charcoal of a burnt landscape sees twisted and blackened trees welcoming a brilliant green tuft or two on the very tops of the trees. The saturated blue sky provides a perfect wash of colour to the top of our framed canvas.

Our bodies are parched and fatigued from the muggy night, so we sleep as we travel between landmarks, occasionally waking to reposition ourselves with a swig of water only to fall back into a restless sleep.

If you stop moving, everything moves around you.

We lunched in Alice Springs; Bojangles’ Saloon- an eclectic, hard-yakka pub where I had a real steak sandwich. Here, there were saddles for bar stools, foreign currencies on peeling off the roof and old boots nailed to a cartwheel off the wall.

The local art gallery and cultural museum in the Alice mall is an experience more education that I initially believed. While the front was the general regime of overpriced Indigenous artworks, the back room was filled with replicas and glass cabinets of cultural artefacts with reasonably objective information.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic parish in Alice is a very old-timey one, with stained glass windows washing church-goers in an amber glow. The bella vista is accompanied by a depiction of an Indigenous Christ and all in all this is a welcoming parish, yet perhaps not a cosy one.

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Glen Helen Gorge