Monthly Archives: May 2004

All aboard, stopping all stations to Adelaide

You probably can’t tell but my computer is shaking as I write this. Not violently, but dully shuddering. I’m on the Ghan, a quarter of the way from Alice Springs to Adelaide. It’s not exactly smooth nor quiet.

There’s plenty of space in the Red Kangeroo carriages. We’re the folk sleeping in our seats on the overnight journey. Others down the far end, in cars stretching a few hundred metres back, are receiving silver service and have feather pillows. The train caters for all tastes.

There have been a couple of loud videos so I’m hanging out in the dining car and lounge. It’s been fun and social so far. People seem excited to be onboard this famous train. Earlier we spotted a kangeroo and camel, numerous cattle, but now we’ll be lucky to see town lights: largely because we pass very few settlements. It’s cards or video games to see us through the night.

If the train is on time, which it often isn’t from what I hear, I’ll be switching to the Overlander which will take me through to Melbourne. 32 hours on a train is a long time…. will be interesting to see what shape I’m in at the end of it all.

Roads closed – Hermannsburg to Glen Helen Gorge

It’s unseasonably wet in the Centre at the moment. The Todd River in Alice Springs is usually a sandy ditch, but at the moment water is actually flowing through the river bed. Temperatures are below average too. A maximum of 14 degrees is expected, ten degrees lower than the May average.

It would be churlish to complain – desert communities need all the water they can get. However, my plans have been disrupted. I was going to camp for three nights out at a Ormiston Gorge in the West McDonnell Ranges, and visit the former outback mission where pioneering Aboringinal artist Albert Namatjira lived and died. The cold is putting me off and some routes are closed due to flooding.

Instead, I’m hanging around in Alice Springs, where there’s lots to do indoors, including museums and art galleries. I’ve found another public library where they’ve got some really good multi-media material on local Aboringinal tribes.

Anangu Tour at Uluru

Wally Jacob, Anangu tour guide, UluruI’m pictured here with Wally Jacob, a senior Aboriginal guide with Anangu Tours. The tour was definitely the highlight of my trip to the Uluru. The Anangu are the local aboriginal and they welcome visitors to learn about their home and culture.

Wally told our group of four the creation story of Kuniya Python Woman. His storytelling began at a mural and a painting depicting the story at the park’s stunning cultural centre then continued at the Mutitjulu waterhole. Signs of the Kuniya woman’s struggle are evident in the rock. There are physical traces of creation stories all around Uluru, a few of which visitors can learn about. We also learned about food and tjurkupa, the way of life.

The commitment of the Anangu – the traditional owners – to sharing their knowledge is humbling. Given the history of colonisalisation, racism and desecration, the Anangu are positive about sharing and encouraging people to learn. They’re not going to force people to do anything.

Even though Anangu were recognised as traditional owners of Uluru and surrounding land in 1985, and jointly manage the national park, which is leased to Parks Service for 99 years, they accepted a condition that the climb remain open. When people come to their own understanding of Anangu culture, climbs will stop. Anangu are doing everything they can to promote that understanding.

This is evident in small and big things, including building design, protection of sacred sites, and use of Anangu languages. Hopefully this will make some positive impression on the 400,000 people who visit annually and people will stop climbing.

Beyond the culture and story, Uluru, and the neighbouring but much less renowned Kata Tjuta, are physically impressive. But it is the importance of the rocks spiritually and culturally that definitely made the strongest impression on me.

Desert oasis

It’s not quite the desert around here, but I surely have found an oasis. Needing to swap my book, get a copy of Saturday’s Age, buy some replacement tent pegs and hook up my iBook I’ve found all this and more in Alice Springs within half an hour of arriving. Ferdinand, who runs the Green Frog Internet Cafe and the neighbouring Centashade hat shop, has been filling me about the local eateries. There is quite lot of culture and history to check-out around town as well. So little time though.

It’s been quite a dramatic week….

My camping trip in Nitmiluk National Park, the home of the Katherine Gorge, was disrupted on the first night by water buffalo – stomping loudly nearby and keeping me awake – and the next night by an unseasonal downpour which forced me from my camp site. Nonetheless, it was great to be in the outdoors and the park was hotter than anywhere I have ever walked. I did find some rock art in the distant Jawoyn Valley. I’m going to write up some of my trip notes shortly.

The Wayward Bus ‘Down the Track’ tour to Alice Springs was a cheap and good way to travel from Darwin. There stops along the way to see the sights, and snap photos, something which seemed to be the pre-occupation of many of the group. I’ve added a few pictures of the trip to the Australian Travels photo album.

Our guide and driver, Shortie, was a character – a polite way of putting it. He barked out orders and did everything himself. Yesterday at lunch he had an apoplectic outburst. Some money was missing, along with some personal belongings, and Shortie laid the blame at the door people on the tour: someone on the bus was a thief!!

To say the outburst soured the trip is an understatement. The accusation was left hanging. True Aussie bloke style, Shortie didn’t mention it again and left us in an uncomfortable silence. I really don’t know what to think but I definitely will be sending a message about his unprofessional conduct to the company’s customer service manager.

I’m making plans to spend a few days camping in the West MacDonnell National Park, which stretches along a spine like range 130km to the west of Alice Springs. Later in the week I’m planning to do a two day trip to Uluru and Kata Tjuta.

Djilpin Arts Corroboree

Djilpin Arts corroboree, Katherine, Northern TerritoryWhile waiting for the 12.15pm bus into Katherine Gorge I set off to wander around town. On my travels I came across the Djilpin Arts Corroboree: they were putting on a special day-time performance. The group had travelled 100 km from Arnhem land to do the performance, which is going to be performed for tourists up until the end of the dry season.

The dust flew and didjeridu (also called bambu or yidaki) honked. Along with the talk about the stories, the MC, Tommy, shared the importance of the story in maintaining culture and its role in the exercise of kaitiakitanga. The Djilpin mob seemed pretty happy to share their culture and joined together for a group photo at the end of the perfomance.

My bag is packed for two days of camping up the Katherine Gorge. My aim is to get to the Jawoyn Valley to look at three rock art sites. The cloud has lifted so it’s getting pretty hot – 30 degress plus. I’m not sure if I’ll walk today or wait until tomorrow morning.

BTW: I’m not going to have time to write-up the Kakadu trip – I’ve got some ideas on what I want to say but have to catch a bus soon. Using an electronic diary is a pain in the arse and I’m going to buy a notebook today so I capture my impressions and stuff as I go.

Kakadu dreaming

I’ve just got back from my 4-day camping trip in Kakadu National Park and uploaded a few photos to the Australian Travels photo album. It was a great trip: a really on to it tour leader, great group with an average age of 30, and the rock art and environment were beautiful. I’ll add a fuller commentary shortly, but as I’m about to hit the road for Katherine Gorge at 1.15pm I’ll have to do that later. I’m hoping to go on a 2-3 day walk down at Katherine.