The speed limit on the highway north of Alice is 130 kmh. Road trains, caravans and campers share the road. We are all travellers, passing through at high speed, our minds on our destinations. The community of the road is estranged from the country that lies to either side. The two nations rarely meet. We speak different languages and eat different food. I feel uneasy, a foreigner in my own country.
And the heat, the heat! My head pounds with the oppressive heat of the glaring sun. My sense of unease grows. I feel the dark spirits of ancient murders around me.
We stop at Barrow Creek where tensions between settlers and the local indigenous people have exploded over the years, with murderous consequences. In the late nineteenth century, two white settlers manning the telegraph station were killed by an aboriginal group. It is believed this was in response to fencing off a major waterhole. In reprisal, ninety men, women and children were slaughtered. Later, in 1928, a white dingo trapper was murdered. The local police carried out a bloody series of reprisals, resulting in the deaths of around 70 people. The Coniston Massacre, as this infamous event is known, was the last major massacre of aboriginal people in Australian history.
The dark spirits woken by these murders have not yet been put to rest. In 2001 Peter Falconio lost his life on the stretch of road just north of here. His body has never been found.
I gaze out of the window. The alien shapes of termite mounds dotted between the trees look like Neolithic standing stones, cathedrals to an ancient religion.
The heat intensifies. The air conditioning in the car is working hard to little effect. We pull into the ancient aboriginal dreaming site, known in four different aboriginal languages as Karlu Karlu and to white Australia as the Devil’s Marbles. My head throbs.
I sit, leaning against the massive granite boulders while the others walk around the site. Perspiration wets my skin, despite the shade. I sense the rocks as a living entity, pulsing with earthly power. There is power, but no malice here. The rocks were formed through millions of years of erosion. They have lived through many generations of human experience. Their powers are beyond the comprehension of the new settlers in this land. We are too civilised to understand. But not too civilised to feel.
The rocks glow in the afternoon sun as we get back into our vehicles and head for the highway.
My head begins to clear as we pull away, but still the heat is unbearable. We take a detour off the highway and find a bush camp by a small waterhole. The water is so inviting, we clamber in for an evening swim. Trees frame the banks and birdsong vies with the chirp of crickets and cicadas. The cooling water washes away the unease I had felt during the day. The heat of the day fades.
We relax around the campfire, eating a delicious camp oven meal cooked by Brett and Christine and turn in early to enjoy the peace of this tranquil camping spot.