Tag Archives: Outback

Roma cattle sales

The markets at Roma are on a huge scale. About a million cattle pass through the sale yards and spelling pens each year. Today more than 8000 cattle will be sold.

I walk along the metal gantry above the yards where the cattle are penned. Angular steel pens stretch out into the distance. The smell of manure is sharp and sour. The calls of the cattle blare out. Their mix of tone and pitch like a ragged brass band tuning up before a gig.

Brahman

The animals are grouped together into lots for sale. I watch with interest a group of Brahmans, milky white with flop ears and hump. An unusual sight in Victoria, they are common in Queensland. A group of Herefords sniff through the rails at the unfamiliar cattle next door. A solitary Droughtmaster bull stands and stares. Most of the animals are remarkably calm, despite their strange surroundings.Roma hand sits it outl

The proceedings are carefully orchestrated for speed and efficiency.

Sale yard officials are colour coded. Pink shirts are auctioneers. Spot them and you know where the action is. They jabber and gesture in an arcane ritual as unintelligible to the uninitiated as a witch doctor’s chant. As they move through the yards, a team of four, they conduct the movements in this agricultural dance.

Roma auctioneer

Blue shirts are yard hands, both men and women, driving the animals through the yards by waving old grain sacks on poly pipes. They stand on the overhead gantries above the cattle, waiting for the metal gates to open by remote control like lock gates letting the flow of animals through the system.

Roma yard

Buyers wear a mix of pastel coloured shirts, some checked some plain. They gather at ground level, moving from pen to pen to assess the quality of the stock for sale. An almost imperceptible nod or wink can buy a pen of thirty steers. To the untrained eye the buyers’ faces look impassive, their movements slow and cautious. A counterpoint to the frenzied pink shirted auctioneers.

Everyone wears a white akubra hat.

Snatches of conversation. “It’s been a patchy season.” “Good price for cows.” “Export market’s holding up.” “Prices are booming in the U.S.”

A yard hand named Fish stands and chats as we watch the sea of cattle move below us.

He’s worked at the sale yards for 35 years, starting when he was fifteen. They talked about selling them off a few years ago and there was an outcry, he says. They stay in the Shire’s hands, for now.

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Its hard work but he loves it. Every market day the auctions run from 8am until 8pm. There are private sales using the yards and a significant business spelling cattle in the yards. There is always work to do and he knows the ways of the sale yards well. It’s a good life.

All roads lead to Roma

General Howard leads his troops out of the bush.  He’s smiling, “We’re four minutes early.”

We are on our way to Roma, home of the largest cattle sales in Australia.   The roadsides here are dotted with white fluffy cotton buds.  Cotton is cropped in the area and seedlings are breaking out of the paddocks to mix with grasses, gums and prickly pears.  A flock of bright lime green and red parrots swoops around us as the utes roll on.  Bright yellow sunflowers, more escapees from horticulture, nod as we go by. It’s a fine day in colourful Queensland.  Layers are stripped off as we moult our winter woollies.  Some go straight to shorts and tshirts while the more cautious start with slightly shorter 3/4 pants.

I blink and wipe my eyes.  No, it can’t be, that looks like a flock of bright yellow sheep.  Sure enough, here are more newly shorn sheep, happily grazing, oblivious of their lurid hue.  Yellow dyes have been added to their dip to mark out those who have been protected from ticks, lice and other parasites.  Any that have missed the dip can be easily spotted by the farmer. It’s logical, but it gives the view a surreal flavour as if we are waking from a morphine dream.

We are soon at St George and ready for morning cuppas.  St George is a gracious patrician town, wide roads, well maintained buildings, a John Deere franchise and a river frontage.   We can’t stop long to discover more this time.  It’s on to Roma and the cattle sales.

Even the scrub looks like parkland here.  Red red earth, grey green grassland dotted with trees.   Well nourished cattle wander in the shade.  We hope for a sighting of Major Mitchell’s cockatoo, a pink and yellow bird with a magnificent crest, named for Major Mitchell who explored this area in 1846.  In pictures he looks a rare beauty, (the bird, not the major) but he has not shown himself to us yet.

Lunch is at Surat.   An historic town on the Balonne river.   Bottle trees line the street, one appears to look back at us, the shape of an eye drawn in the markings in its bark.

Eye in treeSurat shire hall

We admire the old timber buildings in Queenslander style, a post office, the magnificent old shire hall and a Cobb & Co changing station.  Inside a free museum on the Main Street there are old wool industry artefacts and the star of the show, a restored Cobb & Co carriage.

What must it have been like to speed down these roads in this wooden carriage, harnessing the power of seven horses, bouncing on the leather springs? No glass in the windows, no air conditioning to block out the climate, dust and scents of the outback.

These days it’s diesel-powered cattle trucks and road trains that drive through Surat’s Main Street.

We drive on. It’s not far from Surat to Roma. We soon see the signs for the cattle market and pull in to the sale yard car park.

Opal fields

The Bourke bakery’s range of apple cream cakes, pies and turnovers is impressive.   It’s too much of a temptation not to buy a few for morning tea.  A trip to the historic Bourke port and we’ll be off.

This was once the largest inland port in the world, shipping wool on the Darling River.  Little remains, but a timber wharf that stands high above the current river flow.   People of Bourke’s great days would not have believed that the busy port could become almost a backwater.   In the 21st century, river transport has all but ended and the timber structures that were once a hive of industry support only the feet of curious tourists and day trippers.

Leaving the old port, we drive alongside the Barwon River and stop at Brewarinna for morning tea and Bourke’s apple cream cakes.   This Barwon is not our familiar Victorian river, but a longer water course, extending 700 km through New South Wales.   Here at Brewarinna it contains aboriginal stone fish traps that are reported to be more than 30 thousand years old, perhaps the oldest man made structure in the world.   The fish traps were so successful the town was an important aboriginal meeting place in times gone by.

Turning away from the Barwon River, we head to Walgett and then to Lightning Ridge.  We are in opal country.   Olive has heard of an interesting little mining town off the main track, and we take a detour through cypress pine plantations to the tiny town of Cumborah.  It is littered with fascinating old trucks, cars and houses, most of them for sale.

Olive

Soon after the town, we take a turn off the road and on to a dirt track, signposted “opal fields”.  Little do we know, but we are about to enter another world.   Opal miners live here.  They lease small parcels of land from the Department of Mines for exploration and excavation.  They are seeking the black opal and their fortunes.

It is a world apart.   Our first stop is the Grawin “Club in the Scrub”.  A golf club, but not like any we have seen before.   Rocky fairways lead to red sandy greens.  The club house is timber and tin.   The club members are like extras from Mad Max – but on their day off, enjoying a social drink and a chook raffle with friends.

Club in scrub

Howard, Beryl and Suzanne strike up a conversation with a friendly type in the car park.   We are soon off on an ad hoc tour of the mines and the local community.   Bernie, our new friend and guide, leads us into a maze of narrow rocky roads.

Opal fields road

This is a world away from mainstream Australian life.   Old machinery comes here to die.   Beneath the ground, the area is honeycombed with old mine workings as miners follow the opal seams looking for their fortunes.

The chalky white rock dug up from underground mine excavation litters the landscape.   The world turns white and dusty.  A moonscape marked by quirky handmade signposts.  “Cars with brakes give way”.

We drive between tin shacks and old machinery.  If there are millionaires here, they are disguised well.  This is a handmade, manmade world without the restrictions of suburban life.   It feels post-apocalyptic.   Forget modern technology, here it is man, rock and the diesel engine.  If they can repair, make do or recycle they will.

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Bernie proudly takes us home to show us his prize opal, worth 100 or at least 50 thousand dollars.  Cut and set in a gold pendant for his wife, his eyes twinkle when he opens the velvet covered box to display it.   “She loves it, but you can have it for fifty, I need to upgrade the rig”.  He’s got the bug.  Introduced to opal mining by his father at fifteen, he’s itching to dig into a new lease and who knows, maybe find the seam that will add his name to the list of opal millionaires.

We feel honoured to be taken into his confidence and his home.   It’s a relief nonetheless to emerge from that chalky underworld and make our way to set up for the night at Lightning Ridge.

Thanks Bernie, I hope you find the big one, you deserve it.

 

 

 

Road closed

We wake to the mournful cawing of a crow. It feels good to be in the bush again.

Dom has been tending the fire in the night and the embers are hot and glowing. The campfire is welcome in the cool air and we warm ourselves around it.  The toasting fork comes out and we enjoy buttered toast for breakfast.

We’ve heard rumour there’s been a heavy fall of rain in the area and some of the roads may be closed. Driving towards Wilcannia I imagine rain on this road. It’s little more than a deep rut cut into the red earth. Water would run through here like a river.

Sweet little kids follow attentive nanny goats into the bush as we pass. A big old roo reclining in the sun lifts his head to watch. The road becomes more rutted As we drive on. There’s a road sign on an unsealed side road to Bourke. Taking a quick detour to check the sign posted nearby, we see it says “Road Closed”. This is not promising.

Our plan today is to tour along the Darling through Tilpa, and on to Bourke along the river route. When we reach Wilcannia, we find there has been 70 mm of rain and the roads have been closed. There’s a heavy fine for using a closed road, $1000 a wheel, we are told. Add to that the risk of getting bogged, and of damaging the road for other users. There’s no option, we have to change our plans and drive to Cobar and take the Barrier Highway to Bourke.

Back on the bitumen. The highway is busy with traffic. Grey nomads in caravans jostle with huge trucks. It’s not what we were hoping to see today. But the highway does not disturb the wildlife.   Indigenous kangaroos are outnumbered by the imported goats. We see hundreds of them, all well fed, healthy and leading kids.

A B Double truck drives up the tail of our convoy, urging us to move faster. Caravanners slow ahead of us. We are caught between them. Malcolm engages the truck driver on the radio. Howard in the lead calls out when the road is clear and we overtake the caravans one by one.

At lunch we are accosted by cheeky apostle birds hopping on to the picnic table at the truck stop and swooping on crumbs. The birds are so named because they live in family groups of twelve, like the twelve biblical apostles.

It’s a long tiring journey to Bourke, but finally we arrive. The caravan park, Kidman Camp, is way out at the back of Bourke. It is worth the trip. Showers, kitchen, laundry and a lovely quiet camping spot.

A bus to the local bowling club picks us up for dinner. It’s Chinese food with Tracy and Caitlin. A tower of brightly coloured balloons perches on a half empty table of local girls. They are here to celebrate the 18th birthday of a fragile looking girl with pale skin and long blonde hair. We raise our voices to join the room singing happy birthday, and wish her well.

The bus back to camp takes a circuitous route through the suburbs of Bourke to drop off the locals after a night of pokies at the bowling club. It’s hard to get a feeling for the town we are in, having seen so little of it. I think I will reserve judgement on Bourke until I can spend more time here.

The Long Paddock

The flat, featureless saltbush plains stretch into the haze on the horizon. We are driving the Cobb Highway, the Long Paddock. Since the 1840s drovers have been driving cattle along this track, from stations in Queensland to the markets in Victoria.

The vegetation offers little relief to the traveller’s eye. The drought tolerant, mineral rich saltbush puts on no airs and graces. It’s not an ostentatious plant. It hides its value beneath its dull grey-green scrubby appearance. Plain but highly nutritious, sheep grow fat and healthy on it. It dominates these plains.

At Hay we stop to visit the historic timber woolshed, moved stick by stick from Darling Downs to become a tourist attraction and home to the shearers’ hall of fame.

The wool industry has had mixed fortunes in Australia of late. Animal rights activists condemn the practice of mulesing as barbaric and cruel. The wool industry claims it is essential, extending the life of sheep many years by preventing them from becoming flyblown.

The debate is heated and insults are thrown both ways.

While the romance of the shearing shed loses its appeal at home, overseas markets, especially China and Russia, are increasing demand for wool and prices are buoyant

Billy, the demonstration shearer at Hay, is defensive. He is part of the marketing arm of a major industry and defender of a romantic bush ideal. Highly skilled, he shears a lamb in minutes. His strong arms are in control, the young animal relaxes and calmly accepts his actions.

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The worn timbers of the woolshed, the scent of lanolin and the raw earthy animal smell of the sheep, evoke another world. I fear for sheep that may in the future be shorn by robots in a factory to six sigma efficiency. I hope Billy and others like him continue their craft. Rough and basic this life might be, but these men work closely with the sheep and lambs, they know them, understand their ways. Let’s hold that relationship dear, for all its faults. Let’s cherish the good in that and build on it.

As Hay disappears in the rear view mirror, emus scatter alongside the road, their tail feathers bouncing like ladies bustles behind them. Driving north, the sun is high and reflects on the bonnet of the car, raising the temperature. Soon we long for cuppas and ice cream, and make a stop at the small town of Ivanhoe.

While Richard checks out the list of road closures and the Connoisseur ice cream, I admire the art works displayed in the shop windows along the Main Street. An initiative at the local correctional centre has created remarkable line drawings of bush characters. Each drawing was created on grid fashion with each artist assigned a square of the grid. A clever teaching method that produced great results.

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The saltbush plains are behind us now, the roads are iron red sand, unpassable in the wet. A frosting of green pick contrasts with the red dirt to create vivid colour combinations. The country is alive with emus, goats, sheep and kangaroos, all feeding from the minerals held in the rich red soil. The pale wintry colours of Victoria are forgotten as we speed onwards.

As the afternoon draws on we begin to look for our first bush camp of the trip. Howard does it again. “We’re stopping here”, crackles the radio as the utes turn off to the right. 500 m off the road, we pull into a beautiful treed clearing, partly protected from the wind by mounding sand. There’s plenty of wood for the campfire and soon we are cooking dinner together, enjoying the warmth of the fire and the conversation. As I retire to bed, I hear a male voice raised in song, a beautiful Italian operatic aria rings out across the sands, combining with the faint song of nature as the wind whistles and moans in the casuarinas.

On the road

In the early morning twilight the shapes moving in front of me are vague and unformed.  I hear the excited squeals of my dog as she dashes forward, hurtling into the darkness.   I feel the ground shake. Thump thump thump.  A dark silhouette emerges from the shadows and a panting kangaroo bounds past, almost brushing my left shoulder.   A white blur and my dog follows at top speed.  I call into the mist as the day begins to break.  My heart pounds.  Not today…

Rushing to get ready for a long trip alters time.  Everything on your to do list takes longer than you expect.  But finally we are ready.  Dogs safely housed.  Chickens and cattle fed.  Last minute chores complete.  We drive away from the house.

Today we are leaving for Cape York.  We have arranged to meet with three pairs of our fellow travellers at 8 am.   The phone rings.  A breathless Suzanne apologises.  They will be delayed.

We arrive at the meeting point and are greeted by Howard and Beryl, our “tour leaders”.  Standing smiling beside them are our sending off party, Brett and Christine.  This time last year they were getting ready to leave with us.  Desert crossing companions, they will be greatly missed, but a last minute gift, a journal, means we will take them with us on our travels.

Brett and Christine sending off

We learn that Heather and Max, who were due to leave with us today are also delayed by a recalcitrant cow and calf.  We feel slightly lonely as two utes of the expected four pull away and leave Dean’s Marsh for Cape York.
Two Utes leave Dean's Marsh

Our home state of Victoria is wearing her winter clothes.  Pale grey clouds lie unmoving in the chill air.   Weak sunlight plays on paddock stubble.  I see sheep huddled together for warmth and comfort, their enviable woolly coats barely enough for this late May morning.

At Creswick a biting breeze rises as we hurry to find hot coffee and toasties to help ward off the wintry weather.

Leaving chilly Creswick, a long avenue of remembrance leads us on our way.  Each tree marked with the name of a lost son, father, husband, brother.  Falling leaves honour them with a shower of yellow, amber and gold.  Falling leaves for fallen lives.

Light grey and yellow limbs of gum trees embrace the road as it winds through well grazed paddocks to Smeaton and then to Maldon.

A popular day trip from the city, Maldon today is quiet.  Inside the oldtime shop fronts, sellers shiver in their darkened treasure troves.   Kitsch rubs shoulders with quirky modern.   (Poodle lamps anyone?) Gluten free cakes are on offer beside traditional pea and ham soup.   It’s said the best cream bun in the Southern Hemisphere can be purchased here.

Maldon poodle lamps

As we lunch, the sun breaks through.  Golden rays warm the street.   Shoppers slow their pace, stop to chat and enjoy the radiant heat while it lasts.  We see a familiar vehicle drive by.  They have arrived.   Dom and Suzanne join us and then there were three.

The road from Maldon passes properties belonging to independent spirited homesteaders.  A pig snorts and snuffles in the front yard.  Two donkeys graze in the garden.   Chooks cluck in backyard chicken coops.

Richard spots lovely old trucks by the score.  Oh what bargains he could find here.

The land is changing.  Red and yellow ochre stains the banks along the roadside.   We are in goldfields country.   Ballarat, scene of the Eureka Stockade, passes by.  Her sister city, Bendigo, is a regal old lady.  She retains much of the grandeur of her bygone days.   Chinese dragon museums tell of the long history of Asian Australians hereabouts.  There’s gold in these hills.   Wealthy citizens built in stone to the glory of God, the Queen and their own success.  I wish we had more time to do this city justice.

As we drive out of Bendigo, a UHF radio exchange about the acclaimed Maldon cream bun is interrupted by a familiar wit.  Malcolm and Olive are nearby.   They tag along as we drive by and now, count the vehicles, we are four.  Yes, this is a convoy.

Cuppas on the riverside at Echuca give us time to catch up on all the news before we drive on to Deniliquin, our destination for today.   This is where we leave Victoria and cross the Murray River to New South Wales.   In NSW the roads seem wider and almost roman in their unwavering directness.   Easy driving.  We are soon in Deniliquin.  Deni Motel is the final stop for the day.

The local RSL is recommended for dinner by a policeman.  He stops to chat between random breath tests for passing motorists.  It does not disappoint.  Good food and an injection of funds for Beryl.   Two dollars wagered on the pokies produces a return of ten.  Take the money and run, we cry.

The busy days preparing for the trip catch up with us.  We retire early.   Heads hit pillows dreaming of tomorrow and the Darling River.

Oodnadatta to Coober Pedy

It’s busy in the Pink Roadhouse. Two tourists search for the perfect Tshirt.  An indigenous mum and baby girl stand and wait.   We are getting our takeaway cups filled with coffee, it’s early and we are the first customers at the coffee machine.

Richard is keen to get on the road today. He’s looking forward to seeing the remains of the Old Ghan railway that runs beside the Oodnadatta track. You could call the track an open air museum, there is so much history here.

The Ghan railway has a mystique about it. It was a pioneer railway with a long and protracted history.  It was originally named the Afghan Express after the camel trains that served the inland routes in the nineteenth century.

The old route was discontinued in 1980 because it was frequently washed out by floods and the timber sleepers had to be replaced often because of termite damage. In its heyday it carried passengers and supplies from the ports of Adelaide to the outlying townships in the remote inland territory, all the way to Alice Springs.  If the train got into trouble, the passengers had to get out and help rebuild or clear the track.

It was a steam railway and needed water. It followed the same route taken by the Overland Telegraph Line, by the Afghan cameleers, by early explorers and before that by Aboriginal ochre traders. They all followed the water. The track follows a string of mound springs where water bubbles up to the surface from the depths of the Great Artesian Basin. Follow the water.  Not a bad adage for Australian life.

The flat, red gibber plains of this country are familiar to us now.  They run unimpeded to the far horizon, reflecting the light from the morning sun.  The old railway track follows the curves of the road and we are soon deep in industrial archaeology.   We stop for bridges, embankments and to wander through old ruined railway buildings.

Old Ghan Bridge

Old Ghan Bridge

Richard walks along the old line looking for treasure, like an exploring schoolboy.  He holds up an iron nail used to drive in the timber sleepers, “Look at this.”

Oodnadatta mud map

Oodnadatta mud map

The Oodnadatta Pink Roadhouse publishes a hand-drawn track map, given out for free, and has set out homemade road signs pointing out the sights to see on the rail trail.   It is uniquely quirky.  This feels more and more like a treasure hunt.

 

Ghan Ruins

Ghan Ruins

The ruined buildings so isolated even in their day evoke a wistful sadness.  The age of steam, once at the leading edge of technology, is now a romantic memory.  How long will the bridges and buildings stand before they disappear into the featureless flat plains?

On the recommendation of the pink mud map, we take a 15 km detour off the main route, up a long winding sandy track.   Heading into the remote area off the already remote track feels like an adventure.  We are making for Peake Creek, settled around the telegraph line in the 1860s.   After a slow drive along the poorly maintained track, we are disappointed to see a lonely pile of bricks ahead of us with a sign next to it.

 

Peake Creek

Peake Creek

Fortunately, there is more.  This is the eating house, or what is left of it.  The settlement lies just around the corner.  The sound of squawking cockatoos swirling around an unexpected group of Palm trees tells we have arrived.  The settlement was built on a spring.   It’s an eerie, deserted place.   The telegraph station’s grandeur can still be seen in its ruined state.  The inhabitants even built a copper smelter, such was their optimism about the future of the settlement.   But it all came to nothing and eventually, when the telegraph ceased to be essential, the copper failed to be economic and the droughts came, the pioneers walked away.

We turn off the Oodnadatta track at William Creek, a tiny town, apparently all owned by one man.   The pub sells everything.  Bush humour is alive and well. A parking meter has been installed outside the pub for tourists.

Woomera Truck

Woomera Truck

We do not have time this trip to follow the track all the way to Marree, so we head off across the Woomera Prohibited Area, the rocket testing range for the Australian army.   We only see one other vehicle along the track, an old truck that has seen better days.   Two hundred kilometres of the loneliest, most remote driving we have done.  No emus.  No dingos.  No camels.   Just two old bulls who stare at the ute and look prepared to send us on our way.

Woomera - a lonely track

Woomera – a lonely track

The opal mines of Coober Pedy are a welcome sight on the horizon, although they signal the end of our outback trip.  Tomorrow we head down South on the highway.

We have come to the end of our outback adventure and what a grand adventure it has been.

Outback roads

It is 11 degrees C when we leave Yulara.   We have a day of driving on outback roads ahead of us.

Turning off the highway after Curtins Creek on to Mulga Park Road, we stop to deflate the tyre pressure to cope with the sandy terrain.  Mulga Park Road is a wide roadway, scooped out of the red earth.  No frills.  The road lies well below the level of the land around us.   I see camel tracks padding along side the roadway and we keep our eyes peeled for unexpected pedestrians.

The combination of sand and gravel rattles our bones as we drive along.   We pass the mighty Mount Connor, a flat topped mesa monolith that we had mistaken for Uluru from a distance a few days before.  It is part of the same ancient family that created Uluru and Kata Tjuta.

This is the first time we have driven off the beaten track on our own and we are a little nervous.   I keep a watch on the rocky red cliffs that run alongside the road, on the lookout for camels or cattle.  Richard drives with one eye on the road and one on the tyre pressure indicators.

Camel crossing

Camel crossing

“Camel”, I shout.   A small buck camel stands by the side of the track, chewing.   He looks up and watches us as we drive slowly by. He’s not bothered in the slightest.   He’s the first wild camel we’ve seen on our outback trip, although we are told there are a million camels running wild in Central Australia.  He looks rather cute.

We see dust approaching and a Landcruiser passes, giving the outback salute.  Two fingers are lifted from the wheel and the head nodded slightly.

A few minutes later we disturb two emus feeding in the scrub.   This lonely road is busier than we imagined.

The Curtin Springs station homestead comes into view and we turn left on to the Old Gunbarrel Highway.   We have been reading the tales of Len Beadell, the man behind many outback tracks, including this one.  The road is named after the Gunbarrel Road Construction Party he formed to build it.   The name indicates their intention to build a dead straight road from East to West across Australia.  He admits it should perhaps have been called the Corkscrew Road, but the name stuck and was adopted by the mapping authorities.   With typical Aussie humour, he referred to all the roads he bashed through the bush as highways, and that stuck too.

Old Gunbarrel Highway

Old Gunbarrel Highway

We bounce along over the corrugations and weave to and fro across the highway to find the smoothest path.   The land looks fertile, grasses and Mulga trees are growing with vigour.  The palette is minty olive green on dark red ochre sands.   Some well fed cattle peer out from the scrub and kick their heels up as they scatter on our approach.

There’s a rapid movement, a flash of blonde fur, and we see a dingo on the side of the road.  We slow down to take a look.  The wild dog trots into the road and looks at the car.  He’s curious.   Then, turning his head back every now and then, he continues on his way.

Dingo

Dingo

We are enjoying the vibrant colours of the scenery and the varied animal life along the way.   The road stutters to a rugged, rocky end and we are once again turning on to the Stuart Highway.

The Valley of the Winds

Kata Tjuta plays second fiddle to Uluru, her big brother.  He dominates the national park they share.   The Rock has become so well known overseas as an Aussie icon that it rivals the Sydney Opera House as “the” Australian tourist drawcard.  Few tourists have heard of Kata Tjuta, even under their former name, The Olgas.

But, they are really missing out.  Kata Tjuta is remarkable.

Today we are planning to take the Valley of the Winds walk into Kata Tjuta.   It is one of two walks that are still open to tourists.   Most of Kata Tjuta is closed now, except to the local aboriginal people who come here to carry out their traditional ceremonies.

From a distance, Kata Tjuta seems to bubble up out of the depths.   There are thirty six curvy domes in this cluster of rocks.  She shares her colours with Uluru, the same dark red rock, the same sultry burgundy shadows.

Path to Kata Tjuta

Path to Kata Tjuta

It is another cool, bright day.  We trudge up the sandy path from the car park to the start of the walk.   It is not busy, but there are a few walkers here.  Some Germans stride by dressed in full walking regalia, carrying walkers’ sticks.  A group of twenty somethings straggle past, chatting in French and Spanish.   A Scandinavian couple stroll along, she has one bare foot, one clad in a walking shoe.  It is not clear why.

We are lucky, the cool breeze seems to be keeping the flies away.  No need of the fly net today.

Valley of the Winds Walk

Valley of the Winds Walk

As we walk into Kata Tjuta, we are immediately in awe at the size, shape and texture of the red domes.  We pass into a channel between two towering walls of rock.   The sound of the wind grows louder but changes in nature.  I hear waves breaking on a beach.  It’s a calming, relaxing sound, like the womb noises modern mums play their babies as a lullaby.

Colours of Kata Tjuta

Colours of Kata Tjuta

Although it is 11 o’clock in the morning, the sun has not risen high enough in the sky to warm all of the rocks inside the channel.   As we walk the sun begins to scale the last rocky barrier and sets a dramatic contrast between the dark shadowy rock on our left and the glowing pink red slope, bathed in sunlight on our right.   We pick our way carefully between the two, yin and yang.

The path turns to the right and we are walking into a valley, lush and green around a dry creek bed.   Zebra finches flit through the trees around us.   Budgies wheel and turn, flying between us at head height to investigate who goes by.

Rock formations

Rock formations

The huge red rocks cradle us.   We are held in a Kata Tjuta embrace.   This is a magical place.  I feel the same nurturing power I felt at Tnorala, the site of the celestial impact.   I have heard some people suggest that sites that are still cared for by the ceremonies of their local people retain a power that was once felt across the land.  Perhaps there is some truth in that.

Kata Tjuta's song in stone

Kata Tjuta’s song in stone

Looking up as we walk along, we see curves, hollows, rounded caves and pools high up in the rock.   The varied shapes work as one to sing a harmony in stone.   A note called in one cave is echoed in a hollow below and forms a chord with a triplet of pools on the opposite wall.   The rock sings in the wind.

Richard plays David to Goliath

Richard plays David to Goliath

We climb further into the centre of the red domes of Kata Tjuta.

We scramble up steep, slanting faces of rock and stand in a cavern that glows pink red then darkens to shadowy blue black.  Birds fly high above us and perch on ledges on the rock faces, singing their songs of freedom.

Through the shadows

Through the shadows

The path becomes steeper and more challenging.   The rock falls away beside us to another fertile meadow filling the rocky landscape with trees and grasses found only here in this unique ecosystem.

We climb higher and higher.   Knees begin to feel the strain as we lever ourselves up the rocky path.   We can’t see the top of this climb, but we can hear the voices of walkers ahead of us.   Finally, we reach the summit of this testing red rock track and look through a natural window on to an expanse of green, a heavenly valley.  We gaze out from the darkness of our perch to the sunlit valley below, like birds preparing to take flight.

Window on another world at Kata Tjuta

Window on another world at Kata Tjuta

Sitting still and reflecting on the view, we become cool after the exertion of the climb.   Time to move on.   We complete the walk, drinking in the unique sights and sounds of this place.

Eventually we find ourselves back on the path to the car park.   We pass walkers who are on their way in and smile a greeting.  They will understand when they return.