Almanac Roadtrips – To Uluru: Part 5. Right here

This is the fifth and final part of E.regnans’ five-part story about their family’s trip to Uluru.
Read Part 1. Melbourne to Bordertown
Read Part 2. Bordertown to Port Augusta
Read Part 3. Port Augusta to Cadney Park Roadhouse

Read Part 4. Cadney Park Roadhouse to Alice Springs

 

Day 5. Alice Springs to Yulara. 447km.

Awaken in Alice Springs today with today looming as a day of industry. The forecast maximum temperature is down to just 44°C.

We chase a hire car, driving in our tin shed first into town, then out to the airport, where we collect a little snot green Toyota Corolla. This allows us to drive (two vehicles) back to town, where we deposit the motorhome at hire company’s Alice Springs headquarters. We drop off the motorhome of desert, diesel and dust. It is a moment of relief and significance. More than once along that road I silently gave thanks for her continued mechanical operation.

“Goodbye motorhome!”

“Goodbye Winnebago!”

 

Is it possible to gain a meaningful impression of a town from just a 5 minute drive through the town centre? We test the idea in Alice Springs.

“There’s the lookout.”

“There’s the Todd River.”

“There’s the Royal Flying Doctor Service headquarters.”

“Let’s go in.”

 

We pause the tour. We go in. It is significant that we go in, collected as I was by the Royal Flying Doctor all those years ago; collected from the wreckage of a car in the Northern Territory outback; collected roadside and flown 2,000km to Adelaide.

There’s a movie to watch, props to explore. I am moved by this visit.

 

==

After lunch we head south – back down the Stuart Highway – backtracking 200km to the Uluru turnoff. The backtracking is a small annoyance of inefficiency. Out here 200km is nothing. As we head south, we travel in a modern, lightweight, small car powered by unleaded petrol. The car is nimble. Inside and out, it is quiet.

“Hi bush! We met yesterday!”

“Here’s Erldunda again!”

 

At Erldunda this time we head west on the Lasseter Highway. The Lasseter Highway will take us from here. Red dirt and desert oaks fill the landscape. Until the vegetation changes. And until it changes again. Pockets of ecosystem appear as patchwork across the land.

 

We stop for fuel at a most rudimentary of roadhouses. This is Curtin Springs, where a padlock holds the petrol pump to the bowser. With the engine (and air-conditioning) idle, my family alight the sauna of the vehicle and disappears into the shade. A young woman approaches carrying a set of keys.

“Petrol?”

 

She has a Canadian accent.

“Yes. Thanks.”

 

Why on earth would a young Canadian woman be selling petrol at Curtin Springs roadhouse?

“Why are you here doing this?”

 

“Ahh, I signed a six-month contract. That was three months ago.”

 

“But… why?”

 

“I’m on the run from the law. It’s working out pretty well.”

==

 

“Four wheels scare the cockatoos
From Kintore, east to Yuendemu
The Western Desert lives and breathes
In forty-five degrees”
Midnight Oil, “Beds are burning

 

 

==

And now, a looming colossus appears over the swales, between the rolling mounds; flits in and out of view. A moment of wonder; after five days of driving, three through desert, the moment of sighting through heat haze, through unknowable distance in space and time, the glorious magnificence of Uluru.

 

“There she is!”

 

The moment is enormous. Happiness courses through me; under piercing skies, on rust red soil. We see Uluru. Our girls see Uluru.

 

A feeling of ancient calm falls upon me, a feeling of magnetism. Are these goosebumps? I feel as if some intrinsic part of my core is nourished. Like my cellular structure is changed. Something deep within my composition and unknown to me by name stirs.

 

Chatter fills the car. And songs. And we laugh our way into the tourist village of Yulara. We swim at our Yulara accommodation. We buy glorious takeaway pizza and we buy curry and we drive into the National Park and to the Sunset viewing area. We spread on a picnic blanket of stories and tales; together at Uluru at sunset. At another Uluru sunset. And it’s all swirling. The dead heart. Diesel and dust. Place and time. History. Present. Laughter and song. Uluru goes on.

 

==

 

“Wherever you walk around Mutitjulu Waterhole, you are surrounded by the presence of two ancestral beings – Kuniya, the woma python, and Liru, the poisonous snake.

The Kuniya and Liru story occurs on different sides of Uluru, but their deadly battle took place near Mutitjulu Waterhole.

The Kuniya woman came from far away in the east to hatch her children at Uluru. She carried her eggs strung around her neck like a necklace and brought them to rest at Kuniya Piti on Uluru’s north-east corner. There she left the eggs on the ground.

Kuniya camped at Taputji and hunted in the nearby sandhills. As she left and entered her camp, she formed deep grooves in the rock. These grooves are still there.

One day, Kuniya had to draw on all her physical and magical powers to avenge the death of her young nephew, also a Kuniya. He had enraged a group of Liru, or poisonous brown snakes, who travelled from the south-west to take revenge on him.

They saw him resting at the base of Uluru and rushed upon him, hurling their spears. Many spears hit the rock face with such force that they pierced it, leaving a series of round holes that are still obvious. The poor Kuniya, outnumbered, dodged what he could but eventually fell dead.

When news of the young python’s death reached his aunt on the other side of Uluru, she was overcome with grief and anger. She raced along the curves of the rock to Mutitjulu Waterhole, where she confronted one of the Liru warriors, who mocked her grief and rage.

Kuniya began a dance of immense power and magic. As she moved towards the Liru warrior she scooped up sand and rubbed it over her body. Her rage was so great that it spread like a poison, saturating the area at that time.

In a fearsome dance she took up her wana, or digging stick, and struck the head of the Liru. But her anger was now beyond restraint, and she hit him again across the head.

He fell dead, dropping his shield near Mutitjulu Waterhole, where Kuniya herself remains as a sinuous black line on the eastern wall. The blows she struck are two deep cracks on the western wall, and the Liru’s shield, now a large boulder, lies where it fell.”

 

https://parksaustralia.gov.au/uluru/discover/culture/stories/kuniya-liru-story/

 

==

Day 6. Yulara. 42°C.

 

Cooler today. Just the 42°C. (It’s noticeable). We drive to the very base of the rock known as Uluru. To feel the magnitude of this landmark. To build understanding.

 

 

 

We call into the cultural centre and have our minds expanded like balloons. We hear stories of Kuniya, Liru, disagreements, solutions. We hear creation stories. We walk among local art works. We walk among artists; creating.

The young park ranger finishes her talk: “Does anyone have any questions?”

In the raging heat, I raise my hand. It baffles me how people native to this land could find sufficient water on which to live.

“Yes?”

“Can you tell us how anybody finds water around here?”

 

Under her wide brimmed hat, the ranger tilts her head slightly.

“Sure. The café is just through that door.”

 

 

==

Incredibly, from Uluru it is just 48km to Kata Tjuta; a magnificent, imposing rock formation incongruously lying on this seemingly limitless expanse of flat desert, of former inland sea.

 

Kata Tjuta is stunning. On this day of 42oC, the feature “Valley of the Winds” walk is closed for safety reasons. That’s fine. It’s not fine. It just is. Instead we walk a few hundred steps into Walpa Gorge.

 

“That’ll do.”

 

“Yep. That’s far enough, I reckon.”

 

It seems a shame to miss closer experience of Kata Tjuta. But we take only what we need. And what we need is shelter. Back in Yulara, the very bitumen is tacky in the heat. It is time to swim. Stillness swallows us.

Until sunset approaches again; until we briefly drive again across the spinning world. Until we meet the setting sun (again) with dinner on the picnic rug (again). This is an Uluru sunset (again).

 

==

“I am old enough to know that time passing is just a trick, a convenience. Everything is always there, still unfolding, still happening. The past, the present, the future, in the noggin eternally, like brushes, combs and ribbons in a handbag.”
Sebastian Barry, “The Secret Scripture”

 

==

Day 7.

Around this eastern flank of Uluru, the rock, and us, are in full sun. Our walking track brings us so close to the rock that we can touch it. We touch it. Desert oaks stand in thin formation.

 

 

There are no words for this. We have no words. Sitting to rest, to imbibe (still more) water, we each gaze at the timeless view.

“Where are we?”

 

I ask the question and the question hangs in the air. It may be answered. It may be ignored. There is no rush. After our pan-continental odyssey, there is no rush. Being here is enough. I wonder about our trip. I wonder about Dips O’Donnell and Cathy Freeman and the running of the Stawell Gift. I wonder about our helper at Bordertown. I wonder about John Harms and his Tanunda memories.  I wonder about cricket watchers and grey nomads. I wonder about the pioneers of the Stuart Highway. I wonder about roads crews. I wonder about frontiers. I wonder about the future. I wonder about new parents living around Glendambo. I wonder about truck drivers stopping at Twins rest area. I wonder about those living underground at Coober Pedy. I wonder about the prospectors. I wonder about climate change. Or, more accurately, climate breakdown. I wonder about the next generation. And the next. I wonder about people stopping for the night at Cadney Park Roadhouse. I wonder about those sleeping around the Todd River bed at Alice Springs. I wonder about the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Their patients. I wonder about Midnight Oil. I wonder about the characters of Cloudstreet; of Sam Pickles, of Quick Lamb. And I wonder about Sal Paradise. I wonder about National Parks officers. I wonder about Kuniya. I wonder about the Uluru Statement from the Heart. I wonder about the people to have sat here, stood here, since time immemorial. I wonder about my own memories. The memories of my family, passed down as story. I wonder about the Dead Heart. I wonder about Australia. I wonder about Trinity and about our two girls Bud Oon and Bud Yum; about our futures. I wonder about Uluru.

 

“Where are we?”

 

 

“Dad,” says Bud Yum, after a lengthy pause. “We are right here.”

 

“Yeah Dad,” says Bud Oon. “We are always right here.”

 

About David Wilson

Living is easy with eyes closed. Noodling away at The Footy Almanac since 2013. Twitter: @e_regnans

Comments

  1. Thank you David – reading all five parts has given me a holiday from all the noise at a time when I most needed it.
    I especially loved the Buds’ observations – they are obviously in full blossom.
    You and Trinity are creating experiences and memories that shape a family forever – congratulations on being able to capture so much so eloquently.

  2. Margaret Askew-Walinda says

    What an incredible experience made more so by your telling of it. Poetry, music and indigenous storytelling. A cauldron of sensations and emotions to warm the spirit. Wonderful writing enjoyable reading.

  3. I really enjoyed this series of pieces, e.r.
    Well played.
    And well played to the Wilson family. An epic journey in many ways.

  4. Rulebook says

    Superb OBP can you recall your exact emotions re when walking in to the Royal Flying Doctor service I dare say some memories flooded back ? Our cousins used to own,Middle Camp which was,52 miles out of
    Wentworth and was the road used re going to Medindie lakes.I used to help re school of the air of my younger cousins when we stayed up there and met several people who worked for the RFDS but luckily never needed there services when I was there.As always a thought provoking series of articles and great education for sharing thank you

  5. Dave Brown says

    Most enjoyable series, thanks ER.

    So the experts today are telling us that an extinction crisis looms potentially even more urgently than climate change (not that the two are unrelated). That must be why it is the 20th story on our independent news provider and presumably not at all on the less independent. It should be the top story every day.

  6. Loved the series ER. Superb trip. Superb writing. Life changing journey in some ways. Your kids will remember it forever.

  7. One other thing – you made a comment about who may have sat on the very piece of ground near the rock that you were sitting on. Since time began. I had the same thought when I was at Uluru in 2017. Who has sat here before me? What were they thinking? What were their dreams? What was their diet!? There is something about Uluru that makes time so important and so insignificant too.

  8. E.regnans says

    Hi all.
    Thank you for reading and commenting. I feel grateful for these messages.
    Tess – thanks a lot. The noise can be all-consuming. I hope you get to switch off.
    Margaret A-W – thank you. Very kind.
    Smokie – thanks. I’m not sure what the others have taken from the trip. But on we go.
    OBP – I have a RFDS cap that I bought online years ago. Bud Yum said, as we approach the building: “You should wear you hat, Dad – we might get a discount!” I have no memories of the RFDS to speak of. Just an idea of their role. Thank you.
    D Brown – Thank you. News cycles tied to advertising diminish us all. It’s a pretty stern test we’re setting ourselves re: climate breakdown.
    Dips – Thank you. Yes, I found that my sense of scale in both time and space really was seriously stretched. “Who am I? What is my role? Why?”
    ==
    I love the way Uluru appears in that video (above), around the sweeping left-hand bend.

  9. Cool photo Dave, with the tee shirt featuring cover of the Oil’s second album. I purchased both a long time back, but now have neither: de-cluttering.

    Friends of ours from the old crew who frequented Fitzroy’s Royal Oak are currently in Uluru. A horse they part owned ran a 4th in Alice Springs on Saturday.

    We’re just back from a 6 day journey to Eden and Marlo, with a day at the Sapphire Coast races thrown in . A lovely part of Oz, though very different to the red heart.

    Keep up the good work.

    Glen!

  10. Rod Oaten says

    Just fantastic E.regnans, I looked forward to each instalment. I relived our four month journey to Uluru, Darwin/Kakadu then back through Queensland/NSW in 2004 tenting with the “Good wife”.

    So glad that your family had such a great experience.

    Rod

  11. Curtin Springs. But I digress. We lived in Alice for 7 years in the late 1980’s and travelled the Stuart Hwy. several times for Christmas in the south. At the start, there was 700 odd kms. of dirt from the border, but it was all bitumen by the end. Done it a few times since. Your story was very truthful to what happens in real life too. Thank goodness for Mercedes air-conditioning.

    The worst thing we encountered on that road was the black Angas cattle at night on DeRose Hill Station, top of SA. Laying on the road, black, speed down to 50-60 kph for hours. A nightmare we never repeated.

    One suggestion, a second sunset at Kata Tjuta would have been spectacular, but all credit to you for taking your kids to the heart of OZ, rather than some cheap bargain in Bali or somesuch. Well played. A good series.

  12. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I’m in awe of you all. Thanks for writing your adventures down David.

  13. E.regnans says

    Thanks all.
    Glen! – Sounds like an excellent trip. Good stuff.
    Rod – four months is probably more sensible than one week. Given your good sense , I guess you also travelled outside of summer.
    Bucko – thanks very much. A great vote of confidence given your experience in central Australia. (The spelling of Curtin Springs is fixed now.)
    Swish – that is my pleasure. Thanks for leaving your comment.

  14. E.r.- brilliant series. I loved the mix of travel, family, history, literature, music, place and growth. Full marks for the Head Injuries t-shirt too (my second favourite Oils album). If I was a Canadian fugitive I reckon the Dead Heart is where I’d flee too. Superb final paragraph. Thanks very much.

  15. DBalassone says

    Magical.

  16. Thanks for sharing your journey down Lasseter’s Lost Highway of Life. Thanks to the RFDS. For giving the Buds a reason. And the Almanac a sage.

  17. E.regnans says

    Thanks Mickey, DBalassone, Peter_B.
    That Head Injuries t-shirt holds many meanings for me. And by chance(?) I’ve happened to be wearing it at many significant moments in life.
    But then, maybe you see what you look for.
    Go well.

  18. Luke Reynolds says

    “I’m on the run from the law. It’s working out pretty well.” Gold.

    As others have mentioned, absolutely magnificent photo of you in front of Uluru in the Oils t-shirt. One for the pool room.

    Well done on writing your trip up so well and entertainingly. Well done on going on the trip. Well played Wilson family.

  19. Yes to Luke above. I am often reminded in remote parts of the 3 reasons for folks living there. On the run from the law is one, followed by on the run from spouse and on the run from tax man!! Coupled with having more than one “name”, one can live quietly for some time. Coober Pedy used to be the capital of such style, not sure now.

    Again, great story and well written.

  20. Rod Oaten says

    You are right E.regnans, we took off in late May and got back in early September, great for travelling in northern climes.

    I look forward to reading more of your travel adventures.

    Rod

  21. Mick Symons says

    Thanks David
    What a great read!
    You have captured that sense of space in outback Australia.
    Glad you made it safely through so many wretched hives of scum and villainy.
    Loved all the Midnight Oil lyrics from Diesel and Dust – they seemed so apt.
    I reckon you’ve inspired many more to follow in your footsteps.
    Cheers
    Mick

  22. E.regnans says

    Thanks very much everyone.
    I greatly appreciate your kind words.
    Play on.

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