Tuesday, June 26, 2007

ULURU, a bit of history

Map of our progress, going anti-clockwise around the continent.

We have less than 2 weeks left, lots of unsealed roads and a total of just under 2000 km. Arriving in Perth we will do some house sitting and we will try to find a buyer for the Landcruiser and the Kimberley camper trailer, either together or separately. Then we will also decide what to do with our block of land, to build or not to build, that is the question......


No doubt, Uluru is one of the famous icons of Australia, together with the Harbour Bridge (coat hanger) and the Opera House in Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef. It is striking that in Kings Canyon and Uluru we now see so many overseas visitors (since we left Cairns). Imagine, in 1948 the first dirt track to Ayers Rock was constructed.

In 1985 the Uluru (Ayers Rock)-Kata Tjuta (Olgas) Land Trust was handed back to the local Aboriginals (Anangu) and they leased the land back to the Federal Government for 99 years.
In the beginning, there was a camping area just north of Uluru. As a National Park, all visitors are now located some 16 kilometers to the north of the rock in a newly constructed village, which has 5 hotels, a caravan park, backpackers facilities, shops, medical centre, etc.

This place (it is called Yulara) in the middle of the desert (443 km SW of Alice Springs and 265 km east of the WA border) now caters for a maximum of 5000 tourists, any day of the year!
When we watched the sun set over Uluru at one of the viewing areas last night, we were amongst more than 1000 others!

A new airport was constructed another 5 km to the north and every day busloads of tourists arrive. When entering the National Park $25 per person will get you a 3 day pass, including entry to the Cultural Centre on the south side of Uluru; this adds up to a total of A$8.2 million per year just for park entry fees and the Australian Federal Government adds another A$6.4 million funding. Almost all of this money is used to manage and upgrade the facilities.

Tanneke joined a dot painting course ($50), which was very interesting, sadly almost exclusively attended by overseas visitors. There are several guided walking tours or you can walk around the base of the rock (10 km). Already 35 rock climbing tourists have died over the years (heart attacks and falls) and the Aboriginals don't like anyone climbing their sacred site; their culture has a deep understanding of the earth and the creatures that live on it. The management now strictly controls the climbing conditions such as too early, too late, too wet, too cold, too hot, threatening rain or lightening, too windy, rescue activities or cultural events, in fact you could spend a whole week here and find the rock "closed" every day, much to the disappointment of some people who come from far at great expense to see and climb. I think there is somewhere a compromise here, realising that half the tourists would not bother going here if they could not climb the rock. However, the Olgas (40 km to the west and higher than Uluru) are out of bounds for climbers.

The Anangu have incredible inside knowledge of nature, plants and animals. Even these days, Aboriginal trackers will be employed when people get lost in the desert, their eyesight is truly amazing. We experienced this first hand when we visited Tim and Leah in Kalumburu in 2005 when an elderly lady in our boat spotted a sailing ship at the horizon before any of us could see anything at all.

We saw a video in the Cultural Centre which showed how they can survive in the desert using only plants and animals as food, they know where to find water, even if there has been no rain for a long period of time.

It is fascinating to spend a few days camping in the outback, still with creature comforts so close at hand. At night we hear the dingos howling, there is a local pack of about 40 near the rock and they behave similar to wolves. At night the sky is absolutely blazing with stars. In summer temperatures often exceed 40 degrees and the flies become unbearable but we find the nights very cold (near freezing) during winter time, such as now.



For those interested in Aboriginal Art here is an explanation (click on the photo to enlarge):
The central circle represents Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The twelve seated figures are the members of the Board of Management: four pairs of male and female Anangu (brown) and four non-Anangu (white). They have surrounded the park with yuu, a traditional windbreak. This is the protection that their decisions and policies provide both for the culture and the environment of the park, as well as for park visitors. Waiting and listening to the Boards's decisions are the Anangu and non-Anangu rangers. The Anangu rangers are barefoot, representing their close connection with the land and knowledge derived from thousands of years of looking after the land. The non-Arangu rangers wear shoes, representing their land management training and knowledge derived from European scientific traditions. Surrounding all are two more yuu (windbreaks) representing the protection and support of Tjukurpa (Anangu traditional law) and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which are working together to guide the management and protection of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Undulating sand dunes and rich bushland encircle the park. (taken from the visitor's guide; Uluru=Ayers Rock; Kata Tjuta=the Olgas).

Have a look at the corrugated road, at times it goes on for hours and it rattles the fillings out of your teeth. Lower the tyre pressures and hit about 80 km/h and it is half bearable.

At Uluru in the Cultural Centre Tanneke did a course in dot painting and here is a sample of images often found on Aboriginal paintings.

Uluru just before sunset. On the right Tanneke's produce! Also pictures of Uluru at sunset and the view from the top.

The Standley Gorge is another impressive waterway cut through the Ranges.
Dingoes roam the country; we hear them at night, howling like wolves.

Driving west of Alice Springs we first see the Simpson Gap where a river took millions of years to erode a gap through the West Macdonnell Ranges. Note the sign behind Tanneke! Many camping areas are supplied with dedicated fire places to avoid bush fires getting out of hand; this family was cooking their meal in a "Dutch Oven", surrounded by hot ashes.

Tanneke is looking at spinifex, a very hardy and thorny plant that grows in large patches through the centre of Australia; it loves puncturing tyres and is infamous for getting caught around hot exhaust pipes with vehicles often burning down completely. The picture is taken after our walk through Palm Valley when we returned on the top of the escarpment.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Tennant Creek and southwards

Bas, thank you for solving riddle no.2: DISILLDOUS on the back of a motorhome was: "this will do us" meaning the grey oldies are happy to retire and travel for as long as they can.

What about the first riddle?? INOURRI also on the back of a motorhome, a slow Nissan bus. Anyone?

And here is one found in the pub of Ross River Homestead, it cost $1 if you ask the bartender to explain: ISDERASMNEORSSEDSASDERISORSSRSS?

TRAVELING SOUTH: Tennant Creek is 1000 km south of Darwin and 500 km north of Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway.100 km South of Tennant Creek we find the Devil's Marbles; nature found a way of splitting rocks and then rounding off the edges. According to the local Aboriginals, this is the site where the rainbow serpent laid her eggs.

The center of Australia started opening up around 1870 when the first telegraph line was built from Adelaide to Darwin, to connect by cable to the rest of the world. With many relay stations along the way, a telegram from London to Adelaide would take about 7 hours to arrive. Operators in most of these very remote stations would write down the message in morse code, translate and then use the morse key to send it on. In 1877 the first town in Central Australia was established, it was Hermannsburg, 125 km SW of Alice Springs.

Tennant Creek, the last gold rush in Australia, mid 1930's, in the middle of the Great Depression. Here we see many Aboriginals, some active in art centres or working as road crews, but the majority living off the doll and sitting around. Recently there have been calls from some community leaders to change the social welfare system and link it to "good clean living" such as kids going to school, no abuse of alcohol, drugs, gambling, domestic violence and sexual abuse of in particular children. It is a very complex problem with no simple solutions. Moreover, the anti-discrimination acts will stop any laws relating to only Aboriginals. Having experienced apartheid in South Africa, we cannot understand why our government is still funding and creating so many separate services for Aboriginals, why can we not be all Australians, irrespective of race or cultural background?

This afternoon we will go to the Central Lands Council and apply for permits to travel through several areas of Aboriginal Land. Just today on the radio it was mentioned that the permit system will be overhauled.

-It is the longest continuing art tradition in the world, at least 40,000 years and probably longer.
-There are hundreds of different Aboriginal cultures in Australia, all with their own unique form of cultural expression and ancestral language.
-Most artists are located in urban rural and remote communities and are connected to local art galleries.
-Authentic Aboriginal art includes documentation of the name of the artist, the title of the work, when the work was made, the language group of the artist and some appropriate cultural information.
-Although most Aboriginal artists are women, in 1971 a group of men started painting in Papunya after having been encouraged by a school teacher. They established in 1972 Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd. and are now highly regarded internationally.

This is the camping ground in Alice Springs, one of the driest places in Australia......

It seems we cannot get away from locals commenting like: "this is very unusual weather, we have never experienced this before". So once again, we had hardly stopped to camp in Alice Springs, and the rain came down in buckets. This time it was cold as well, during the night down to a few degrees above freezing. Tanneke bought a fan heater, which we now use when we have a powered site. When traveling around Australia with our children in 1990, we had 2 days of rain during the whole year, now we can count the days of sunshine; we have had two days of hot weather so far! Even Darwin is having temperatures in the low 20's.

At 200,000 km (very low km's for an Australian 12 year old Landcruiser, most have done over 300,000 or as much as 600,000 or more!) and with the central desert road in front of us, it was time to change the coil springs on the Landcruiser. Upgraded (thicker) coils resulted in the car going up by almost 100 mm, thus increasing the ground clearance and also stopping it from bottoming out on bad roads.

The East Macdonnell Ranges, N'Dhala Gorge 90 km east of Alice Springs; note the tilted layers of rocks, very similar to Arkaroola in the north Flinders Ranges in South Australia. On the right we see one of many petroglyphs (rock carvings) about 10,000 years old.

Trephina Gorge with the John Hayes Rockhole. We also visited the Ross River Homestead, built in 1890.

The Macdonnell Ranges stretch east to west for 400 kilometers, are around 340 million years old and were created around the same time as Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas); originally more than 3000 meters high but now eroded to lower levels.

The Todd River Regatta in Alice Springs is a yearly boating competition; unusual is the fact that the Todd river is normally dry (on average it holds water once a year- however has held water 6 times already this year) and thus the regatta is held with bottomless boats .....true!. I have seen a picture once and it is absolutely hilarious, boats with running legs sticking out underneath!
The yearly Camel Races is another crowd pleaser. And then there is the yearly Beanie Festival, don your own handmade creation. Although not a large city, more a town, Alice Springs surprises with many shops and eating places, 7 caravan parks and lots of art galleries; it is clear that tourism is a major source of income here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Cooktown and Gulf country

Rodeo was coming to Normanton, we missed out by a few days; the town's population tripled overnight.

Three Ways Roadhouse was just being refueled; the road train has 88 wheels.
In Tennant Creek I tried my luck at gold panning; I now understand why gold is so expensive (ended up with mostly mud).

This river crossing is near Lawn Hill; just imagine the water being 2 meters deep as it happens after heavy rain.

Lawn Hill is a beautiful spot, far away from the bitumen. But most of the area had turned to dust due to lack of rain for a long time. It is an oasis in an endless dry country.

Please meet Krys: about 8 meters long and its head alone weighs over 200 kg. It is an exact replica of one o
f the largest crocodiles in the world, shot by a lady called Krystina in 1957. We see lots of BIG models of fantasy (Big Banana, Big Crayfish, etc.) but the scary thought here is that this monster actually moved around the Normanton area not so long ago. Tanneke is just checking if she would have fitted......

In Croydon we found the resurrected Gulflander, a 1930's train that now runs for tourists once a week between Normanton and Croydon. The railway was built more than 120 years ago when gold was found near Croydon. It has no connection with any other line. This large area has had so many setbacks in the past but people keep trying to make a living. Floods, droughts, cyclones, epidemics and more. Tourism has now become an important part of the economy.

We checked this sign for the author but could not find one; interesting anyway.

On the way to Lawn Hill we found a prehistoric dig; 500 million years ago this area was an inland sea and huge birds roamed here. In the rock you can see part of a leg bone of this bird.

Someone nicked my crocs and walked away; when I wanted them back he hid behind his BIG Daddy and refused to return them......

How about a shoe lace tree? Click on the photo for enlargement of shoe strings.

The first part of the tour was conducted in a modified Landcruiser, just like an Oka, built in Cairns; perfect for off road tours.

The tour guide was extremely knowledgeable of all plants and animals. The tinnies are run on batteries that are recharged by solar panels. While moving through the water, they are completely silent. The water is at places more than 4 m deep; we also saw a fish that comes to the surface and spits at spiders which then drop in the water. This area is known for minerals and gems, in particular gold.

The cows were very friendly; Cobbold Station just runs only 10,000 of them.

Cobbold Gorge (85 Km south of Georgetown) was an unexpected beautiful surprise; we took a tour in an electric motor driven tinny.

Fresh water crocks and heaps of birds populate this gorge that is part of a private property.

On the road to Normanton, we were encouraged to run the car and trailer through an automatic wash street on the side of the road to get rid of seeds and plant material. In the outback we often find road condition signs at the beginning of long tracks (800 km plus...) and all drivers should check with the local police. No point in driving 600 km and then finding that you have to go back due to a deep river crossing, a muddy road or washed away sections, you may run out of fuel or get stuck for a week in between two river crossings. Some crossing have posts that mark the depth, can be up to 4 meters deep! If you get caught driving on a closed road you may get fined for the total amount of the repair costs; how much for say 500 km of churned up track?

When Captain Cook had to repair his ship, he had a major headache of finding a way through the Great Barrier Reef. He stood on this hill, as we did at sunset.
Here is the main street of Cooktown. Once again, the rain followed us and huge gusts of wind attacked the tent at night. Then we found that the rain had caused the Burke Development road to close, so we had to go further south and travel the Savannah Way to the west.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Cooktown, Bloomfield Track

We are now going to be out of range for a while, could be up to 3 weeks, until we reach Alice Springs, although we should be able to read email now and then.

The Bloomfield track between Cape Tribulation and Cooktown had extremely steep sections (low range, 1st gear) plus mud, fallen trees, gullies and 8 creeks, two of which were deeper than we liked. But all went well with an average speed of 25 km/h over 4 hours.

Tanneke is showing the real hazard of falling coconuts, they can weigh more than 2 kg and when they fall 12 meters, it hurts!

At Cape Tribulation we ran into this Cassowary, looks like a giant turkey with very strong legs and beautiful colours. They are becoming very rare and we were lucky to spot this one.

From Cape Tribulation northwards, the track becomes strictly 4WD.

This ferry should still look familiar to our kids, when we crossed the same Daintree river in 1990. The other picture is taken on the beach of Port Douglas, a place even more glamorous than in 1990. The die hard sun bakers are still around although swimming is a serious risk with deadly stingers, crocks and sharks.

Once again we see the aftermath of some serious accidents, whereby foreigners forget that we are all driving on the wrong side of the road here.....

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