In Queensland’s central highlands, the Carnarvon Gorge sits within a much larger sandstone range. From its rugged gorges and canyons, this Tasmanian-sized escarpment sends all-important rainwater west and south, as well as east, providing water to places as far away as southern Victoria and South Australia, distances approaching 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles).
This region has been significant to Aboriginal people for longer than archaeologists are willing to say. In the main gorge, along with many more remote ones, are galleries of paintings dating back thousands of years. At the bases of towering sandstone cliffs are numerous overhangs, housing indigenous hand-paintings, ochre stencils, and engravings. Under some of these overhangs, burial ceremonies also occurred. At a place referred to as the “Art Gallery”, interred remains were removed in the 1940s and 50s, for trophies or science. Attempts by Aboriginal groups to have their ancestors’ bones returned have so far been unsuccessful.
While visiting the Art Gallery, I decided to lay down on the wooden formal viewing deck. Beside where I placed myself, there happened to be a hole in the cliff – one of the emptied crypts. As I lay there, I imagined being the one who was buried in that space. I imagined the life of that person, existing for a time within his or her profound culture, connected to Country as Spirit. And something stirred deep inside me, of love and respect, and a feeling that I was home again.
Later that day, I entered the cooling shade of the Warrumbah side-gorge, spending several hours there beside a pond and trickling stream. Calling birds flew in pairs through the narrow cleft, a large monitor lizard peered from a tree branch, and a wallaby came near, but not too close. And here, too, I was visited by a deepening ease… timelessly happy and sustained.
This region teems with life. Among others, there are bettongs, grey kangaroos, Pretty-faced wallabies, platypus, echidnas, various reptiles, green tree-frogs, parrots, crows, white-winged choughs, lorikeets, and all kinds of bugs, beetles, ants, and butterflies. The plant-life is similarly diverse due to the gorges’ multiple ecosystems. Unique here are two ancient plant forms – the macrozamia cycad, and the amazing king fern, known for having the longest fronds in the world.
These native sacred places are alive and powerful. One only needs to spend respectful time within them to begin feeling this. Sacred sites exist worldwide, and they are all inter-connected. A great number have been ruined or lost, but many still exist.
Carnarvon Gorge has special significance for me. Here, in early January of 1986, I was directly spiritually communicated with by my teacher (guru), who was then thousands of kilometres away on the Fijian island of Naitauba. It was a moment that redirected my life, even to this moment. Several years later, when I first visited Naitauba, I was struck by how strongly the island felt connected with Carnarvon Gorge – they felt like relatives of some kind. And, returning to Carnarvon now, I feel again that these two places are deeply, intimately, anciently connected.
Today, after a week here, walking miles and sitting hours, and as thunderstorms now arrive, I farewell my diminutive tent-side furry bettong and head north. . .