Following several months of prior travel, after arriving in Australia’s Red Centre, I felt increasingly disarmed. All my presumptions were challenged, including of myself. The deserts of Arabia and North America had a similar effect on me. But here, it felt more ancient, and stronger.
On a hilltop overlooking the Stuart Highway, which runs north-south across the continent, stands a 17 meter (50 feet) tall sculpture of “Anmatjere Man”, a solemn reminder of what has been humanly lost through colonization, but which still remains mightily present in the earth. Travelling alone, and with meagre equipment, I knew that to survive out here, I needed to be sensitive and respectful.
My first night in the central desert was at Karlu Karlu, a large array boulders roughly strewn across the low, flat, range under a vast blue dome. It was immediately clear that this should be only a brief stop-over: Karlu Karlu has been a sacred site for 40,000 years – native Aboriginals never lived there, and only came for ceremonies, and to deepen spiritually in culture, and “country”.
The night was wild with heavy winds, lightning and thunder, enormous rain drops, and remarkable, indescribable dreams. Soon after sunrise, I packed up my kit, collected some garbage from around the campground, and departed.
The following evening, after a long drive brought me far along a dirt road heading almost, it seemed, to the Milky Way, I pulled over and popped up my roof tent. Although the sun was long gone, it was still baking hot. The brown landscape resembled the moon.
Again, the night was filled with energetic visitations, virtual transports, and lucid dreams of flood waters, mountains forming, Aboriginal warriors, and old black hands heavily slapping my back. And it all felt more tangible and real, as well as acceptable, than any so-called rational waking state.
The next day, driving into an endlessly shimmering yellow horizon, I arrived at an area of meteorite craters. These first few days in the desert were unplanned, as I moved by intuition toward the “unknown”. The craters rested in yet another exquisitely remote and desolate place. Here, too, I was beset by unusual forces at night. By day, I enjoyed the high rocky escarpments, and the wallabies and numerous flying and soaring creatures, of this near-Martian realm.
Not long ago, to visit the Red Centre casually meant certain death. Today, with all the gear and other supports, many people do it, and survive comfortably. Each year, though, some still perish. Some casual visitors do find their experience to be profound, even life-changing. However, a great many barely, or never sense where they are, nor the richness around them. But even if you come prepared, you still must submit something of yourself, if not your entirety, in order to be sundered and sublimed.
Leaving the crater valley – somewhat reluctantly, despite the incessant flies – I retreated to the small desert city of Alice Springs to check my car, take a long cold shower, and resupply on water and food.
Alice Springs is unique and complex, with the ancient and the recent trying to coexist amid a history of atrocious indignities. One example that some find amusing, but which is not, is that the town’s McDonald’s restaurant sits crudely upon an ancient sacred site that now goes unserved, is tragically mourned, and becoming gradually forgotten…
My next post will focus upon the glorious Tjoritja mountain ranges around Alice Springs, an area that blew me away with its exquisite beauty and antiquity, in both human and non-human forms…