Back to the round eternal

………..
And the bush has friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him

In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.

And I somehow rather fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy,
Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal –
But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of ‘The Overflow’.

Banjo Patterson

The sunlit plains extended and the wond’rous glory of the stars. They were ours to enjoy again, at least for a time. Alas all good things come to an end. For now, for us, it’s back to the round eternal.

There’s a rhythm to life at home, the working week sliding into the weekends, scrambles of a morning to get out the door, never ending briefings and meetings and unwinding as best you can of an evening. Time passes, much changes but so much stays the same.

You could grow old tied into the round eternal. Saint Augustine said, ‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page’. I feel like we started a really good book during our first big trip as a family back in 2011. It was a ripper of a chapter and ever since then we simply couldn’t wait to find out what chapter two had in store.

I’m tremendously grateful for the chance we’ve had to read the second chapter of our travelling story, a second trip of a lifetime in almost as many years. It was a cracker too. Mountains were climbed, voyages were taken into and across oceans and tales were told out in the bush under the light of the moon.

For the first month I wrestled with my conscience about going. We’d already been once and isn’t life on the road just self-indulgent sightseeing? Don’t we all have an obligation to contribute to the functioning of society? Am I not too young to be leaving, swanning off around the country?

Another part of me kept saying you’ll grow old here if you’re not careful, or at least Amy and Oliver will. Just 10 or so more years until they’re grown up. Life moves too fast just to tuck them into bed five days a week. So off we went.

Now that we’ve finished chapter two of the story I no longer have any concern that our trip was self-indulgent sightseeing. I will work another 25 if not 30 years. And while I do, I’ll be able to recall the day it all came together and the four of us climbed Cradle Mountain and or any one of a thousand other moments. Mark Twain said, ‘Twenty years from now, you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did…’.

I think maybe memories such as these are important in binding our family a little closer. I hope so anyway. It is Emma, Amy and Oliver who I hope still to be hanging out with 50 years from now – long after the stress of yesterday’s Senate Estimates hearing has passed away.

Heading back to the round eternal
Heading back to the round eternal

De’flies, De’flies

De’flies, de’flies! Oh how I love de’flies. There are so many and I love them all. Each landing is like a tiny massage. That’s thousands of little fly feet massaging your legs arms and face. Why, sometimes you even get a little massage inside your nose. No extra charge. I love the flies. You have to. It’s not optional. If you don’t love them, you hate them. If you hate them life is miserable. At Kings Canyon, Uluru, and especially at Kata-Juta, it is essential that you embrace the flies.

A few of Greg's friends
A few of Greg’s friends

Or buy a fly net. That’s the other option. $7 at the Uluru IGA, or a bulk buy of three for $20. It’s not much of a discount, but then they would continue to walk off the shelf at twice the price. We were offered $200 bucks in the Valley of the Winds at Kata-Juta. I would have taken $400 but not a penny less. By that time even I had crumbled and could no longer embrace my inner fly. When the breeze stopped the air was thick with the sticky little critters. Apparently it is not always like this, there has been enough rain lately for them to breed up big this season.

Decked out with fly nets in Valley of the Winds Kata Juta
Decked out with fly nets in Valley of the Winds, Kata Juta

Fortunately the flies are not as bad at the Yulara Resort. At the resort you need be more concerned with errant boomerangs thrown by your friends. We went along to a boomerang and spear-throwing lesson and Paul almost took my head off when his boomerang came back.

I extracted revenge at the cultural dancing the next day. I was plucked out of a crowd of 100 or so people to join in the dancing, guilting Paul into coming to join me. We bounced like kangaroos before Emma and Khia were also extracted from the crowd to take their turn, bobbing like Emus.

Bouncy kangaroos
Bouncy kangaroos
Slightly embarrassed Emus
Slightly embarrassed Emus

Of course we didn’t come to Kings Canyon or Uluru to thrown spears, boomerangs or even to dance. We came to do as so many other white fella’s do and take photos of those iconic rocks. The traditional owners find all this snapping most bemusing and after witnessing the circus of busses arriving and departing Uluru just afore and after sunrise and sunset it is not hard to see why. Still that didn’t stop us joining the throngs as we snapped away, all of us, Amy and Oliver included. Yes we seem to be raising a couple of excellent little shutter-bugs. Monkey see, monkey do.

Photos are a sensitive issue in this part of the world. Around the base of Uluru there are three or four sections where the Anangu (traditional owners) request that photos not be taken, for cultural reasons. Many if not most of the other tourists we encountered on our circumnavigation sidled right up beside the ‘no photos’ sign and snapped away! I amused myself by commenting as loudly as I could to our own little party about the no photos request and then watching as the guilty persons quickly hid their cameras away.

Note the bike mounted camera on the right
Note the bike mounted camera on the right

Of course outside the no photo zones we snapped away until our hearts were content. It’s a special place and it’s hard to resist the urge to try and capture a little bit of it before time whisks you away. Of course our images will never do it justice. You have to see those towering walls and read the Anangu stories for yourself to even begin to know this place.

Uluru cave

We, unlike the Anangu, will only manage a matter of days in this part of the world at best. We made the most of it by hiking the excellent Kings Canyon Rim Walk, the Kata-Juta Valley of the Winds, and by cycling around the base of Uluru. We dined at sunset, watching and photographing Uluru, we also rose early to catch the sunrise on Uluru twice and Kata-Juta once. Tis a sight to see, though there is something ironic about racing through the desert to catch a sunrise.

Kings Canyon Rim walk
Kings Canyon Rim walk
Wall of Kings Canyon
Wall of Kings Canyon
Our best sunset shot
Our best sunset shot
The flies make your hair go crazy?
The flies make your hair go crazy?
Early mornings are tough
Early mornings are tough
Kata Juta at sunrise
Kata Juta at sunrise

 

This morning we bid our travelling companions, the Atkins, a sad farewell. They are continuing on to north and then to the west. It has been just wonderful to spend the last three weeks together and we love the haiku, limericks, poem and picture with which they bid us goodbye. Happy travels Atkins. We can’t wait to hear about your adventures.

Good friends making good memories
Good friends making good memories

It’s a long way from Portland to King’s Canyon

It’s a long way from Portland, VIC to King’s Canyon, NT. A really long way. 2200 km rolls off the tongue easy enough and to be sure Dad’s Pajero eats up the miles like there’s nothing to it. But it’s still a really long way.

The World Heritage listed Naracoorte Caves were our first stop on route, 220 kilometers up the road. We spent two nights gathered round a camp fire dreaming of warmer climes and delving into the underground where all manner of creature had fallen to their doom, their bodies entombed for us to come and enjoy as fossilized remains.

This is Thylacoleo carnifex (marsupial lion) the largest carnivorous Australian mammal
This is Thylacoleo carnifex (marsupial lion) the largest carnivorous Australian mammal
The 'Wet Cave'
The ‘Wet Cave’

From Naracoorte it is a lazy 460 kilometres to Clare. Gorgeous old eucalypts mingled with vines turning golden yellow and orange as the autumn progresses. We rode our bikes along the Riesling Trail to the Sevenhill winery. Paul, Khia and I sampled the wines while Dana held school lessons for Amy, Oliver and Evie. Emma must have been amused by the goings on of both.

On the Reisling trail
On the Riesling Trail
The gang riding up to Sevenhill Winery
The gang riding up to Sevenhill Winery

Clare is a mere 200 kilometres from Port Augusta where we visited a tourist attraction that only we will ever actively seek out – the Exeloo. Yes the Exeloo (a public toilet). Three years ago we stopped in Port Augusta on our way back from the west. I took Amy and Oliver to find a toilet and came across the Exeloo, which talks, sings and flushes all of its own accord before thanking you for using it. We thought it was hilarious and none of us has ever forgotten it. We sought out a lunch spot at the very same park just to use the Exeloo once more.

Port Augusta's most understated tourist attraction?
Port Augusta’s most understated tourist attraction?

North of Port Augusta, all vertical relief relieves itself from the landscape. Its flat as a pancake in every direction and the sky becomes enormous and all consuming, stretching every bit of 180 degrees from horizon to horizon. There is nothing to see and yet so much to look at. It’s a photographer’s nightmare. The subject is just too big to capture. It’s the scale that is beguiling and the camera can only ever point at a fraction of the scene.

Big sky country
Big sky country

It’s 180 kilometers from Port Augusta to the tiny township of Woomera. On an on we rolled, soaking in the ever changing sky, bopping along to tunes or engrossed in a story. Roadhouses, those outback institutions, occasionally broke the journey but it’s a long way between drinks, 260 km between Glendambo and Spud’s Roadhouse.

Spud’s Roadhouse is just outside Woomera, famous for its huge ‘prohibited’ rocket testing area. The test area is one and half times the size of Scotland. The Australian and British governments set it up just after world war two, because the Germans had better rockets.

Woomera rocket park
Woomera rocket park

Australia together with the British tried to build a better one, the Blue Streak, but failed. Following the closure of the Blue Streak project the then chairmen of the British public accounts committee claimed that the project had been kept going far longer than necessary simply to save face for the Defence Minister. He remarked, ‘We are looking at the most expensive face in History. Helen of Troy’s face may only have launched a thousand ships, but at least they were all operational!’.

Just outside Coober Pedy, 375 kilometers from Woomera, dirt mounds begin to appear. Just a few at first and then a whole lot of them until the conical piles replace the desert shrubs, like a rabbit warren in a population explosion. The rabbits though are humans, rabid for opal. Signs line the highway, ‘Caution deep shaft’ with pictures of people falling down deep holes. The dirt piles are the ‘mullock’ heaps dug up from below, huge amounts of earth pushed aside in search of tiny rainbow rocks.

Mullock heaps as far as the eye could see
Mullock heaps as far as the eye could see

Opal fever they call it and it clearly suckers many people in. Coober Pedy is famous for its underground houses and apparently not just to escape the temperature extremes. Four person families commonly live in 12 or more bedroom accommodation. It’s no longer legal to mine for opals in the town itself and so the locals just keep ‘extending’.

The underground house we visited was also filled with little holes in the walls where the family that had once lived there had just chipped back a little rock to see what was there. Wash a few dishes, chip away a bit of rock, wash a few more dishes. ‘Where shall we holiday this year dear?’ Millions were reportedly made from the house we visited.

Coober Pedy vista
Coober Pedy vista

The funny thing is no one ever makes any money from Opals in Coober Pedy – at least according to the official record. You’re supposed to report your finds and pay tax on it. But as I said, no one ever finds anything. Lotta very busy poor people in Coober Pedy.

No money in opals
No money in opals – Coober Pedy township

We caught a little opal fever ourselves after hearing about the millions (not) being made. We went ‘noodling’ in the public area. Noodling is the art of sifting for left overs in the mullock heaps. The miners miss some and ‘noodlers’ go searching for the dregs. Talk about desperate. 20 minutes was enough for me to know this is no way to make a living, but Khia and I still found ourselves looking at every pebble closely, including those in the caravan park, for the next hour or so.

Noodling at Coober Pedy's public mullock heap
Noodling at Coober Pedy’s public mullock heap

The kilometres rolled by again after Coober Pedy, 400 of them all the way to the border of the Northern Territory. We camped amongst the ever present grey nomads and celebrated Khia’s birthday with a children-made banner strung up upon the fence.

Happy Birthday Khia!
Happy Birthday Khia!
We made it (and made a few other photographers wait while we climbed and self-timered)
We made it (and made a few other photographers wait while we climbed and self-timered)

King’s Canyon is a further 370 kilometres from the border. My mind dwelt too long on the isolation of the outback. Even in a Pajero on a paved highway I felt a very long way from anywhere. We paid $2.54 a litre for Diesel at King’s Creek Station just to reinforce our remote location.

Is this the most expensive fuel in Australia????
Is this the most expensive fuel in Australia????

Just 10 or so days of traveling remain. Emma and I mused about our return to life in Canberra as we drove on, and then tried to push those thoughts out of mind. We are not done yet. There are a few more adventures at least yet to be had – starting tomorrow in the Canyon of the King.