Quorn to Parachilna to Iga Warta to Arkaroola to Marree to William Creek to Coober Pedy
05.05.2009 - 05.15.2009 65 °F
The next 30 days of our Australia journey takes us into the Red Center or Outback of Australia. We've already seen some spectacular sights, learned about Aboriginal culture and history, viewed rock carvings and cave art that is an estimated 45,000 years old, lived with several Australian Aboriginal families for a couple of days, flown over the largest salt lake on earth and shared many rich experiences in the harsh Australian land with other travelers and native Australians.
Some of the highlights:
Located 300 miles north of Adelaide on the broad plains to the west of the Flinders Ranges (the largest mountain range in South Australia stretching over 270 miles) the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna (population 7) oozes character that words alone cannot describe. It has become a favorite with filmmakers in search of outback scenery. Scenes from Rabbit Proof Fence, Gallipoli and Holy Smoke! were shot here. The sign that announces the Prairie Hotel causes a few double takes: 'On Your Plate - 3 kilometers' it reads, beneath yellow road signs that depict a kangaroo, a camel and an emu.
We spent 2 days and nights in Parachilna and enjoyed a 4 wheel drive geology tour to Wilpena Pound, Bunyeroo and Brachina Gorges. The guide brought the geology of the area alive and helped us appreciate the harsh, barren land that contains some of the oldest mountain ranges in earth. We saw the site of a 500 million year old meteor strike that would destroy life on planet earth if it occurred today.
Our next stop was Iga Warta (population 42), an Aboriginal Cultural Center. The first humans to inhabit the Flinders Ranges were the Adnyamathanha people [meaning ‘hill people’ or ‘rock people’] whose descendants still reside in the area. Cave paintings, rock engravings and other artifacts indicate that the Adnyamathana people have lived in the Flinders Ranges for over fifty thousand years. We stayed in a very rustic accommodation within Iga Warta and spent each day and evening with the Coulthard family learning history, culture and knowledge of the outback environment.
We participated in several tours including a tour to the Red Gorge which contains rock engravings that are estimated at over 45,000 years old, an ochre pit tour that described how the Aboriginal people used different shades of ochre as body paint to cleanse their spirits and bodies and connect with Mother Earth, a rock painting tour that took us to caves that contain rock paintings over 50,000 years old, and a social history tour that described the more recent history of the Adnyamathanha people once English settlers and missionaries settled in the area.
We also shared a very private, Coulthard family ceremony that honored a child taken from one of the family members at the time of "The Stolen Generation". From 1909 to 1969 Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families according to government policy.
The policy enforced removal of Aboriginal children that were not "full blood" to encourage them to become assimilated into broader society so that eventually there would be no more indigenous people left. Some also believe that the removals were done to mask the fact that white men had fathered children with Aboriginal women. At the time, and some would argue it is still believed today, indigenous people were seen as an inferior race.
Children were taken from Aboriginal families so they could be brought up "white" and taught to reject their Aboriginal heritage. The stolen children were placed with institutions and from the 1950's began also being placed with white families.
The people who supported child removals thought they were doing the right thing. Finally, in 2008 the Australian Government issued an official apology to the Aboriginal People.
No records were kept of how many children were taken from their families, where the children were taken from or where they were placed. Even today some Aboriginals do not know their own birth families. If you are interested in seeing a recent film about this social issue, "Rabbit Proof Fence" not only depicts forced removals but also shows the harsh country of the Outback.
Our time at Iga Warta was very insightful, emotional and eye opening and is one of the highlights of our Australia adventure.
After Iga Warta we spent 2 nights in Arkaroola, a wilderness sanctuary in the Northern Flinders Ranges. We took a 26 mile 4 wheel drive adventure along rugged razorback ridges and across the peaks of the Flinders Ranges' most rugged mountains to the climax at Sillers Lookout.
Arkaroola also has some of the best astronomical seeing conditions in the Southern Hemisphere since the night skies are free of atmospheric and light pollution. We toured one of Australia's largest privately owned Astronomical Observatories and viewed several stars, constellations, Saturn and the moon.
We then spent 2 nights in Marree (population 80) which was established as a major center for the Afghan camel trains that serviced the outback from the 1870s to the 1930s. Today the town is a travelers service area with a pub a motel and convenience store.
From Marree, we enjoyed a 1 1/2 hour scenic flight over Lake Eyre, the world's largest salt lake which is normally empty. Lake Eyre is the lowest point in Australia, at approximately 50 feet below sea level, and, on the rare occasions that it fills, it is the largest lake in Australia.
We seem to have timed our visit perfectly since for the last month the Lake has been full (due to the heavy rains in the area a month ago). In recent times, the lake has had water in 1954 and in 2001. It's an amazing geological phenomena since when the lake does fill there are multitudes of fish and bird life that "suddenly" appear.
We also flew over the Marree Man which is a huge outline of an Aboriginal warrior that people unknown etched into the desert sands in June1998.
The outline appears to depict an Australian Aborigine male, most likely of the Pitjantjatjara tribe, hunting birds or wallabies with a throwing stick. It lies on a plateau at Finnis Springs 40 miles west of Marree. and is just outside of the 125,000 square mile Woomera Prohibited Area.
The figure is 2. 6 miles tall. It is the largest known geoglyph in the world and is estimated to have taken between four and eight weeks to create. Despite this its origins are a mystery, with not a single witness to any part of the expansive operation.
The discovery of the Marree Man fascinated Australians due to its size and the mystery surrounding how it came to be there. At the time of the discovery there was only one track entering and one track exiting the site and no footprints or tire marks were discernible!
The flight reinforced how barren and vast this area is - it's staggering that there is nothing but sand and a few scraggly bushes for miles and miles and miles. And we've just touched a tiny portion of the Outback.
However, there does seem to be one thing in abundance here and that's flies. We've never seen so many flies in our lives and have quickly mastered the "Australian wave" trying to keep them off our faces, out of our mouth, ears and nose. We did invest in some fly nets which seem to be doing the trick but don't make much of a fashion statement!
After Marree we drove on the Oodnadata Track (read dirt or unsealed road) to William Creek (population 12) and the weather-beaten William Creek Hotel which is basically a pub and motel in the intersection of 2 remote tracks. We drove in excess of 250 miles on unpaved, dusty, remote, treeless, barren road and passed only one car on the way - good thing we didn't have any car troubles!
The next stop was Coober Pedy (population 3,500), the opal capital of the world. Coober Pedy is said to mean "white man's hole in the ground". Sorry to say, but is is a hole in the ground. The majority of homes and businesses are built underground or into the sides of hills to control the temperature. Summer days in Coober Pedy average 130 degrees. We stayed at the Desert Cave Hotel, the 'world's first international underground hotel'.
The Lonely Planet Guide describes Coober Pedy as "an inhospitable environment and the town's appearance reflects this: water is expensive and the rainfall scant, so even in the middle of winter the town looks dried out and dusty. It's not as ramshackle as it used to be (would have hated to see it then!), but even so you could never describe it as attractive. In fact, the town looks a bit like the end of the world, making it the perfect locale for 'end of the world films' such as Mad Max III and several other cult films."
We realized after our drive from Marree and a day in Coober Pedy (annual average rainfall - 5 inches) that, other than flies, there is more than an abundance of sand in the Outback - it took us hours to dust, vacuum and wash the car today. Next stop another metropolis of 10 people (Mt. Ebenezer) then on to Uluru (Ayers Rock).
Trevor and Rebecca