Shinns Down Under travel blog


MititJula Waterhole

Pictographs on Cave Wall

D&I and Carolyn with Elwin

The Salt Flat Lake

D Coming Down the Dune

The Todd River sometimes

Sunday, Oct. 13

Although some of us woke before dawn to see the sunrise on Uluru, D&I opted for more shut-eye. As it turns out, we were both up at about that time (5:45), but Darrel was searching for a lost loaner phone and me with the computer. Frustrated with being unable to connect to WiFi and the long time it takes to upload photos, I thought I might have better success in the early morning. I considered abandoning this blog. But here now in Alice, it is much faster, so….

We had breakfast at the hotel restaurant, White Guns. Afterwards, we split up, Darrel to try to use the hotel Internet in the lobby, and I to return a fly net Carolyn didn’t need. I had better luck than Darrel. The cost of the Internet dissuaded him.

We boarded the coach for a trip back to the Uluru where we met with an aboriginal man, Elwin, and his interpreter, John. While Elwin told us the legends surrounding some of the features of Uluru in his native language, John translated for us. We learned two words, “Palia”, meaning Hello, Goodbye and everything in between. A sound like a grunt, “Eyu” means okay. Elwin surprised our driver, Jamie Nicholson, by wearing boots. Jamie said the aborigines feel that in wearing shoes, especially boots, they lose contact with the earth, their mother. Plus, Elwin was carrying a water bottle. Jamie puts it to the cross-culturalization affecting the aboriginals. This is one of the contraversial subjects we have talked about: keeping their culture or losing it to Westernization. (I know contraversial is mis-spelled; it is the Aussie/English way.)

The Uluru looks like a smooth dome, but in fact, it is crenellated, and there are holes and small caves where pieces have broken off. Streaks of dark lines run down the face of the monolith, which are created when rains washed the surface. Since there is so much iron in the rock, it creates rust! But the dome can collect water, so the area is alive with plants and animals surrounding its base.

We walked with Elwin to a small cave, where aboriginal boys became men. They couldn’t look at women during this time, not even their mothers. So there was a small hole into another cave, where the women could pass food to their sons. There was writing on the walls, red, black and white colors. Red is from the ground rock; white from ash; and black from the charcoal of fires. These pictographs told the stories the boys must learn about morals, creation and even the path to water holes. One circle meant a little water, three or more concentric circles meant a lot. Aboriginal people have come here for 20 – 30,000 years, making it the oldest, continuous culture in the world today.

We walked to a water hole at the base of Uluru, called Mitit Jula. The story Elwin told us here was about one of the formations in the rock. Listening to him talk and hearing the rush of a breeze, the piping of a bird, we all felt transported through time.

There are literally thousands (est. at 2,000) of these stories, about the creation of the world, each animal, plant and insect. And back on the bus, Jamie told us about the Dream Time, an aboriginal concept that spans the past, present and future all at once. These stories teach people morals, and the aborigines start learning them at three years old. Each one must be told word for word, no deviation. That could be a matter of life and death out here.

Then we boarded the coach for the eight hour bus trip up to Alice Springs. Boring, you might think. Well, I am one who usually falls asleep in cars or buses quite easily, but I was awake the whole trip. Jamie Nicholson, our driver, kept us alert with stories of his life as a cattle station owner of a 1,500 sq. kilometer (a little smaller than miles) ranch. He is the fourth generation, his kin being one of the first six families to settle here. He runs over 28,000 head of Brahman cattle on the property, employing over 40 people, both white and aboriginal, as well as kinfolk. His family owns 17 such cattle stations in a trust. He explained the round-ups. Next time you eat a McDonald’s burger, you are probably eating Nicholson beef! True, they sell exclusively to Mickey D’s.

The long drive was broken up with little pit stops (15 minutes) and lunch at Curtain Station, another cattle ranch, but since it is located on the only highway, Lasseter Hwy. from Ayer’s Rock to Alice Springs, they offer food, gas, etc. to travelers. Actually, we didn’t see many cars along the road, and even animals in the landscape were few: some cattle, a hawk, someone saw some brumbies (wild horses – and Jamie told us how and why they are trapped). Along the way, Jamie entertained us with stories from the aborigines, having been brought into their tribe living on his station and employing several to work on the ranch, he is another resource on their life and customs.

Another stop was just at the side of the road, but the restroom was a “long drop” (out house), so we avoided it and crossed the road to climb a red sand dune to view the salt flats up there. Kicking off my sandals afterwards, my toes were red! Then we went on up the road for our pit stop while Jamie regaled us with stories of attending the School of the Air and the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and we took our restroom break at Elrunda Station, another cattle station.

We also made a camel stop…right! Stuart’s World is a camel farm. Every year in Alice Springs, a camel race is held. Stuart is the reigning champ. We could ride a camel for $7 AU and some of our group did, but I declined, having had that experience in Morocco. (and I don’t care to do it again!) But we did see a poor little brumby foal that had been attacked by dingoes and added a few coins to the collection for its medical care.

Then, almost at sunset, we crossed the dry bed of the Todd River into Alice Springs. They say you aren’t considered a local resident until you have seen water in the Todd three times… and that may take a life-time! Our hotel, Lasseter’s, is also a casino (well, there isn’t much else to do here!) and we all met for a complimentary drink at the restaurant, where I tried some Aussie beer, XXXX (excellent!) and Darrel had some hard apple cider. Dinner was delicious: Beef Vindaloo (curry) for me and beef steak sandwich for Darrel. Obviously, this is beef country! Then Darrel went to lose the free chips they gave us for the casino and I to the computer.

TOMORROW: Desert Park, free time (laundry!!) and an Outback BBQ with star gazing after sunset.

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