The Red Centre Way: Part 2

Leaving Mparntwe

After three nights in Alice Springs, we are heading further west to explore and experience more of Tjoritja. I continue to be amazed by the ease and speed of set up and pack down. The camper is a dream. The hassle is the same as if we were staying in a hotel. It’s picking everything up and putting it back where it belongs for the drive. The actual packing up of the camper is insignificant.

The plan was to spend a night or two at Ormiston Gorge, and stop to see Standley Chasm and Ellery Creek Big Hole along the way. We got on the road at about 10am and headed to Standley Chasm. It was nice to learn that this site is fully managed by the traditional owners. So many of the people working in Alice Springs are tourists, both international and domestic. Almost all people working at the Parrtjima festival were international travellers. All that I read and my few conversations, suggested all employees at Standley Chasm’s cafe and information centre were local people, it’s a small family business. Knowing that your entry fee to the site was going straight to traditional owners, had me more than happy to pay.

Anglerle Atwater/Standley Chasm (Arrernte People)

Standley Chasm is known traditionally as Angkerle Atwatye, meaning ‘Gap of Water’. It’s particularly sacred for the Western Arrernte people as Aboriginal women would come here to give birth. The walls of this chasm are not the same stacked jagged shards of rock that line Rungutjirpa. They are also significantly more vertical, rather than widening as they extend upward. We weren’t lucky enough to have this site to ourselves, but there were moments when we were alone in the chasm. Still, the interconnection was tangible.

Some of my favourite moments in these sacred spaces are when I take a break from the mindful connection with Country, history and culture, and watch my family soak up the majesty in their own way. I love watching my children remove their shoes so they can ‘feel’ their way. I love watching them be captivated by things I would otherwise overlook. The colour or shape of a tiny rock, the petals of a wild flower, a dragonfly or praying mantis resting on a leaf, the way the water responds to a handful of sand being thrown on its surface like fertiliser. I love watching Leon as he experiences what I do. Watching the awe, and the wonder, and the recognition permeate his mind and spread across his face as he gazes up the rock walls, down the dry sandy river beds, or watches the sun creep across a ridge.

Knowing that photos capture but a fragment of the beauty helps to just inhale it, savour it, and exhale with mindful gratitude. Whether I’m at a particular site or driving through the ranges, the awareness that I am part of the environment, rather than walking and living on it, is palpable. 

I occasionally find myself frustrated by visitors who are brash and inconsiderate. Seemingly detached. But these people are few and infrequent.

After Standley Chasm we continued to Ellery Creek Big Hole at the base of Ellery Gorge, still on Arrernte Country and known as Udepata to the locals. It was busy. The ‘beach’ was full and the water was difficult to access from other areas. We decided to spend a short time soaking in the beauty, but to push on to Ormiston Gorge to enjoy a refreshing swim.

Kwartatuma/Ormiston Gorge

Still in Tjoritja and therefore Arrernte Country, Ormiston Gorge, known as Kwartatuma to the Arrernte, was breathtaking in more than one way. We set up camp in the small campground a couple of hundred meters from the gorge before making our way down to the refreshing clear water and the towering walls of the gorge in the afternoon. We walked past the course sand beaches near the path’s end to escape the small crowd, which soon left anyway. We had a spectacular afternoon walking deep into the gorge, swimming and floating in the icy water, walking the rocky banks at the base of the gorge carved by the dancing river waters millions of years ago. Both the views and the crisp water stole my breath. Once in the water though, and having calmed my breath and heart, the speed at which your body adapts and your breath returns is surprising and I could have floated in this water all afternoon.

I walked further down the gorge while Leon and the kids continued to swim. To be totally alone in the gorge was something special. To simply take it all in, uninterrupted. To breathe in the natural phenomenon and the perfect storm of the elements that led to this creation was profound.

The boys soon joined me and we had the most incredible afternoon. Exploring the little pockets of water and the animals that had made them their home. Inspecting the huge variation in the colours and the patterns of the rocks. Marvelling at the reflections of the gorge walls and the sky in the clear water below. And of course, choosing an appropriate rock surface to lay on and simply be.

So much of our outback reminds me of various Disney movies, particularly Frozen. It’s uncanny at time. I have since learnt that Frozen was inspired by Sámi culture and for the sequel Disney received consultation from a Sámi working group, and I wonder what the similarities between Sámi and indigenous Australian culture might be. There are similarities in their nature-based belief systems, Ahto-Hallan reminds me somewhat of the dreamtime. The rocks of particular Australian sites remind me of the stone giants or the trolls from the valley of the living rock, and, there are significant stone formations that hold deep meaning in. I continue to be reminded of the movie the farther we move across our country and I find it so interesting.

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