The heat was relentless in the Top End and so we headed south, towards Alice. Our first stop was another hot springs: Mataranka. When it’s 39 degrees, 34 degree water is actually refreshing. The springs, under a forest of palm and paperbark, were a lovely turquoise colour.
While in Mataranka, we poked our heads into the replica house featured in the film version of We of the Never Never. I’m now reading this 1908 novel, full of outback characters, written by Jeannie Gunn.
Then it was back on the road again . . . . It’s nearly 1200 kilometres from Katherine to Alice down a long, mostly straight road that cuts through the desert, or if not technically desert, very arid country.
We had a welcome rest at Daly Waters, the famous outback pub. Middies were a bargain $3.50 at happy hour and they gave the kids a lengthy activity booklet so that we could enjoy said beers in the shade. It was still well over thirty degrees at half five in the afternoon.
Daly Waters used to be a refuelling stop for Qantas flights from Sydney to Singapore. Now it’s full of travellers. We camped overnight and hit the road again the next morning.
We drove to Tennant Creek, where we visited a museum of early pioneers, gold diggers. Interestingly, they made the floors of their houses from ant hills, patted down as these proved cool and kept the dust down. We’ve found a plethora of pioneer museums and monuments on our trip, all emphasizing how hard these overseas settlers had it. I can’t argue with that, but there don’t seem to be quite as many museums on the original inhabitants of this country, who’ve been here significantly longer.
Devil’s Marbles, or, Karlu Karlu, is one exception. We stopped for lunch at this significant site for the Alyawarre people and I read this story about the people believed to live inside the caves and underneath the rocks here:
They’re real people like us. You can see them. A long time ago I went with my billycan down to the creek here to get some water. One of these secret people came out and started playing with me. I couldn’t go away.
My mother came and got me, saved me. After that we never camped at this place again, never. They’re kind these secret people, but they can make you mad. They can change you into one of them. They can say, “Follow me,” and you can’t go back.
It happened like that for my cousin. He disappeared. The old people made a big ceremony, singing the ground and the rocks to make them let my cousin come back. We lost that song now. We’ve got no song to bring children back. —Senior Traditional Owner
At the end of a long driving day–500 kilometres–we finally reached Alice and cooler climes. Alice Springs is another misnamed town, as there are no permanent springs there. The Todd River runs through town, but that was—like so many rivers we’ve crossed in Australia—dry as a bone. Alice is an interesting town with a population of 25,000, many of whom are indigenous. There are bookstores and cafes and a low-key market once a month in the town centre.
At the Desert Park we learned about the reproductive system of the red kangaroo. When the female gets pregnant, she can halt the growth of her foetus for up to a hundred days or until she has a better food source. We saw an amazing bird show, where a barn owl flew silently overhead and a buzzard opened an emu egg with a rock.
We spent two nights in Ormiston Gorge, 135 kilometres west of Alice. This was a stunning spot and a beautiful swimming hole. K and I did a long walk through the gorge, up and around it. They’ve had rain in the centre over the last few months and so there’s a surprising blanket of green and an abundance of wildflowers.
Then we went back to Alice, where there were storms-the first rain we’ve seen in nearly three months. That night, a tree came down in the caravan park, crushing a four-wheel drive just meters from us and ruining one couple’s holiday. Good luck it didn’t come down on our canvas tent!
I did a big shop, we packed up, got new moulds for K’s hearing aids, and were back on the road.
Next stop . . . “Uluru, baby!” says R in the back seat.