The Great Central Road is another one of the great 4WD tracks in Australia. It covers 1126 kilometres from Laverton in WA to Yulara in the NT (near Uluru). It took us just under 4 days to complete the distance and overall the quality of the road was pretty good. There were a few patches however that made the Gibb River Road feel like riding the bullet train in Japan.
“Every few kilometres there would be the rusted out shell of a vehicle”
Unlike the scattered road kill we came across in central Queensland, or termite mounds dressed in different garb in the Northern Territory, this road was littered with rusted out vehicles. Every few kilometres there would be the rusted out shell of a vehicle. It was difficult to determine the make or model as a result of someone’s misadventure, mostly a multiple roll over or the effect of Mother Nature, more often both. Each one I’m sure telling a story worth sharing, whether it be the result of a rollover after falling asleep at the wheel or perhaps attempting to avoid a camel, or abandoned as it either ran out of fuel or simply was past repair after breaking down. Some may have been lucky enough to tell the tale around a campsite, whilst others never had the opportunity to be told.
Occasionally you may cross the path of others travelling in the opposite direction, however for the most it felt pretty lonely and isolated, something I had desperately craved.
Leaving the west coast, we hit something we were not expecting, a dramatic drop in temperature at night (something we were not well prepared for to say the least). Average temperatures during the day are lovely 24 degrees however as soon as the sun dropped so did the temperature, often to below freezing. Our little camper trailer, although made from 100% Australian heavy duty canvas, whilst it does a great job of protecting us from the wind and rain it did little to protect us from the cold. In fact the temperature outside the camper was always pretty much the same as inside. Our ritual each evening was to put on virtually every piece of clothing we owned. We allowed ourselves the luxury of doing something we hadn’t yet done so far on the trip which was to pee in our little porta-pottie overnight so we didn’t have to leave the tent. The risk of loosing something precious from frostbite was too great.
In Uluru were fortunate to meet up with Harry and Karen, Sarah’s uncle and aunt in who brought us some thermals after putting out the SOS! Come to think of it I may have kept my willie warmers on until I arrived into our warm little house back in Sydney.
As we headed toward the Northern Territory border the countryside morphed into something that more resembled a layer cake, with the red dirt of the road against the golden spinifex, khaki mulgas, and the burgundy Rawlinson Ranges in the background.
“Thirty-six immense boulders up to one thousand metres in height stood out on the horizon like the prized balls of a Mallee bull”
As we got closer we got to Yulara, Ghost Gums, Bloodwoods and Casuarina Pines that look more at home in a Dr Seuss book appeared. We had our first glimpse of Kata Tjuta (formally referred to as the Olgas) as we drove over the crest of a hill. To say it was spectacular would be an understatement. Thirty-six immense boulders up to one thousand metres in height stood out on the horizon like the prized balls of a Mallee bull (only they were beautiful and had significant spiritual and cultural significance)! We bumped into Harry and Karen whilst walking on of the trails, which was a real treat for all involved. The trail is known as the “Valley of the Winds”, a network of gorges created by colossal boulders. The sheer size of it all was really quite a humbling experience.
‘Ayers Rock Resort’ is owned by the Indigenous Land Council and managed by the hospitality group ‘Voyages’. The resort is made up of a range of accommodation to suit all budgets and their tagline of “Touch the Silence” is posted everywhere. As we drove into the campsite with this plastered across the entrance Sarah and I weren’t sure exactly how or when we were going to “touch this silence”, however we both agreed that Uluru (formally known as Ayers Rock), a place of great spiritual significance to the or traditional owners of Uluru and Kata Tjuta would be a great place to start. The following day I got up early to watch the sunrise over Uluru. I made my way into the park in darkness to an area signposted as the “sunrise viewing platform” where a large number of other tourists just like myself had chosen to do the same. A full moon sat on one side of the horizon while a golden orb rose on the other illuminating the sleeping giants of Uluru and Kata Tjuta. I desperately tried to “touch the silence” as the sun rose, changing the colour of the landscape. The swarm of selfie sticks and tourists all jostling for the best view as they watched the sunrise through their screens however seemed to push “the silence” just out of reach.
“we made the conscious decision not to climb the rock out of respect for the traditional owners”
We all returned later in the day and from a distance it’s hard to get perspective on the size of Uluru. She appeared as though a giant piece of velvet cloth had been carefully draped over her to keep a secret hidden. We (Harry and Karen included), had made the conscious decision not to climb the rock out of respect for the traditional owners (Anangu), and instead would walk the 10.6 kilometres around the base. I was dumbfounded by the number of people walking up the rock despite a clear message at its base pleading people not to climb because of its spiritual significance. As one traditional owner explains, “ That’s a really important thing that you are climbing. You shouldn’t climb. It’s not the real thing about this place. The real thing is listening to everything”. Despite this, a line of overweight, unfit and ill-prepared tourists made their way up the rock with little more than a chain to hold onto as they made their ascent. From a distance they all looked like ants making their way up and down the rock trusting the one in front won’t stumble causing chaos. Most people we saw were actually descending the rock on their backside. In fact, that was one of the other reasons the local indigenous do not want you to climb her. Taller than the Eiffel tower, 35 people have died and countless are now in wheelchairs from losing their balance and falling down the face.
Frustrated (more like pissed) at our fellow tourists we headed off around the base trail. Although I have heard it countless times before I was still surprised how regularly the rock changed in shape, colour and also texture. There were some quiet times as we found ourselves alone and not surrounded by hordes of other tourists most likely trying to do the same. During one of these brief quieter periods occurred in a gorge, an area of great significance where the Tjukurpa (referred to as creation period where the laws, morals and religion) are written in the rocks like scripture. From a distance, we could hear the soft hum of what we thought were a flock of galas or corellas, and I almost felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, readying myself for that special moment, perhaps even an opportunity “touch the silence” or at a minimum an opportunity to take an Instagram worthy photo. The hum however soon grew louder, and around the corner came a troupe of 12 tourists on segways! As it turned out the segways came around on average every 25 minutes or so. Between the segways and the other attraction, which involved hiring a bike and cycling around the rock, there was a constant flow of humming segways, bike bells and kids having monumental meltdowns refusing to ride another inch. Sadly none of us had the spiritual experience I know this special place can offer and we sure as hell couldn’t “touch the bloody silence”!
“She spoke of her loss with such sadness my heart was break for her and there was nothing either of us could do or say to make it better.”
One of the other factors playing on my mind during the walk was my failed attempt to help Izzy come to the realisation that life will be worth living despite the recent loss of her much loved Raffi, a comforter she has had since a newborn. We had recently lost her “Raffi” somewhere back in WA (most likely in the caravan park at Carnarvon) and anyone who knows Izzy well will appreciate the significance of this loss. It is almost as though she had come to the realisation she was never going to see Raffi again and it was almost as though she made her way through the stages of loss whilst on the walk. We had passed denial, and transitioned from pain and guilt through to depression, reflection and loneliness. She spoke of her loss with such sadness my heart was break for her and there was nothing either of us could do or say to make it better.
In hindsight, Uluru was a good transition for us back into “civilisation”. It’s not that we minded sharing Uluru with others after being isolated for so long, the distressing part was the lack of respect for indigenous culture. The question is, how long will it take for us non-indigenous, particularly non indigenous Australians, to accept the importance of not only our country's history but humans oldest culture?