“The Sunburnt Country”
This post is not promoting anything, its not teaching you how to cook something, its not even really a story… it purely is just a reflection on my time exploring the Australian red desert.
It’s known as the place where you explore in your “later years”. The place that gathers grey nomads form afar, with their camper vans, decked head to toe in Kathmandu gear, traveling roughly 20km under the recommended speed limit and dodging the indigenous population at all cost…. This was my previous ignorant opinion of Central Australia. Like many others my age the concept of travel and “discovering the world” has previously had absolutely nothing to do with Australia. The furthest corners of the earth has been where I have had my eyes set on.. Saving every penny to purchase the dearest ticket, to shoot myself into the sky and sit cramped up for stupidly long periods of time… all for the excitement of exploration. New experiences, new insights to spirituality, new beautiful things to photography and more importantly new and interesting things to eat. I am talking any country that reflects nothing of my own culture.. France, Spain, Greece, Vietnam,… for gosh sake I even wanted to go to India this year! Anything to submerge myself somewhere as far from my reality as possible.
I, like so many other Australians have always said “I would like to see Uluru.. some day.. it’s on the to do list”. Well we all know that “some day” is not a day of the week, so I was very happy and extremely blessed to be given the opportunity to travel with my family on a discovery to the unknown Australian desert.
To be perfectly honest, before leaving I was looking forward to spending time with family, and mildly excited to see this giant rock that school so frequently banged on about, but to say I was extremely excited would very much be a lie. Maybe this was partly the reason I was so over come and impacted by what I discovered in the centre of Australia.
So what did I discover you ask?…. where do I start. I guess I feel that I found the true essence of Australia, the heart of this beautiful country that I call home. Growing up on the east coast of Australia I have a wonderful appreciation for Australia’s magnificent beaches and city life. I have snorkelled The Great Barrier Reef and been fortunate enough to travel a little to realise that Australia really has the most beautiful beaches in the world, (minus the sharks and lots of deadly stingy things!!).. but like many other countries to discover there are beaches and cities alike nearly everywhere you go. My father has a fantastic habit when he travels to compare wherever we are to a familiar place, suburb or location from home.. and often he is bang on.. “this is like the Darling Harbour of Vancouver” or “this is like the Newtown of New York”. Central Australia however is NOT somewhere you can compare to anywhere.. it truly is like a different world, almost like you have arrived on another planet.
The first thing that you very quickly notice when arriving in the Australian Desert is the magnificent colour. I have grown up reciting the famous line from Dorothea Mackellar’s poem “My Country”…. I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains. never has this had any relevance to me until I took a drive from Alice Springs to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The brilliant “sunburnt” red ( it really is the only way to describe it) of the sand contrasting with he vibrant blue sky is simply breathtaking. I was prepared with my beloved digital SLR camera to take a few great family shots on the trip, however became so mesmerised with how my camera was capturing the unbelievable colour of the landscape that I ended up taking over 600 shots within 5 days.. One very happy photographer.
Now the landscape is going to impress anyone alike, however the culture and spirituality in central Australia is what really knocked me for a six! From the moment I saw Uluru I got goose bumps. It is larger, more detailed, redder and certainly more impressive than anything I ever imagined. There sitting in the barren flat desert landscape is this 348 m tall sandstone formation (that is my very logical description of it). My first encounter of Uluru was at afternoon sunset drinks with the family, where the whole time I kept saying it looked like the back drop from a movie set that would be rolled away when our scene was finished. I drove around Uluru, I rode a bike around Uluru, I walk up to it, viewed it at sunrise and viewed it at sunset.. the whole time all I could think was… HOW! How on earth has this beautiful rock formation come to be here, smack bang in the centre of Australia, 1000’s of years old. Taking the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park spiritual walk gave me a very open and different answer to my “how”. It wasn’t the scientific explanation, or the explanation from the time of white settlement but rather a snap shot into our indigenous ancestors incredible dream time stories, love and knowledge of this remarkable landmark. The respect and history for this powerfully beautiful rock from the Aboriginal culture is something that really resonated with me.
Now the issue that nearly everyone talks about when visiting Uluru and the most asked question for me when I returned was “Yeah but did you climb it!!”. Firstly when I initially saw the rope that you cling to for dear life to scale the side of Uluru, I thought you would bloody need rocks in your head to even think about it.. but after taking in spiritually everything Uluru had to offer and speaking with the local aboriginal cultural guide it quickly became very clear to me.. for the life of me I could not find one reason to or ever understand why anyone would be so disrespectful to walk, climb or even touch such a beautiful sacred and precious formation. There are so many stories to learn that I will not share with you in the hope that you will go and listen and learn and take it all in for yourself one day..
Central Australia is now high on my priorities to return to for some more new experiences, new insights to spirituality, new beautiful things to photography and more importantly new and interesting things to eat. It is funny how I thought these things were only possible to discover far away from home.. but now know they are in my very own back yard.
To finish this post I thought I would leave you with some more words from Dorothea Mackellar’s poem “My Country” that really resonated and reflected my new found love from the Australian Desert.
An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land –
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand –
Though earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.
Lots of love
p.s here are a couple of beautiful new friends I made along the way!