Mereenie Loop road and Wallace Rockhole

Friday, Jun 24, 2011 at 04:29

Member-Heather MG NSW

Day 21
Tuesday 21st June (Kings Canyon-Mereenie Loop-Hermannsburg-Wallace Rockhole.)
I am woken in the night by the unmistakeable sound of a pack of dingoes howling and calling to one another as they pass very close to the camp ground and then move on into the distance. It is an animal we only ever associate with this central area as we have never heard it in travels to other parts of Australia, although they were common on our beef property when I was growing up near Moruya on NSW's South Coast.
It's another cool morning but not anywhere near freezing. John is disappointed to find only a couple of dozen mice in his trap this morning and doesn't bother to count them!
We have our usual breakfasts and are in the packing up routine, pulling out of the camp ground before 9am. At the Fuel station/kiosk we purchase our Permits ($5.50) for travel on the Mereenie Loop road through Aboriginal land and turn right onto a short welcome stretch of bitumen.
At the Watarrka National Park exit/entrance the black top runs out and we remember what the Oodnadatta track was like as we hit small corrugations and the rocks and dust start to fly up around us.
We stop briefly at Ginty's Lookout to gaze back at the Canyon and the land around before starting out on almost 200 kms of dirt across to Hermannsburg. The first 15 kms or so are pretty slow going as John tries to dodge the worst of the corrugations and maintain a speed of around 60 kms. From there its variable with some stretches of smooth fast road and others where we are reduced to a crawl. There are roadworks which stop us for a while and we talk to the man with the sign...about the ash from a volcano in Chile which is forcing the stopping of flights in many of the major cities and bringing the world away from here to a standstill. It affects him as he is due to fly to Perth tomorrow.We see a sign promoting a rest area in 5 kms but it never eventuates and we are forced to pull onto the road side for a toilet stop.
We pass through some very scenic countryside with high red rocky ridges to the right hand side and distant ranges on the left. Gosse Bluff rears up out of the landscape too...we have visited this interesting place on a previous of a giant meteorite crater.
We see very few vehicles: a couple towing camper trailers overtake us and we speak briefly on the radio with them before the disappear into clouds of dust, a road train passes and we stop to let the dust clear so we can once again see the road, and as we get past the turn off to Gosse Bluff and Glen Helen Resort, we meet a couple of Britz 'whizz-bangs'.
The road from here to Hermannsburg is the roughest of the trip and pretty arduous as we are impatient to get there now.
We get close to Hermannsburg and make a short detour past the home of the renown, long deceased aboriginal painter Albert Namatjira and can't decide which of the old dilapidated buildings it might be so I photograph both and we continue the few kms to the town. It is a short detour to the left and we find a flat place to park close to the Historic precinct, have lunch, and then pay the entry fee ($10/$8 pensioners) to have a look around. The precinct seems to contain the only public toilets in the town as far as we can ascertain...I ask a couple of women near one of the buildings, one of Aboriginal appearance and they give me vague answers.
I am relieved to find that the dust hasn't entered the van due to Johns temporary repairs to the pipe although many small objects have shifted a considerable distance and some have 'danced' their way off the bench tops. It is the roughest patch of dirt we have travelled.
We wander around the dilapidated remains of a cemetery while skinny dogs roam close and the odd vehicle moves past but we don't see tourists here in any numbers. A man who is employed out on the oil or gas plant out of town stops to chat about our van as he has purchased an Outback Expanda for the family back in Coffs Harbour and wants to know our experiences, where we have taken it etc. I discover he works out here for two weeks then has two weeks back on the North Coast.
It is an interesting half hour spent wandering through and around the buildings of the former Lutheran Mission (the first Aboriginal mission in the Northern Territory) which was established here in 1877 on lands of the traditional Western Aranda people. Apparently it was abandoned by its founders in 1891 and for the next 88 years it was operated by the immanuel Synod of South Australia, until in 1982 control of the lands was restored to the Aranda people under the Aboriginal Lands Rights Act.
We have a look in the school building, the Old Church, Strehlow's house, used by the senior Missionary Carl Strehlow in the period 1894 - 1922, and then by his successor F. W. Albrecht between 1926 and 1952. This building now houses a cafe and a gallery where we view prints of Nanatjiras works and local aboriginal originals hanging on the walls.We also look in the Mortuary where I convince John to lie on the slab while I take a photo ( is a bit 'sick' of me....) and some of the other buildings . Its noticeably cooler and pleasant inside and one of the hottest days we have experienced.
Back in the vehicles John decides to buy 20 litres of diesel and its $2.20 a litre. The signage indicates that we are to pay before buying the fuel so John heads inside with a $50 note, while an elderly man approaches me. I explain where John is and he says ' need for that' as if it only applies to the local Aboriginals, and I suppose there must be a reason for it.
The remaining road is bitumen, until we turn off and travel 20 kms on 'reasonable' dirt to Wallace Rockhole, our destination for the next two nights. On arrival in this tiny Aranda community we pull in at the Art Centre where we plan to pay the two nights accommodation however the centre is being staffed by a rather shy young Aboriginal woman who cannot locate the receipt booklet or give us much information re the place. We offer to go,set up and come back tomorrow to pay and I mention that I would also like to do a cultural tour to view the rock art at the Rockhole. Once again, she isn't able to provide any details so we decide to do it all in the morning when her assistant is there.
We find a spot where we can connect to the power and have a fire between our campsites and before long we're set up again. We aren't sure about the water quality so we decide to use what remains in our tanks instead. John gets the 'Little Wombat' out and then organises a fire as I have promised to bake a damper to have with dinner.
I am happy to find the amenities adequate with flushing toilets and hot showers ...we think the $16 per night so good value, and we are the only campers at this time in the flat area. Before long two Thrifty troopys towing trailers pull in and a group of teenage kids and staff arrive, set up small tents and settle in across the dirt track at the communal fireplace and rustic camp kitchen. They make happy sounds and disappear into a large tin shed at the rear of the campground from where we hear the sounds of voices singing hymns and other religious tunes.I take this opportunity to use the showers as most of the new arrivals are girls and I don't want the hot water to run out before I visit there. Its a lovely hot shower but I am out and back at the fire ready to get the damper organised.
We enjoy the time before dark sitting around in the fires warmth, eating our evening meals and then retreat about 9pm to get the chores done. The campers are well behaved and don't make undue noise...
We are visited by Ken the campground caretaker/tour guide and he chats to us for ages about the community, its history, and the (mostly negative) impact the Government Intervention has had here. He's an interesting man to listen to and gives us the local angle. We arrange to tag along on the morning tour to the art site...and will meet him at 9am.
I find difficulty in sleeping as a wind springs up and makes the awning flap ..its midnight before I turn off my light and get to sleep.
Day 22
Wednesday 22nd June (Wallace Rockhole)
I wake not long before 7am in the dark and am up making my first Nespresso soon after. It is our first grey cloudy morning in weeks and not all that pleasant looking with a cool wind blowing. John and Darrell are convinced they heard camels or donkeys in the night but I think I heard only Darrell coughing and snorting, making the usual 'old man' noises!
We meet the staff travelling with the students and discover they are from a Lutheran school in Adelaide or is it Melbourne??, then Ken arrives and we four climb in the back of an ancient 'troopy' for the short bumpy ride along the rocky river bed to a parking area. From here its a short walk to a cave with red ochre hand stencils and petroglyphs. Along the way Ken points out various plants and their bush medicine qualities, then once at the (Wallace rockhole) waterhole we sit while he explains about the Aranda customs and traditions, shows us some traditional weapons and tools, and answers questions. He has lived here for thirty years is married to a local woman and seems to be a really informed and interesting person.
John and I choose to walk back to the camp ground and call in to pay our fees and for the tour. Its a very reasonable $50 in total...the tour cost us $10 per person, campsite $20 for the first night and $10 for the second! We are very glad we decided to stay here and spend our money in this community. Its good to see a safe Aboriginal community, so unusual from the stories we read in the media.
The four of us go for a stroll around takes at most 10 minutes to walk through the neglected park then back past the service station (diesel is around $1.93?) and Barb and I spend time at the art centre while the men return to the vans. After much deliberation, I choose a small dot painting by a local female artist, passing up the opportunity to buy larger and more expensive works partly because I have almost exhausted spaces to hang them on our walls at home. Many of the works here are of good quality..I am impressed with the technique, colours and design but I have to stop buying aboriginal art (because John will not be happy if he can't afford a new 4WD in the next 12 months).
During the afternoon, the clouds begin to dissipate and the sun shines again. Hopefully the chill winds will also be gone before the evening camp fire. I spend time uploading and editing photos and catching up on diary writing from the past couple of days as there is no 3G phone signal here and I have time to spare. John relaxes with a book on the bed and Darrells snores echoing from their van confirm his afternoon activity.
By 4pm its warm and sunny, John and I have visited the amenities and had a lovely hot shower, and the camp fire is getting organised.
Tonights meal will have a Thai laksa base, chicken, rice and many vegetables all cooked together in the camp oven and we will burn the last of the wood we have been carrying since the Oodnadatta Track. The night sky is inky blue black and dotted with myriads of stars and we enjoy this quiet little camp ground discuss tomorrows drive towards Alice Springs with short detours to Stanley Chasm and Simpsons Gap on route, and start to plan the next week or two around the area.
There is no sign of the School group until after we have retreated to out van at 8.30 to watch 'Spicks and Specks". John has left them wood near the camp fire, ready to get it going as the night is the coldest in about a week.
We drift off to sleep with our fan heater set to come on at about 6 degrees and have a comfortable night, both sleeping well.

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. John Muir
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