About ½ way to Melbourne we received news that El Regalo had a serious offer so we turned around to close the deal. While waiting for weeks for the importation process we were lucky to have our friends, Bert and Ingi, of s/v Boree, close by. Without their help and support the entire boat selling process would have been much worse. We spent our time going out with them, watching the Galas and keeping up the boat. In the end, the boat was imported and is now an Australian registered ship. We wish all the best to El Regalo and to Richard, her new Australian owner.
Journal 42; Australia Part Three
We made it to The Rock!
Much has transpired in our lives with some traveling throughout Australia and the big event, selling El Regalo. Selling our home, El Regalo, was a bittersweet event but the Australian government, with its highly bureaucratic systems to regulate all private enterprise, made the importation of El Regalo a frustrating experience. In the end, we were fed up with the entire process and were more than ready to move on with our lives.
In early April all our leads to sell El Regalo had dried up so we took off in our campervan toward Melbourne. We really enjoyed camping and hiking in the Watangans National Park. The park offered dramatic mountains and is located where the wet region of eastern Australia meets the dry central Australia.
We sorted through our El Regalo possessions and separated what we would leave on the boat, what we would sell at a flea market, what we would take with us camping (old clothes to end up at Salvies) and finally, the four bags we put into storage that eventually will become checked baggage back to the States. Some people have a household (and a garage) full of ‘stuff’ but in the recent past we only own what we can carry. Don’t feel sorry for us, after selling El Regalo we are hardly destitute refugees.
For our El Regalo memories entry Click Here.
With El Regalo in our rearview mirror, it was Uluru (Ayers Rock) or bust, a 2,000 mile journey (one way). One of our first stops was Carnarvon Gorge. The hike through the canyon was quite dramatic and we saw our first Aboriginal rock paintings that have been dated back 3,500 years. Stencil art is the dominant style: created by the artist blowing ochre mixed with water from his mouth aerosol-like over an object held against the rock. Flat objects thus result in a clearly defined outline. Hands are the most common motif (as in many other Australian rock art examples), but stencil boomerangs and weapons are also prominent. In my opinion, you can conclude the artists were all male because the paintings all included boomerangs (weapons) and vulvas. I found it interesting that all the Carnarvon rock paintings graphically depicted the vulvas with two prominent holes.
After Carnarvon we continued our journey from the Tablelands of Queensland to Central Australia stopping at whatever free camping sites we could find. Since its winter, the night temperatures have been in the 30-40’s and the days between 60ºF to 70ºF.
One evening we were camped next to a billabong (loosely translated Aboriginal word for ‘pond’) and a lady walked through the long grass in front of our van. She commented, “I really should not be doing this in my flips since I spotted a Tiger snake here yesterday.” I politely agreed and after she left I asked JoDon, “What’s a Tiger snake?” Because the internet knows everything, we learned that a Tiger snake is a highly venomous snake that can be two meters long; it has Tiger shaped stripes that can be green, yellow, brown or no stripes at all. I then instructed JoDon that if she sees a five foot snake, do NOT pick it up; it could be a Tiger snake.
We then entered the outback region of Queensland and Northern Territory. Perhaps if we were European we would find the vast desolation impressive. Being from South Texas and The Panhandle of Oklahoma, it was just like home, and not in a good way. The roads were as straight as your eye could see and just went on, and on, and on. There was some wildlife along the way including emus but mainly what we saw was kangaroo road kill. In one stretch of the road we counted 49 dead roos in 4 hours and we are still counting at 176. But, no worries mates, most of the roos are killed by trucks at night and due to improved ranching conditions, there are more roos in Australia than 100 years ago. For this reason most all of the trucks, and many cars, have giant driving lights and bull bars. Pictured here are one of the lucky ones with Joey in tow.
After the first 1,000 kilometers of driving we entered the land of open range (no fences). Dead bulls now became the interesting road kill and that’s very scary. For some reason bulls must like the challenge of trucks and there was much evidence of short bullfighting careers on the sides of the road. We changed from seeing Emus to seeing Wedge Tailed Eagles, one of the largest birds of prey in the world.
Richard, the new owner of El Regalo, in an email joked, “how’s Texas out there?” He was right; with men wearing boots, cowboy hats, Santa Gertrudis cattle, country western music on the radio and Halliburton trucks, we would think we were in the Panhandle if it wasn’t for the silly accents and all the Toyotas.
After a day of driving we spend the late afternoons and nights in the outback relaxing, enjoying the scenery, making a fire and then cooking our tucker (food). JoDon is pictured here a location appropriately named, "The Devil's Marbles."
Another interesting animal in the Australian outback is the feral camel. Beginning in the 1860’s Afghans and camels were brought to Australia to transport goods across the outback. Horses could not survive the arid terrain so huge wagons were built to carry supplies and the Afghans were the camel wranglers. This lasted until the 1930’s when the automobile eventually replaced the camel. Camels in the outback can now be infrequently seen along the unfenced highways and there are abattoirs that ship the camel meat to the Middle East. When the railroad was eventually built across central Australia the train was named, “The Ghan” in respect to these early pioneers.
One exciting event while driving in the outback are road trains. Due to the vast terrain and few cars the Australian government allows trucks to pull up to 3 or 4 long trailers. The rigs can measure up 53.5 meters in length (175 feet long). These monsters cannot easily stop and they sway across narrow roads. You had better stay clear! When we attempt to pass a road train with our under powered van, one of us usually celebrates a birthday. This picture is of three road trains. Each tractor pulled three double decked trailers of cattle. That’s a lot of bull!
Our next sightseeing stop was Kings Canyon, Northern Territory. This canyon was first developed in 1960 when a rancher built a road through the outback to make the canyon accessible to the public. The walls of Kings Canyon are over 100 meters high, with Kings Creek at the bottom. Part of the gorge is a sacred Aboriginal site and visitors are discouraged from walking off the walking tracks. Unlike Grand Canyon that was formed by water eroding the soil, Kings Canyon was formed by wind and sand erosion.
Amongst other wildlife, dingoes are common throughout the outback, especially close to campgrounds where they search for an easy handout. Dingoes are a unique Australian wild dog. Sailors from India brought with them Indian wolves thousands of years ago. Dingoes are mostly ginger colored with spots of white and always pointed ears. Today, there are few pure dingoes; most dingoes’ DNA reflects interbreeding with feral domestic dogs. Attacks on humans are rare and at night they yap more like dogs than howl like coyotes. When dingoes are present don’t leave your shoes out, dingoes will pick them up and have a tasty chew.
Eventually we arrived to Uluru (ooh-lu-ROO) formerly known as Ayers Rock and The Olgas. There is no other natural Australian landmark better known worldwide than this giant sandstone rock located in the middle of Australia. Although the trip getting here was long, the view was spectacular and well worth the effort. When viewing things in nature, pictures do not do justice to the awesome beauty, especially at sunset, and Uluru has thousands of years of history, some of it controversial.
When searching the internet, Uluru is designated as one of the most spiritual locations in the world, as compared to Machu Pichu. But the question begged is, “What is spiritual?” The word spiritual has hundreds of different meanings depending on the use. For the guardians of Uluru for thousands of years, the Anangu (on-on-GU) people, spiritual means the continuation of their culture. In this harsh land spiritual = survival.
In the winter the low temperatures can be 20ºF (that’s very cold when you wear no clothes) and in the summer the high temperatures can be 115º. The normal rainfall is only about 12 inches/year so water holes are few and far apart. Long draughts are common and they usually last six to seven years. During the good years the Anangu did not hunt or live close to Uluru. During prolonged draught, when all the other water holes had dried up and all the game had disappeared, the Anangu would go to Uluru for food and its permanent waterholes.
For Aboriginals, the desert is like a Wal-Mart store; it provides them everything needed to survive: food, medicine and hardware. Example: women would strip the bark of a certain type of tree and peel off a portion of the bark. They would then use a sharp piece of quartz stone and gouge into the wood. By prying with the quartz and other sticks they would pry off a chunk of wood that when inverted becomes a bowl. As the tree grows old this scar gets further up the tree trunk.
Water was precious and was only used to drink, never to bathe. The Anangu would never drink directly from a waterhole so to not spoil the source. If you touch the water with your hands or mouth you will leave a scent that will scare away animals like the kangaroo. No animals = no meat, so the practice is to scoop out a small hole in the sand close to a water hole. Eventually the hole will fill with water and they would then drink from that hole and leave the main waterhole unspoiled.
Women would forage and the prized food was the grub worm. Although it seems gross, to some a raw oyster is nasty and a grub is 100% sterile and 20 times more nutritious than a shrimp. Men hunted using spears hardened by fire and using a spear thrower to penetrate the thick kangaroo hide. A wounded kangaroo is a dangerous animal so hunting was no easy task.
Meat and its moisture was precious so Anangu would clean out the intestines and then fill them with the heart, liver, etc. The kangaroo’s tail was cut off and the back legs broken. The kangaroo, with the hide not removed, was placed in a fire pit belly side up. The carcass would be slow roasted. With this cooking method the meat would retain its protein and moisture.
Uluru is a giant slab of sandstone. Unlike a volcano that rises up and gets taller, Uluru remained the same height while during millions of years of erosion the surrounding landscape sank. Beneath the surface the rock is a blue/gray color but the surface is reddish/brown, the same as any rusty metal in your backyard. Like rusting metal, the outer surface of Uluru has slabs that are flaking. Unlike the roof of your house where the shingles face downward, the flaking slabs of Uluru face upwards. When a hiker slips will climbing Uluru the natural instinct is to grab hold with your hands. Uluru is like a giant cheese grater and as a body slides down, the first thing that disappears are the fingers. By the time the body reaches the bottom, the hiker can only be recognized by their feet. There have been recorded 32 deaths on Uluru in this described manner.
Tourism to Uluru is important and the controversy is whether to allow tourists to climb the rock, or not. Many tourists wish to climb it, so it is allowed, despite being extremely steep, slippery and hazardous. The Anangu do not believe the mountaintop is ‘spiritual’ but they never climbed it to not foul their water source. Today they ask you to respect the mountain, and its protectors (the Anangu) by not climbing. We were not planning to climb the rock but that issue became moot because during our visit the climbing path was closed due to high winds.
Many years ago the Australian Park Service took control of Ayers Rock which greatly saddened the Anangu people. They saw the Park Service disrespect the area and fought a long legal battle to regain control. In the 80’s a compromise was reached; Uluru was given back to the Anangu people on the condition they lease it to the Park Service for 99 years. The arrangement is working and both parties are very satisfied the park is protected in the Anangu way.
We are now headed back north to the outback town of Alice Springs and then on to the east coast, including Townsville and Cairns (pronounced as a nasal, Cans). In Cairns we hope to sell the van; if not we will drive back along the coast to Brisbane.
Cheers to all of our mates!
Brian and JoDon
The colors of Uluru.
Wedge Tailed Eagle in flight
March 8 - June 6, 2011