September 14, 2006 GMT
The Red Centre

Thanks to the nocturnal exploits next door at the Laverton Sports Club, we woke late and with little rest. Definitely not the plan to begin our cross-country adventure along the Great Central Road to Australia's iconic Uluru. I managed to prise Em from the tent with strong coffee and tender words, her enthusiasm waning at the thought of what lay ahead with so little sleep.

To be fair, after bouncing around on numerous dirt roads of varying conditions, Em had to be persuaded that the 1000 or so kilometre long Great Central Road was a good idea. A dirt highway stretching from Laverton in the North Goldfield region of Western Australia, to Yulara, adjacent to Uluru, the heart of the Red Centre.

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After the habitual muesli and milk powder breakfast (and yet more coffee), we packed up the tent in a stiff breeze (always entertaining) and set off for fuel; our last fill of unleaded for a week or so. Due to the unfortunate practice of petrol sniffing within some of the communities along the way, unleaded petrol is not available along the Great Central Road, replaced instead with a specially formulated unsniffable fuel by the name of Opal. Fortunately, the bike ran with no ill effects.

Whilst filling up with fuel, the local policeman appeared. As we intended to report our journey across the desert, it saved a trip to the station, so Em approached him to inform him of our details. (He went by the very wonderful name of George Copson, obviously had a father called Bobby - Em)

By 11 o'clock we were finally on our way, full of excitement (me) and trepidation (Em). The dirt road was above average, mostly hard packed and well graded, allowing us to cruise along at a reasonable pace between the sandy, corrugated, 'interesting' sections.

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It wasn't too long before wild camels were spotted, the first of many we'd come across along the way. Camels must be one of the few success stories of all the introduced species to Australia. Originally brought over from what is now Pakistan in the 1800's to transport supplies and produce, they now live wild, the Australian conditions well suited to the camel. So well in fact, that Australia is now the only place in the world where camels are found wild, resulting in exports to the Middle East no less. Talk about sending coal to Newcastle!

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After rough camping by the side of the road the first night, we treated ourselves the second night to the luxuries of the Warburton Roadhouse and a hot shower. As per usual, Em rustled up a gastronomic extravaganza from what little food we had, whilst I talked to two local education inspectors in town for the night. We thought we were doing well, taking several days to reach Warburton; they'd left Kalgoorlie that morning, some 1000kms away!

Later on the next day we'd meet Danny, a road grader operator from near Geraldton, to the North of Perth, who'd been working on the Great Central for some two years, commuting the 2000 or so kms back home each month in his ute (pick-up truck).It was a good insight into life in these remote areas, working people travelling vast distances in order to do their job.

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When in Warburton we paid a visit to the Tjulyuru Aboriginal art gallery and spent an intersting hour or so with the informative gallery manager, who not only explained the meaning behind many of the pieces, but provided us with an insight as to life in these remote Aboriginal communities. Of interest to me was the sheet glass artwork, whereby sheets of glass are formed around predefined moulds by literally melting the glass to create a fantastic transparent picture. Quite unique.

Warakurna, next town down the track, was home to the Giles Weather Station, Australia's most remote weather station. We'd read about the station conducting daily tours and were therefore keen to have a look. We rolled up on a typical outback day with wonderful clear blue skies and were met by David, the resident station caretaker. Along with three special needs teachers in town from Kalgoorlie, David provided us with the history behind Giles, being originally established in the '50s to provide weather conditions for the Woomera Blue Streak rocket tests.

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Today however, Giles plays an integral part of international weather forecasting, with a weather balloon being released each morning at 11:15pm GMT (8:45pm local time), the same time a balloon is released simultaneously around the globe. Having been involved with the manufacture of toy balloons for the last eight years, I was somewhat interested in these large weather balloons. However, the interest soon waned, reminding me far too much of having to work!

After watching the balloon release and disapear into the big blue sky, it was time to get going again. Not before checking out the big yellow grader on site, however. After all, boys and their toys...The grader was the one used by Len Beadell's Gunbarrel Construction Company, responsible for the construction of the majority of the tracks in the area and the first traversable road through the centre to Western Australia. Another spin-off from the Woomera Blue Streak rocket project.

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After an enjoyable couple of nights at a top camp spot near Docker River, just across the state border in the Northern Territory, our last day on the Great Central Road was to lead us to Uluru and bitumen roads.

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All the way across the road, people had warned us of the deteriorating road conditions on the Northern Territory side of the border, we were not to be disappointed! We were therefore grateful to hit the bitumen upon reaching Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), an impressive cluster of red rock, accentuated by the late afternoon sun.

It was then a quick 50km blast to Uluru, like Sydney Opera House, a definite Aussie icon. We pulled up along with several others in the 'sunset' carpark to take the obligatory photograph -

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- before disappearing to Yulara, (which must be Aboriginal for Tourist Town), to set up camp.

PS Despite Em's apprehension, she admitted to having a fantastic time on numerous occasions along the Great Central Road. With different scenery each day to enjoy and of course the camels, she even said she's do it again!

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(Hamish)

Yes, I did enjoy it, very much. The roads were fine, apart from the last 200km which were just corrugations extraordinaire and SAND. Even then it was Hame, not me, who moaned a bit! I loved the solitude of the desert, the vast stretches of nothingness, the sheer space. Both Hame and I love the country more than the city, and we are much happier people out in the middle of nowhere. It was a bit of a shock to get to Yulara which seemed to be a vast machine to get money out of tourists. It has meant that all accommodation is contained away from the rock, but was expensive.

We baulked at the sight of the tourist buses disgorging heaps of camera clicking clean smelling people. We definitely weren't clean although we did have the cameras. We pitched our tents in the Yulara campsite, and were horrified as we were soon hemmed in by other tents, then bemused as the family next to us suddenly burst into song. We'd ended up next to the Von Trapps! We soon made friends with them however and discovered they were fantastic people, a family band touring from town to town. Their folk songs were pure and haunting, and we loved living next to them and chatting for a few days.

In all our time in Australia we've seen about three police cars. So it was a bit of a surprise when we got stopped for speeding in the tourist precinct. Oops! Luckily the nice man was very understanding as it would have been a bit of a shock to pay the $150 fine and not be able to slip him RM50 as you could in Malaysia or bargain down the cost of a speeding ticket as is common practice over there! Not that we ever did that of course.

After all our solitude (we'd seen more camels than people for the past week) it was strange to get back to reality. We spent three days exploring Kata Tjuta and Uluru but of course could have spent longer. All the pictures of Uluru show it to be huge, red and magnificent. In real life it is huge, red and magnificent.

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We'd decided not to climb the rock - it seems to be the spiritual equivalent of sitting on the altar to eat lunch in a cathedral, or uncovering your hair in a mosque. There are signs in the Cultural Centre and next to the rock itself written by the Anangu people, the tribe who have lived in the area, saying "We don't like it if you climb the rock" or words to that effect, yet loads of people still do.

We walked around the base of the rock and were amazed by all the shapes in it, the Anangu have stories behind each one. Western scientists apparently have not come up with a good explanation as to why Uluru is still standing in such a flat area, why it hasn't eroded away as well. The Anangu have their stories behind it and after being there it's not hard to believe them.

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Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas as the settlers called them, were just as breathtaking. Made of entirely different material, they stand out majestically on the flat plains around them. The stories behind Kata Tjuta are so secret that only very old Anangu know them, and cannot share them. We had a great walk throught the Valley of the Winds, winding our way through the rocks.

The Cultural Centre has been built by the National Park and the Anangu, and it was truly excellent. I found it all very moving. Here are a people who have known and understood the land in so many ways and for so long, that they could have lived as they were forever, without damaging the land, in harmony with seasons and wildlife. For 60,000 years (but probably longer) Aboriginal people have lived here under strict laws which safeguarded the land they depended on, and then in a mere 200 years it has all been taken away. And the people who are left are just so lost. And the 'solutions' to the 'problem' are not working, and the government will not admit responsibility by saying "Sorry". It would help a lot.

And our modern way of life, the one that has overtaken and destroyed so many indigenous and harmonious ways of life is so destructive and out of balance that we are in danger of ruining things so much that there is no way back. Perhaps we are already there.

We'd intended going to Alice Springs but time had crept up, and we went to bed on our last night at Uluru thinking we'd have to start heading South, with only a few weeks left...

(Emma)

Posted by Emma Myatt at September 14, 2006 02:19 AM GMT
 


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