Heading home – before we get there?

IMG_2850
One of the many Yuendemu dogs proudly standing guard at the entrance to the Men’s Museum

We’re writing this on the bush bus heading back to Alice from Yuendemu after a wonderful celebration of the Warlukurlangu Art Centre’s 30th anniversary and the re-opening of the Men’s Museum. It’s been a day that snapshots so many aspects of life in the centre. The bus was due to leave at 7 am. It left at 7.30. That’s not late for “Alice time”. But we haven’t learnt to trust it yet, so we were up early ready for a 7 am departure. We had a pit stop at Tilmouth Well, a place that local travellers are fond of for its great food. And petrol of course. And lowering the tires ready for the dirt road ahead.

Only an hour of bumpy red road and we were at Yuendemu. A quick hello to friends and a race around the gallery to pick up a few more paintings (more? – below we’ll tell you about all the others we’ve bought since the last blog) and we were ready for the opening of the celebrations, scheduled for noon.

We noticed that the ladies were still arriving (no, we haven’t lost our feminist language, but Aboriginal women call themselves ladies out here. It’s PC. Promise). Over the next hour they sat together painting themselves up for the dancing. One of those precious moments, sitting and listening as they sang the dreaming they were painting and were about to dance. But also some challenges in terms of respect. White women were coming around to the preparation space and taking photos. We were appalled – we knew we were privileged to be allowed to sit there, surely it wasn’t ok to take photos. But then someone else came and asked and one of the ladies said yes. So is it really ok? Does she speak for them all? By now there are about 6 white lady cameras clicking away? Will we join in? We did. Not sure if we’re pleased to have got a good photo or feeling shame that we took it. Then Daphne looked up to see that one of the male art dealers had come out back to watch the women painting each other’s breasts. You can imagine what she said to him. He was rather put out that women’s business wasn’t his business.

preparing for dancing
We’ve chosen a photo that only shows fully painted breasts as they are seen during the public dancing

At last, at around 1.15, the Chair of Warlukurlangu, Otto Jungarrayi Simms, opened proceedings. Followed by the process of getting the 8 senior ladies settled comfortably ready to do the chanting. Then the dancing began. Several hundred cameras were clicking away. Ours included. The dogs wandered around and through the dancers. But suddenly it stopped. A loud “discussion” in language between the elder leading the dancing and the   elder leading the chanting. Seems that each thought the other was doing it wrongly. Then they got into the flow of it and for a few magical moments they danced for us.

IMG_2834

One of the audience, a tall man in a very white shirt, saw fit to put himself in the best position for taking photos. Right next to the wall the ladies were coming around. We could see more of him than the ladies as they emerged. We wonder if he’d go on stage and sit in the middle of the action during a performance in a city venue? What is it about this special performance that made him think it was OK? White entitlement? Male entitlement? Or just an insensitive ignoramous?

IMG_2839
The dogs love the ladies’ dancing

Then it was time to go around to the Men’s Museum. Only a 10 minute walk but with the temperature over 30 we got the bus. We saw birds on a wire opposite the museum.

IMG_2842

And these beautiful flowers growing on a rugged desert plant just outside the museum.

IMG_2776

museum

IMG_2851
One of the jobs we did on our recent visit to Yuendemu was to make “miles” of bunting using the advertising posters and cards. Great to see them hanging on the fence of the museum.

Sitting under cover at the rear of the men’s museum, Harry Jakamarra Nelson told us it’s history. It was built in 1971 by the elders to keep their sacred relics and replicate paintings from sacred sites in the desert. It fell into disrepair until 8 years ago when Cecilia and Gloria from the art centre were given permission from the men to restore it.  Today is the culmination of a huge amount of negotiations, fund raising and hard work.

Harry apologised about there being very few Aboriginal men present and that there would be no men’s dancing. The reason? Yuendemu got into the finals of the football. More than half the town, including all the dancers, went to Alice Springs to play or watch the finals. Football is incredibly popular and important to many Aboriginal people across the Central and Western desert. In modern-day Aboriginal culture a cultural event just can’t compete with a football final. Few things could. Maybe only sorry business (the mourning process when there is a death in the extended family).

An aside – When Joyce’s last big supply of rugs arrived (many thanks Joyce and friends) she was sent a list of team colours for her next supply. Last week she did a special request in blue and white (North Melbourne colours) for Mervyn Rubuntja, one of the water colourists in the Namatjira mob.

IMG_2805
Mervyn Rubuntja

IMG_2737IMG_2745

Ivy Pareroultja (we bought the painting of course!)

Back to our day in Yuendemu. Two of the elders started to chant. Harry interrupted because they were going too fast. Eventually he and another elder joined them and we were treated to some brief but moving men’s music. Too many cameras to count!

IMG_2848
Joe Jangala Bird (left), Thomas Jangala Rice, another elder, and Harry Jakamarra Nelson (right)

When he made his opening speak, Harry said that only men could enter the museum. This was a big surprise. Many women had travelled from far and wide to see it.  Just last week we spent several hours on two different occasions helping to clean the museum. We didn’t just see the sacred men’s paintings, we touched them as we carefully cleaned off cobwebs and fine red dusk with preservationist’s special brushes. The artwork is in ochre so even the slightest touch lifts some of the paint. It was incredibly delicate work and we felt very connected and rather spiritual as we slowly worked our way across the spectacular walls. We aren’t the only women who have been in there of course. Most of the work on renovating the paintings has been done by women, especially Gloria and Cecilia, with full approval of the local male elders.

Somehow this issue was resolved and it was announced that women could enter today – but no photos. Oh Oh. We have a series of precious photos of each of us doing our dusting. We had permission to take them on the day, but given this new directive, is it OK to still have them? Can we show them to others? Can we post them on this blog? We’ll have to ask Cecilia these questions. We don’t want to abuse the honour of being trusted to clean the paintings by holding or publishing photos that are disrespectful. [postscript: Cecelia said it’s ok to share a couple of photos. We decided not to put them in this blog because it can be Googled. So we’ve included them in the email letting you know about the blog (if you didn’t get the email, let us know and we’ll sent them to you). Please don’t reproduce them.]

IMG_2856

Back to the arts centre for a huge bbq by Vincent and some volunteers. Then a couple more paintings, especially one by Joe Jangala Bird that we missed on our first sweep through. Now happily blogging away as the bush bus bumps down the red Tanami Desert Road. Just a wee four hour drive to the big smoke. Two more sleeps in Alice and then we’re flyng home on Tuesday!

So that’s todays adventure. A bit of everything that happens here. So what else have we been doing? Last week we spent a few days volunteering at Yuendumu. Here’s a few magic moments:

IMG_2753
Steven Jupurrula Nelson. That’s Ben, the pet dingo, in the rear.
IMG_2761
Steven sharing his story with Jude. Despite CP he’s developed himself as a talented artist. We love his work (and purchased a few of his paintings)

IMG_2758bunting

Making bunting.

IMG_5138
Alma Nungarrayi Granites painting some of her Seven Sisters Dreaming paintings
IMG_2779
Joe Jangala Bird (Shorty’s brother).

IMG_2767IMG_5126

IMG_2763
Maggie Napaltjarri Ross
2015-08-25 11.01.27
Almost a daily job is to prime some canvases ready for the artists

On one evening during our time in Yuendemu some of the workers offered to take the volunteers out to Tjuka Tjuka at sunset. It’s the site of Rain Dreaming. The rocks are Kuda Kuda (baby clouds) waiting to grow and float into the sky to make rain. Two carloads did the trip. We all chatted a lot when we first arrived but then the place quietened us. We wandered around in our own space and sat with the sunset alone. It was a perfect place for tai chi!

DSC08234

DSC08243

DSC08274

DSC08273 DSC08265

DSC08259

DSC08290

We also had a trip to Darwin for the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair. We stayed in the same fabulous apartment that we stayed in last year. Had the opportunity to help out on the Papunya Tjupi stall. It was such fun – we’ve booked ourselves up to volunteer with them again next August (on our way to Europe).

IMG_2696
Sunset from the plane on the way to Darwin
IMG_2711
Tracey and Helen on the deck of our Darwin apartment

IMG_2717

IMG_5015
Papunya Tjupi stall at Darwin (from right to left, Jude, Tracey and Helen)
IMG_5004
Jude Fiona and Vincent at Warlukurlanga stall at darwin

There was also the Henley on Todd – parade through the mall then “boat” races down the dry Todd River.

IMG_5040
The “no fracking” boat

IMG_5031IMG_5035

IMG_5060
The “bra” boat racing down the Todd River

Also enjoyed the Light festival parade through the mall to open the Alice Desert Festival (like Sydney Festival)

IMG_2792IMG_2790

Some interesting events in the Alice Desrt Festival included Kutcha Edwards singing in the beautiful Church of the Ascension (which was designed by one of the guys Daphne plays bridge with) and a magical walk through Desert Park at night. It was softly lit to show “installations” – gentle dancing and movement with peaceful music and then a guided viewing of the stars as we sat around a big fire pit . It was a full moon, the stars were at their very Central Australia best, and the meditative state induced in all the crowd by the walking and movement made for a moment we’ll always remember.

Two other big events that we really enjooyed were Desert Mob and Desert Song. Next weekend is the NT Bridge tournament and on the next weekend is the Alice Writer’s Festival.  Just so much to do in Alice.

IMG_2796IMG_2798

This is the new sign Kathleen Buzzacott has painted for the entrance to the land she lives on and a view from her studio. It’s great to be reminded whose land we walk upon. Even in Alice Springs, where we see many Aboriginal people as we move about the town, it’s easy to get caught up in the white world. It’s a white, government town. Much of the available work is to service government projects for Aboriginal people (constantly changing, short contracts, no handovers, contradictory packages) but many of the workers manage to live white lives, segregating the Aboriginal world to their work hours.

We’ve heard about a new app that tells you about the traditional custondians of the land you are passing through. It’s available from Apple store, called Welcome to Country – Australia.  A bit clunky – but some great information. They will be extending it to many more groups throughout the country.

An aside on ridiculous government packages. There were childcare centres on many communities. Run down facilities, but they worked ok. The government decided to provide fabulous, state of the art child care centres with air con and lighting and space etc. We’ve been told that the old centres cost about $145,000 for utilities and maintenance. Councils could only just afford this with the government support grant of about $125,000. The new centres would cost about $250,000 for utilities and maintenance, but the government has reduced its support grant. The Councils can’t afford to run the centres. So in four communities, the centres sit empty and there are no longer any childcare facilities. And with the work for the dole requirements, a pile of extra people can’t get the dole because they’ve lost their work in those childcare centres.

We attended a talk during seniors’ week about forecasts of older people in Alice. The data were about white, middle class, older people. There was no mention of Aboriginal people, except when discussing the crime rate in Alice and how it impacts on people’s (read white people’s) feelings of safety. We’ve been looking at houses (still yearning to put down roots in Alice!) and we’ve found suburbs that are so white and pristine that you need to look across to the Macdonnell ranges to remind yourself that you’re in Alice.

Daf had an interesting chat with one of the young project workers. She said she doesn’t talk much about herself when she’s out on country because she doesn’t want to highlight how privileged she is in relation to the people she’s working with. They discussed what privilege means. A university education? Money for a big modern house with air conditioning? Overseas travel? Do these things matter to someone who values country and family? Who sits contentedly with her feet in the red soil as she digs for honey ants? Our white privilege is our white power. But when we listen to the women sitting and chatting and laughing and singing together as they paint their dreaming stories, we wonder who is really privileged? We don’t want to live in the harsh conditions created by generations of white domination, but we sense their wisdom and feel very much to be the stiff, white outsiders that they see us to be.

We hope this isn’t romanticising Aboriginal life. Much of it is horrid out here in the desert. It’s a shock to see how they are expected to live. It’s painful to witness their daily struggles for survival. But it’s also a pleasure to experience their joy and hope and pride. We attended a launch of at the Telegraph Station of a book by Central Land Council on Aboriginal stories of their life in this region. Many of the 200+ people who contributed stories stood up and tole their story. The constant message was how proud they are. One woman said “I feel so blessed”. Us white fellas need to fully appreciate what she meant if we are to understand the lived experience of Aboriginal people in the centre of Australia under the Intervention.

We thought we had great news! Remember Daisy from our last blog? We visited her in hospital to farewell her just before we went to Yuendemu two weeks ago. She was about to leave the hospital and go home to Papunya. She was so happy.

DAISY
Daisy Nakamarra Leura catching some sun on what she thought was her second last day in hospital.

Her grandson had agreed to care for her in his home, and her many friends at the art centre would care for her during the days. But there were so many delays. Health is understaffed and couldn’t get her transfer arranged. She waited and waited. Then, last Thursday night, her grandson died suddenly of a heart attack. She is devastated. Not only to lose him but also to lose her chance of returning to country. Our friend Tracey said she’s tempted to give up her job and go out to Papunya to care for Daisy. Not practicable – but we know just what she means.

Here are a few of the wonderful views we enjoyed every day to and from our accommodation (not really the same as the views we get driving from CBD to our home in Lilyfield!)

DSC08342

ARALUEN TREE

DSC08348

It’s 5 months since we set off. We’re excited to be heading home, but sad that it’s come to an end. Are we there yet? If the goal was to spend some months in Alice Springs and surrounds, then yes, we got there. With gusto! But the more we learnt about Alice and her peoples, the more we understood that it’s a deep and complex space. We didn’t even scratch the surface. We’ll have to go back if we want to really get there.

Postscript.  We’re home.  Here’s a little of the art we brought with us. If you’re in Sydney then you’re welcome to drop in between 10am and 3pm on Sat 26th and Sun 27th for our ‘show and tell’. The purpose is to enjoy the art before we sell it all off at markets.  If you want to see the art but that weekend doesn’t suit you, let us know and we’ll invite your around at some other time.

DSC08355

Just a little longer

In our original plans we were to leave Alice today and head to Darwin for Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair next weekend. Then home. But we’re not ready to end this magical mystery tour yet – so we’ve extended our lease for 5 weeks. Will fly home on Tuesday 8th Sept after Desert Mob. That still isn’t enough time to do all we want to do, but it will be great to be home with family and friends. Too much is happening in our absence. Tyler and Mia are growing so fast.

Ana and Mia (18 months)
a tyler 1
Tyler

Em got married. Gulp. Sud was able to get a week away from his busy work schedule to come to Sydney so they took the opportunity to get married to start the 2 year process of applying for residency. It’s great to see them both so happy. We were disappointed not to be able to be there, but they’ve promised to have two weddings next year for friends and family to celebrate with them, one in Sydney and one on India. Maybe we need to start looking for saris?

Em and Sud
wedding 2
Andrew, Sud and Kevin

wedding 4

We’re also delighted to hear that Daf’s sister-in-law, Emily Hewson (widow of brother Bob), has become engaged to Bruce, a lovely man she met at her church in Maryborough. Emily and the kids, Ruth and Lawrence, are coming to Sydney for a visit soon after we get home.

Emily, Bruce and Lawrence. Ruth is the photographer
Emily, Bruce and Lawrence. Ruth is the photographer

This is supposed to be a travel blog but all we’ve done is tell you about what’s happening in our absence. So what’s been happening in Alice? It was great to be here for Naidoc week. We went in the parade through the Mall to the fair at the park and joined the Naidoc bbq at Purple House

Naidoc week fair, next to the Todd
Naidoc week fair, next to the Todd
Jude and Peter Paul Wallace, the Arrente elder who opened the Naidoc celebrations
Jude and Peter Paul Wallace, the Arrente elder who opened the Naidoc celebrations
Purple House BBQ
Naidoc week bbq at Purple House

We were also lucky to be part of the painting project at Purple House. It was led by Max Levi Frieder of The Artolution. He travels around the world doing art projects in communities to build pride and connection. Young people came in from bush communities to help with painting the side wall of Purple House. We all got involved over the 5 days of the project. Great fun.

purple paint cans for purple house

purple daf painting
Daf pained a T and M (they look like animal tracks) into a red ball. A surprise for Tyler and Mia when they come to visit Alice with us one day. It’s on the bottom left corner of the photos of the full wall.

purple tm on purple house wall

purple painting

purple max and painter purple max and kids

purple full painting

We’ve also been busy with crafts.

craft baskets 1
Basket weaving
Jude
Basket weaving in the sun. First a beanie, now a basket, what next Jude?
craft quilt 1
The start of a quilt in the colours of the desert
dyeing wool
Wool “blanks” (skeins of wool that have been loose machine knitted as a base) that have been hand dyed. When they are dry we unravel them and roll into balls for knitting.
craft painted wool
Some squares we’ved knitted from our own hand dyeing . We’ll have to google crocheting to remember how to put them together (or put in a “help” call to Joyce)

We had a wonderful couple of days at Papunya (3 hours drive west from Alice). The plan was to continue on to Yuendemu, but Daf started having dizzy spells so we returned to Alice to get it checked (it’s called benign positional vertigo – nothing serious but very disruptive of everyday activities). We hope to have a few days in Yuendemu after we get back from Darwin.

pap road train
The road from Stuart Highway towards Yuendumu is sealed. But only for the width of a big road train. When you see one coming you get way way way off the road!
papuya sigh
At the turn off to Papunya, the road changes to red dirt.
papunya road
The road to Papunya
papunya road 3
The Papunya road
papunya road 2
Wildflowers on the road to Papunya
papunya road 5
Distant mountains (West Macs) on the Papunya road
pap pot cleaning front
Cleaning paint pots at PapunyaTjupi art centre
pap Isobel Major and toasties
Isobel Major teaching Daf how to make dozens of ham and cheese toasties
pap Daf and Stephanie 2
Daf with Stephanie and Jakamara
steph
Stephanie did a sketch on paper. We loved it so much we commissioned her to paint it on canvas. Here’s the progress after her first hour of painting.
pap artists at work 2
Many of the artists like to sit in the sun to paint at Papunya
pap artists at work 1
Narlie and Maureen
pap Maureen Poulson
Maureen Poulson with her fabulous painting. We wanted it but some tourists came through and bought it before we could grab it.
papunya
Papunya. Everywhere in town you can see the mountain range. It changes in colour all day long. This was taken mid morning.

One of the treats at Papunya was finding Ininti trees and collecting our own seeds. Jude has contracted with some local Aboriginal women to make lots of key chains with seeds and nuts. Now they can use some of the seeds we collected in their designs.

ininti jude ininit seeds1
Jude collecting ininti seeds on the edge of Papunya township.
ininti seeds
Ininti seeds and a pod of seeds.
ininti key rings
The first batch of keyring. Over a hundred more still being made.

Daf’s sister, Joyce, and some of her friends have been busy making colourful knee rugs for the people at Purple House. They’ve sent 25 rugs within the last month! Here are some of the very happy recipients.

rugs 1 rugs 2

rugs 4rugs 3rugs 2rugs 1

One of the rugs was given to Daisy Nakamara Leura. Daisy’s husband, Tim Leura, was one of the original Papunya artists and Daisy used to help him with his paintings. One of her paintings is the image for Mulapa.

Daisy logo
“My Country”. Painting by Daisy Nakamara Leura. Logo for Mulapa Aboriginal Art (with permission and royalties)

Daisy has been paintings at the art centre at Papunya nearly every day for years and years. We first met her on our trip to Papunya in 2010.

SONY DSC
Daisy in 2011 when we visited Papunya again with Jeanette and Julia.
daisy feb 14 digging for tjupi
Last year Daisy went on a bush trip digging for tjupi (honey ants)
daisy with honey ants
Daisy’s honeyants in a coolamon
daisy martha digging for tjupi
Martha digging for honey ants. It’s hard slow, patient work.

Daisy is in hospital in Alice Springs with Parkinsons and they’ve decided she’s not well enough to return to Papunya. It’s heartbreaking to hear her begging to go home to Papunya. She’ll have to end her days alone in a nursing home, away from country (on other’s country) and away from family. This is a common problem in the centre. There aren’t enough facilities in the communities to care for sick or aged people. There’s good medical care in Alice, but not enough support services to care for their emotional/social needs. If Daisy was a renal patient from Kintore she’d have wonderful care from Purple House in Alice and could be taken by the Purple House bus back to country for visits. She might even be able to return to country and have her medical care there. But there is no equivalent to Purple House for other medical problems. We feel sad and powerless. But so happy to be able to give her one of Joyce’s rugs.

daisy and rug

This weekend is Gay Pride Carnivale (Alice’s Mardi Gras). Parties and films and a forum and a fair. All great fun, although rather less busy than we’re used to at Mardi Gras.

pride carnivale
Pride Carnivale fair day
Pride film night
Pride film festival at Totem Theatre next to Todd river. This photo was taken about 5 mins before advertised starting time.  We are slow to learn that “Alice time” means 30-45 mins after advertised time. It was nice to have a drink in the courtyard while we waited for the gay community to turn up.
pride star lady and cops 2
Sister girls and cops celebrating Pride at Fair Day. This is a significant photo because there has been lots of tension between some of the lesbian/sister girl community and the police.  Our friend Mel, a cop and a lesbian, is trying to do something to heal the rift.

One place we love to visit is Kathleen Buzzacott’s studio out near Simpson’s Gap. Kathleen makes gorgeous jewellery and she’s painted some boards for us to hang in the courtyard.

kathleen

kathleen earrings
Earrings by Kathleen Buzzacott
kathleens' boards
Lacquered boards by Kathleen for the shed in our courtyard

We’ve also done some “work”. Jude looked after an Aboriginal gallery for a friend for a couple of days and Daf did a reflective practice workshop. There’s a great community of very reflective practitioners in Alice. Daf has learnt tons from them and it’s all helping to fine-tune her ideas for the book and workshops.

Lots of fun with cooking and eating with friends. Sometimes we even do the cooking. We’re so glad we brought our thermomix with us. Will have to take her as hand luggage when we fly home.

karl and daf thermie
Daf showing Karl how to use the thermomix.

We’ve shown a photo of Karl in a previous blog, but never of his partner Ric.  So Ric posed for us in their gallery – Yubu Napa.

Ric
Ric modelling a classy beanie.

Our friends Maree and Shaz have a fabulous fire pit in their garden. Last night Daf had a go at her first damper. It looked great in the fire, but got burnt to bits. More practice needed! Although Kevin, Karl and Ric’s dog, really enjoyed it.

damper on fire burnt damper

One more blog in 5 weeks (after Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair and Henley on Todd and Alice Festival and Desert Song and Desert Mob and lots of other little pleasures). Then we’ll be home and having a social whirl as we try to catch up with you all.

Life in Alice Springs

No parking problems in Alice. We like to park beside the Todd, one block from the mall.
No parking problems in Alice. We like to park beside the Todd River (yes, that dry sand is a river), one block from the mall.

It’s over 11 weeks since we set out from Sydney. Feels like 11 months. We love Alice and we love getting involved in all the wonderful things there are to do in Alice. Fantasies of “retiring” here one day are a daily pastime. Maybe 6 months here and 6 months in Sydney? But that’s a few years away, so just enjoying every minute for now.

Too much has happened to cover in one blog. So just some snippets of our highlights. Interestingly, our favourites are “work”. We have three places that we love to hang out. Firstly, the Purple House. We mentioned it in our last blog. It’s the headquarters for the Western Desert Dialysis Corporation  (it’s worth watchin the inspiring 10 minute video about it on YouTube – The Purple House by Australian Unity). It’s more than a dialysis centre, it’s a vibrant community health centre. Jude spends 2 or 3 hours there on most mornings when we’re in town. Tea and toasties, helping to bottle and label the bush medicine, and having great chats with all the amazing people who come in each day. She’s really happy when she meets one of the artists whose art she has sold (they are the mob who paint for Papunya Tula). Daf does a little data entry and loves helping out with the bush medicine too. The warmth and energy of Purple House is so nurturing. We sometimes wonder if we should pay for the privilege of being allowed to be there.

JUDE BUSH MEDICINE 2

DAF BUSH MEDICINE
Note the fire pit and chickens in the garden of Purple House
Jude and Chrystal. Chrystal is an 18 yr old Aboriginal Jazz singer who not only makes bush medicine but has also won a scholarship to a music school in NY! Jude heard her performing last week - she sounds like a young Ella Fitzgerald
Jude and Chrystal. Chrystal is an 18 yr old Aboriginal Jazz singer who not only makes great bush medicine but has also won a scholarship to a music school in NY. Jude heard her performing last week – she sounds like a young Ella Fitzgerald

It’s very cold in Alice from sunset to sunrise (then can get very warm in the day), so the people who come into Purple House are always pleased if there are blankets and rugs available. Daf’s generous sister Joyce has decided to start knitting lots of knee rugs for them. They’re going to love them.

Our second hangout is NgurraTjuta, the Aboriginal owned art centre where the Hermansberg/Namatjira mob paint. Gorgeous watercolours. You probably remember having a print of one in your home or in your schoolroom. The artists are the grandchildren of Albert Namatjira and his mates. NgurraTjuta was in Wilkinson St when we first visited them about 6 years ago. We loved the hectagonal gallery at the back. They moved to various other locations, but it didn’t work out, so the very week we arrived in town they moved back to Wilkinson St. The manager and her assistant faced a huge job of re-setting up the gallery and studio. We were lucky enough to be trusted to do the gallery. When our friend Olivier (alias Mo Resin, the resin jewellery artist) arrived in Alice we picked him up at the airport and took him straight to the gallery. He remounted the hanging system. Over the next two weeks we cleaned up, wired lots of framed paintings and rehung the gallery. When Olivier returned from Yuendemu we took him back to finish off the last few pieces that we weren’t tall enough to manage. It was all great fun and we’re delighted that we could do this for a special group of artists. Of course, we bought one of the paintings to celebrate! Mulapa also bought lots of small pieces for the stall.

Daf, Olivier and Jude
Daf, Olivier and Jude
Panorama shot of the finished gallery
Panorama shot of the finished gallery
Olivier giving his approval to our purchase of this strong painting by Mervyn Rubinta
Olivier giving his approval to our purchase of this strong painting by Mervyn Rubuntja

Our third special place is Yubu Napa.It’s a lovely new art gallery near the mall owned by our mates Karl and Ric. They share our vision of providing the opportunity for sustainable income for town based artists. The artists work in their gallery, so the public can get to see them. You can tell by the quality of the art that the artists respect them.

Ric at Yubu Napa
Ric at Yubu Napa
Nellie Marks painting at Yubu Napa
Nellie Nakamara Marks painting at Yubu Napa

We did a stretching workshop at Central Craft with them, so we can do more stretching of Mulapa’s art. You’ll notice in the photo that Daf is a little shorter than Karl.

Daf and Karl at stretching workship
Daf and Karl at stretching workship

Ric’s long lost cousin Dave and his partner Holly turned up unexpectedly. They have ridden their bikes here from Cornwall. Yes, Cornwall in England. They rode through Europe, China, Vietnam to Singapore then flew to Darwin. They had just done the 1500 km from Darwin to Alice when we met them. And we thought we were on a great adventure driving from Sydney to Alice with all facilities! They’ve headed south; their last Facebook entry was from Mount Gambier. Heading through Melbourne, Sydney and finishing in Newcastle next month. They are a great inspiration – but we still plan on driving from Alice to Darwin in August – we can’t ride that far up hill!

Holly and Dave about to set  off to Sydney from Alice Springs. Kerry is in the background.
Holly and Dave about to set off to Sydney from Yubu Napa in Alice Springs. Artist Kerry McCarthy is in the background.

Our friend Nel came to visit and we had a fabulous trip to Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon. There was a mice plague (thousands of them) the first time Daf went to Uluru in the 70s with Kevin, and a minor problem when we went with Jeanette and Marilyn a few years ago. It also rained last time. This time it was perfect weather and no mice (although there’s still a mousey smell at Mt Ebenezer roadhouse). We loved every minute of the trip. We even stretched ourselves to walking all the way around the base of Uluru (about 10km). Enjoyed camels on the road to Kings Canyon and took a helicopter over the canyon instead of doing the hot rim walk.

Mt Connor, about 100 km before Uluru. Visitors often confuse it with Uluru when they first see it. Surprising that it's not also a major tourist destination. It's on private land. Can only be visited with an all day tour from Uluru - maybe next time?
Mt Connor, about 100 km before Uluru. Visitors often confuse it with Uluru when they first see it. Surprising that it’s not also a major tourist destination. It’s on private land. Can only be visited with an all day tour from Uluru – maybe next time?
Uluru as we drive past
Uluru as we drive past
Uluru doing it's magical colour changes at sunset
Uluru doing it’s magical colour changes at sunset
KATA TJUPA ULURU DAWN
Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) and Uluru at dawn
A glimpse of Uluru from the balcony of our unit
A glimpse of Uluru from the balcony of our unit
Jude and Nel enjoying our last sunset at Uluru
Jude and Nel enjoying our last sunset at Uluru
The sand at Uluru
The sand at Uluru
Jude at Kata Tjuta
Jude at Kata Tjuta
Jude and Nel walking out of Kata Tjuta
Jude and Nel walking out of Kata Tjuta
Camels on the road out of Ulurua
Wild camels on the road out of Uluru
They were big camels. Good that they decided to race away.
They were big camels. Good that they decided to race away.
The rim walk at Kings Canyon  is 4 hours in full sun. Too much for us. We did it by helicopter instead.
The rim walk at Kings Canyon is 4 hours in full sun. Too much for us. We did it by helicopter instead.
The domes around the rim of Kings Canyon
The domes around the rim of Kings Canyon
The steep start of the walk up to the rim of Kings Canyon
The steep start of the walk up to the rim of Kings Canyon
KINGS DINGO
From a distance the Gill Range (in which Kings Canyon lies) is seen as a dingo (head to the left) with dingo pups feeding along it’s body. There were many dingos around the resort and their howls were amazingly loud, especially at night.
Rock wall in Kings Creek Walk (down through the canyon)
Rock wall in Kings Creek Walk (down through the canyon)
Kings Creek Walk
Kings Creek Walk
The rock canyon wall from Kings Creek walk
The rock canyon wall from Kings Creek walk

There were lots of mice in the house we were house sitting when we first arrived 10 weeks ago and we’ve seen one in the unit we’ve now leased, but mice are not much of a problem on this trip. We love the blossoms that drop in our street and there’s a great hill behind the unit. Em couldn’t resist walking up it.

Blossoms that fell from the trees in our street
Blossoms that fell from the trees in our street
The hill behind our unit
The hill behind our unit

Last weekend was Beanie Festival. 6500 beanies for sale. We managed to keep our purchases down to about 10. And lots of interesting workshops. Daf did silk painting and wool dyeing and basket weaving and needle felted beanie making. Surprisingly, Jude decided to get into it too and made the most amazing beanie.

Daf's "eye" beanie
Daf’s “eye” beanie
Jude and Daf choosing beanies for Gay Pride (Alice's mardi gras)
Jude and Daf choosing beanies for Gay Pride (Alice’s mardi gras)
Jude practising for a career in modelling
Jude practising for a career in modelling
Jude felted this beanie. She says the tongue is because she had to concentrate hard
Jude felted this beanie. She says the tongue is because she had to concentrate hard

Em was here during the Beanie Festival (she finished an assessment at uni and decided that night that a trip to Alice was just the thing to unwind – arrived the very next day). She found a colourful beanie featuring a honey ant. She didn’t get to eat one, but we found some at Todd Mall Markets a few weeks ago – you eat the body of the ant – it’s full of yummy rich, honey nectar.

Em's honey ant beanie
Em’s honey ant beanie
Honey ant - the orange bulge is all the honey in it's body. Eating the head is optional.
Honey ant – the orange bulge is all the honey in it’s body. Eating the head is optional.
Daf's first honey ant. She didn't eat the head
Daf’s first honey ant. She didn’t eat the head

Purple House had a stall at the Beanie Festival. Jude was in her element being back on a market stall. They cooked damper and kangaroo tail. Em tried some – not her favourite treat!

Jude at the Purple House stall, selling bush medicines at Beanie Festival
Jude at the Purple House stall, selling bush medicines at Beanie Festival
Damper and kangaroo tail on the fire pit
Damper and kangaroo tail on the fire pit
Em contemplating the kangaroo tail
Em contemplating the kangaroo tail

We’ve also visited lots more gorges. Back to Ochre pits and Ormiston gorge with Olivier, to Simpson’s gap with Nel, and to Standley Chasm and Emily Gap with Emily.

Ormiston gorge
Ormiston gorge
Mo in Ormiston gorge
Olivier in Ormiston gorge
Olivier's flies
Olivier’s flies
A must have fashion accessory in the Centre is a fly net
A must have fashion accessory in the Centre is a fly net
Em's photo of a tree at Standley Chasm. She spent most of her time here gazing in wonder at the trees, especially those in the dry Todd River
Em’s magnificent photo of a tree at Standley Chasm. She spent most of her time here gazing in wonder at the trees, especially those in the dry Todd River
Em walking into Standley Chasm
Em walking into Standley Chasm
Standley Chasm
Standley Chasm
Clouds highlighting the beauty of the West Macdonnell Ranges on the drive back from Standley Chasm
Clouds highlighting the beauty of the West Macdonnell Ranges on the drive back from Standley Chasm
Simpson's gap
Simpson’s gap

EMILY GAPX

Rock art in Emily Gap
Rock art in Emily Gap
Emily Gap
Emily Gap
Daf loves taking photos of faces in rocks. How many faces can you see in this photo?
Daf loves taking photos of faces in rocks. How many faces can you see in this one?

Em even got to see water flooding the courseway on the Todd River. It is usually dry. They say you have to see it running 3 times before you’re a local. That’s 1 . .

Water on the courseway at Todd River. It dried up on about two hours
Water on the courseway at Todd River. It dried up on about two hours

The rain changed the claypans. We’ll repeat the photo we took a few weeks ago to contrast with the ones we took this week.

The clay pans last month before the rain
Jude and Robbie at the clay pans last month before the rain
Clay Pans after rain
Clay Pans after rain
Clay Pans after rain
Clay Pans after rain
Claypans after rains
Claypans after rains

Jude has driven out twice to the Aboriginal art centre, Warlukurlangu, at Yuendemu about 300 km northwest of Alice. Once with Olivier (who is working with Aboriginal artists to show their art in his beautiful jewellery) and once with Nel. Just an overnight trip on these occasions. We are heading out to Papunya and Yuendemu for a week or so at the end of July.

Cecilia and Gloria (managers of Warlukalangu). Jude is wearing her priming apron
Cecilia and Gloria (managers of Warlukurlangu). Jude is wearing her priming apron. Cecilia and Gloria are both from Chile.

Tyler’s 5th birthday was on June 15. Jude flew back to Sydney to surprise him. Mia was also delighted to see her. Missing them and other family and friends is the only down-side of this magical trip.

Jude and Mia
Jude and Mia. Mia doesn’t seem to want to let go of her Oma
Tyler and Mia. She's 18 months old. Who do you think is the boss?
Tyler and Mia. She’s 18 months old. Who do you think is the boss?
Tyler 5th birthday cake at Uncle Rob's home
Tyler birthday dinner at Uncle Rob’s home. When you’re 5 you can blow out your own candles

The rest of our time has been spent visiting art galleries on the mall (avoiding the ones owned by carpet baggers), checking out all the cafes for the best coffee, meeting up with new friends, attending art exhibitions, looking at real estate, enjoying the company of many visitors (as well as Andrew, Robbie, Olivier, Nel and Emily we’ve had quick visits from Julie and Lynette who came to walk some of the Larapinta Trail and then a week later Julia, David and Kat who came to walk some different sections of it), sleeping in, reading, and generally having fun. Oh, and Daf also spends some time quliting, playing bridge and writing her book (she’s loving it).

Desert Park doesn't have the best coffee in Alice, but it sure has the best view for drinking coffee
Desert Park doesn’t have the best coffee in Alice, but it sure has the best view for drinking coffee
A tree in Desert Park
A tree in Desert Park. We went to a great talk in the park by an Aboriginal woman on bush food and bush medicine. Loved the bush tomatoes.

So now you know why we haven’t blogged for a while. We do seem to be rather busy. Thanks for the emails and phone calls. Great to keep in touch with you all.

First Three Weeks in Alice

Tomorrow is Saturday 9th May. That makes it 3 weeks since we arrived in Alice Springs.

1 alice sign

Every day has been filled with interesting things to see and do. In fact if anyone thinks life in a small desert town is boring they should come to Alice Springs. Tomorrow we have 10 different events/ visits we would like to do, including a James Morrison concert, a Multicultural Festival in the park, 2 art exhibition openings, Tai Chi at Araluen, visiting new friends who have offered us their house on the Todd River in January and a birthday dinner with “old” friends. Let’s elaborate a little on the happenings in the last 3 weeks. Within an hour of dumping our belongings at the hotel we were both engrossed in choosing art from Papunya Tula Gallery.

1b tula paintings 2 1a tula paintings

From there we managed a quick visit to Yubu Napa Gallery owned by our friends Ric and Karl, then it was back to the hotel to change in time to have dinner at our favourite restaurant in town to celebrate Daf’s birthday. This was just the first afternoon! Sunday, Daf went to Qigong in the park and then we met our house-sit owner and were given a tour of our interesting abode for 6 weeks. Helen is skilled in mosaics and has a fascinating back garden. We are still finding something new every day.

2 lanterns 2 lady in toilet 2 izzy and loungeroom 2 goanna and dogs 2 crocdile and fish 2 BIRDS

On Monday night we visited an art quilting group in the home of a new friend (you make new friends very quickly is this friendly town), then on Tuesday we moved into the house and started to get to know the three dogs, three ponds of fish and the pink galahs that come for a feed every evening. On Wednesday our son Andrew arrived to house sit while we were at the Big Sing. We’ve shared our time at the Big Sing in a previous blog. Andrew stayed in Alice for a few days after we returned from the Big Sing and the time was happily filled with daily adventures such as ballooning at dawn and visits to Glen Helen, Ormiston Gorge, Ochre Pits, Ellery Water Hole, Simpsons Gap, Hermansberg and Palm Valley. We loved seeing Andrew falling in love with the Centre. It’s more special when the experience is shared with a loved one who really appreciates it.

balloon 1 balloon 2

balloon 4
Long shadows from small shrubs in dawn light
We helped to put the balloon basked (with balloon attached) onto the trailer. Then they deflate the balloon, we roll it up and it goes onto the trailer too.
We helped to put the balloon basked (with balloon attached) onto the trailer. Then they deflate the balloon, we roll it up and it goes onto the trailer too.

balloon 3

Hermansberg
Hermansberg
palmxxx
Palm Valley Amphitheatre
palm 2
Cycad Valley
palm 4
On the rim of Palm Valley
palm 5
Spinifex (porcupine bush – sit on it and you’ll know how it got that name) on the rim of Palm Valley. The tops of the palm trees are peeking up from the valley below
west mac 1
West Macdonnell ranges

west mac 1b

Glen Helen Gorge
Glen Helen Gorge
west mac 3
Ormiston Gorge
west mac 4
Ormiston Gorge
Ormiston Gorge
Ormiston Gorge
Ormiston gorge - taken by Andrew on his loop walk
Ormiston gorge – taken by Andrew on his loop walk
Ellery Creek Big Hole
Ellery Creek Big Hole
ochre 2
Ochre Pits

The Aboriginal men came to the ochre pits collect ochre for rock art and body paint and sand painting. The cliffs are red, white and yellow.  Women could use the ochre collected by the men but were not permitted to collect it themselves. It is a sacred site and resonates with the spirits of the elders.

ochre1
Ochre Pits (visitors are not permitted to touch the ochre – these samples were left on display)
West Macdonnell Ranges looking east
West Macdonnell Ranges looking east
Heading back to town from Simpson's Gap
Heading back to town from Simpson’s Gap

We also drove to Santa Teresa for the day and visited a wonderful Art Centre (Keringke) where Jude managed to buy a few pieces of art – surprise, surprise!

Keringke Arts
Keringke Arts

While Andrew and Daf climbed a hill to view the view, Jude wandered around and ‘found’ the Purple Bus. The driver saw her trying to get a photo so kindly stopped so she could photograph the bus and chat with him.

purple truck

The Purple Bus/House is a non Government Organisation that travels to remote communities to provide dialysis to Aboriginal people. Doing this means they can stay on country and not have to live in Alice. It’s a fabulous organisation and there will be more about the Purple House further on. Just as Andrew was leaving, Jude’s cousin Robbie arrived for a brief visit for work and to hang with us. We all went on a tour by a park ranger of Simpson’s Gap where we learnt about the habitat (including bush coconuts). Unhappy to learn that the yellow grasses that cover most of the open spaces in the centre are weeds. They were planted around Alice Springs airport to prevent the red dust from damaging the planes. They spread and spread. They are popular with cattle stations because they grow quickly, prevent erosion around the dams and feed the cattle, but they are a curse because they are overtaking the native grasses. In the next photo taken inside Simpsons Gap National Park, all the background grasses are the weed (Buffel grass) and only the darker foreground grass is native (Kangaroo grass).

robbie 1
Buffel grass (yellow) and native Kangaroo grass (rust coloured in foreground)
robbie 2
Jude and Robbie at the clay pans just outside of Alice

Also visited the clay pans just outside of Alice, and had lunch at the wonderful Vietnamese restaurant – surrounded by a market garden about 15km from town. And of course, the inevitable brunch at Olive Pink Botanic gardens before heading to the airport. You’ll hear a lot about Olive Pink brunches before our trip is over. One of our favourite places, especially now that it has a labyrinth.

Cafe at Olive Pink Botanic Gardens
Cafe at Olive Pink Botanic Gardens

In the few days since then Daf has started quilting, played bridge at the local club and visited another quilting group; Jude has bought a pushbike; we’ve visited lots of art galleries (bought lots more art of course), agreed to help re-set up an Aboriginal art gallery that has recently moved (more of that later when we have some photos and have actually done some work) and attended the Bangtail Muster the big annual parade through Todd Mall on May Day (which is a public holiday in NT). The parade was great fun.

BANGTAIL BANGTAIL MUSTER

We also had a wee disaster – Daf’s computer died. At first we thought it was just sick, but when we finally found someone in Alice who knows about Macs they gave us the sad news. Daf had sat up just a couple of nights before and copied all our photos onto a usb stick, but she was too tired to do the files as well. So all the book writing she’s done during the trip (and there has been a fair bit) has gone. Oh well. It will just have to be rewritten. A new computer is on order – lucky that we have another one with us to keep her going until it comes.

In the meantime, Jude has been doing her morning walk around the interesting streets near where we live. Yesterday she saw a house painted purple. Could it be? She chatted to the guy out the front and he confirmed that it was indeed THE Purple House. There’s a great video about it on their website: http://www.westerndesertdialysis.com/the-purple-house

The Purple House is not only a dialysis centre, it’s also a community centre. People come to see a doctor, exercise physiologist, podiatrist, dietician, social worker, Centrelink officer, etc. It’s a warm, friendly, inviting place. And they welcome volunteers! Today Jude made about 20 cups of tea and lots of toasties, and we shared the damper that was made on the fire (to go with the kangaroo tails – but we gave those a miss – some delicacies are an acquired taste). Daf can’t cope with needles, but the office is the other end of the building to the dialysis room, so she can sit there and do a little data entry. Daf remembers her friend Dave who had dialysis 3 times a week for years before his death. He would have loved to have been at the Purple House instead of a hospital. We’ll be spending a lot of time there. It has a spirit that nurtures us. We’ve both been grinning ever since we were there.

The Purple House is having a new fund raiser- a new book by an outstanding artist, Patrick Tjungurrayi. We have one of his paintings at home (Heath and Lauren, it’s the one on the left of the door as you go from the study into the kitchen). There’s a book launch in a couple of weeks at Papunya Tula gallery. It clashes with a bridge tournament (wonder which Daf will go to?).

We are so pleased to have found the Purple House and have decided to make it the priority recipient of donations from Mulapa. Their bush medicines (as shown in the video) are fabulous. Jude will be stocking them on her market stall. If you usually get a xmas present from us – you know what you’ll be getting this year! We’ll also try to organise a fundraising art show in Sydney later in the year.

One last snippet. Suburu has seen our blog and put a short story about our trip in their emagazine. If you want to see the story, enter this into google: XV Takes Trip Across Australia | Subaru Active Is this our 15 minutes of fame?

Our Nepalese friends, Brittany and her family, are in our thoughts. It must be so hard to be in Sydney when your friends at home are dealing with such devastation.

Best wishes to Lesley and Syl on their amazing undertaking of organising the first endometriosis conference in Sydney on 16th May. (endoactive.com.au). To borrow a saying from Aboriginal culture – you two are deadly! An idea for recycling your worn out jeans – in the courtyard of a great cafe.

That’s all folks. Need to sleep now to be able to get through tomorrow’s 10 event agenda. Such an invigorating life!

A quick update

We’ve been in Alice Springs for 2 weeks and are getting lots of queries about what’s happening and when will there be a new blog? Sorry, no time to write much now – so here’s a quick update to fill the gap. No time?? we hear you asking. Yes. There are so many wonderful things to do here that we’ve been flat out all day everyday. We hope to get settled this week and have more time to just be. A saying we saw painted on a building today reminded us that “just being” is our goal.

On a wall in Alice Springs
On a wall in Alice Springs. If you can’t read it, it says, The Lone Dingo seems to symbolise what so many of us are seeking when we head outdoors. Isolation, intimacy with the environment, a simple existence, a better understanding of ourselves, the motivation behind so many of life’s journeys.

We needed a housesitter to housesit the house we are housesitting so that we could go bush. Andrew was kind enough to volunteer. He has been to Alice before and loves the Todd River, so off we went to the river on his first day.

andrew on todd
Andrew on Todd. The bridge is the one featured in the movie Samson and Delilah.

On our first weekend in Alice we headed an hour east down the Ross Highway for the Big Sing. Daf can’t sing – but she sure got into miming, along with the 100 strong choir. 35 of the participants were Aboriginal women from Titjikala, Hermansberg and nearby communities who have formed the Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir to travel to Germany in July. They are great singers and great artists. Needless to say we bought some art!  Here’s a few photos from the weekend.

Our cabin at Ross River Resort
Our cabin at Ross River Resort
Jude helping to set up a silent auction of 60+ artworks to help fund the choir's trip to Germany
Jude helping to set up a silent auction of 60+ artworks to help fund the choir’s trip to Germany
Lorraine and her beautiful painting. Andrew has already taken it back to Sydney
Lorraine and her beautiful painting. Andrew has already taken it back to Sydney
Kangaroo tails are a delicacy. The women cooked about 8 of them.
Kangaroo tails are a delicacy. The women cooked about 8 of them.
Daf couldn't resist trying a tail. ...
Daf couldn’t resist trying a tail. …
Jude learning basket weaving from Valerie, one of the Tjanpi Desert Weavers.
Jude learning basket weaving from Valerie, one of the Tjanpi Desert Weavers.
The elder in the choir is Daphne. She was happy to pose for a photo with Daphne
The elder in the choir is Daphne. She was happy to pose for a photo with Daphne

Here’s a brief slide show put together by the Big Sing photographer.  Turn on your speakers – the choir sounds wonderful.

Back to Alice Springs and another highlight – finding a labyrinth in Olive Pink Botanic Gardens. We’ve heard there’s another one on private land in Alice and we’ll make contact with them soon (when we have time!!).  Here’s Andrew and Jude walking the labyrinth.

Andrew and Jude walking the labyrinth in Olive Pink Botanic Gardens
Andrew and Jude walking the labyrinth in Olive Pink Botanic Gardens

Last Sunday night the ABC’s Compass featured the Centennial Park Labyrinth. We were surprised to see ourselves in it (at about 26 mins) along with our friend Nick. You can watch it on abc.net.au (compass/pastepisodes). Don’t blink or you’ll miss us.

That’s all for now folks. More to come soon.

Burra to Northern Territory

This blog was actually posted on Friday 17th April. It’s an update of one we drafted on15th and we can’t figure out how to get wordpress to change the date.  Sorry.

We’re writing as we drive north from Coober Pedy. (One typist plus one driver = two bloggers). It’s day 8 but it feels like we’ve been travelling for weeks. The timelessness of the land that goes on and on and on makes calendars seem irrelevant. We need to get to Alice in time to housesit for Helen (she’s off to Europe for 6 weeks), so a little calendar watching is called for now and then.

TUESDAY 14th April Day 6 Burra to Woomera

200 km from Burra we got to the gateways to the desert – a sign just north of Port Augusta and then the Arid Lands National Park.

Sign just north of Port Augusta.
Sign just north of Port Augusta.
Arid Lands Botanic Gardens,  just north of Port Augusta
Arid Lands Botanic Gardens, just north of Port Augusta
Arid Lands Botanic Gardens
Arid Lands Botanic Gardens

The Stuart Highway is in excellent condition. It’s easy to get hypnotised by the steady cruising. Fortunately, we don’t have to drive more than 4 hours a day. Love the road signs near rest stops: Drowsy Drivers Die. Fatigue is Fatal. Take a Break. Survive this Drive. (And one near a small roadhouse: “Stop and Eat or We’ll Both Starve”). There are lots of rest stops – sometimes with a shaded area – but not always.

Roadside rest stop on road Port August to Woomera
Roadside rest stop on road Port August to Woomera

It’s mostly flat and mostly straight and mostly sparse vegetation (although greener than usual because of the big wet last summer). Frequent mirages at the end of the road make it hard to see what’s ahead. But there isn’t much traffic and all drivers are courteous, so no stress. Although some of the passing trucks are HUGE, some long and some wide.

Shimmering at the end of the road.
Shimmering at the end of the road.
Some of the trucks are WIDE! Have to get right off the road
Some of the trucks are WIDE! Have to get right off the road
Road train
Road train
Our car will come home from Darwin on a road train like this
Our car will come home from Darwin on a road train like this

It’s a harsh arid country, yet the overwhelming feeling as we travel through it is one of softness. The colours of the land. The colours of the sky. The vastness. The sense of foreverness. It feels warm and strong.

Looking south 50 km further down the road
Looking south 50 km further down the road
Another photo looking south
Another photo looking south

But then again, we’re in a cocoon in the car. When we stop there’s the heat (36 degrees today, after we needed jackets in Burra) and the flies (and flies, flies, flies) and the red dust. Today there’s even wind. When we get out, it does remind us that it’s desert. We love it.

Finding music to match the mood of the land is interesting. We loaded hundreds of cds onto an ipod. Driving through NSW it was fun to sing along with the oldies. They don’t work so well out here. An album by Anouar Brahem “Le Voyage de Sahar” is becoming a favourite, plus lots of Rachel Hore’s “Wilurara”. Jacqueline de Pre fits well too. And, of course, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yurupingi, Ruby Hunter and Archie Roach.

View from road after turnoff from highway into Woomera
View from road after turnoff from highway into Woomera

Woomera seems to be a sterile and serious town. The streets were mainly empty except for tourists looking at the rocket exhibit. The only locals we saw were at the club at dinner. There were pockets of trees and parks and a wonderful mural that juxtaposes Aboriginal life with metal rockets. We borrowed a small section of it for our logo. Thanks to the artist, Doug Harrip, for capturing the spirit of our journey.

10 TAI CHI WOOMERA 2
Tai chi in front of Doug Harrip’s mural in Woomera
Woomera park near Info centre
Woomera park near Info centre

WEDNESDAY Day 7 Woomera to Coober Pedy

Do you think this menu at Glendambo (about 100 km north of Woomera) was a joke?

Lunch menu at Glendambo Roadhouse 110 km north Woomera.  We didn't order it.
Lunch menu at Glendambo Roadhouse 110 km north Woomera. We didn’t order it.

We’ve seen many kangaroo warning signs and lots of recent road kill, although they were more common in NSW (about 1 every 10 km) but not common out in the desert (about 1 every 200km). The only live kangaroo we’ve seen was resting under a tree in Woomera. He gently moved off when he saw us coming – but only as far as the next big tree.

There was a salt lake about 60 km north of Port Augusta. We thought it was huge.

Salt lakes 30 km before Woomera
Salt lakes 30 km before Woomera

Then, just 30 km north of Woomera, we stopped at Lake Hart, which makes the previous salt lake seem small. This one goes on as far as the eye can see. Can’t capture it in photographs. The Ghan railway line goes close by.

Lake Hart salt lake
Lake Hart salt lake
Daf heading off onto the salt lake
Daf heading off onto the salt lake

We went on the new Ghan about 4 years ago with Jeanette and Julia. The Ghan sped past this stunning lake in the middle of the night. Good to visit it at a more relaxed pace.

Panorama of salt lake. Photographer standing on the railway line (Adelaide to Darwin Ghan line). So the salt lake is almost 180 degrees from left to right
Panorama of salt lake. Photographer standing on the railway line (Adelaide to Darwin Ghan line). So the salt lake is almost 180 degrees from left to right

Daf remembers the old Ghan. In about 1973 Carolina, Frank, Kevin and Daf drove from Sydney to Port Pirie and caught the old Ghan on the narrow guage track up to Alice and back. It was so slow and the conditions were so uncertain (sand on track, etc.) that they couldn’t predict how long it would take – somewhere around 3 or 4 days was the guesstimate. It went in the low country on red sand. It puttered along and often stopped. They’d whistle to tell us we could get off and go for a wander in the desert. Then some time later they’d whistle to say it was time to return. Long slow evenings in the wooden lounge car with someone playing the piano. We loved every moment of it. Daf was disappointed with the speedy, sealed, new Ghan that goes on the high country in less than 24 hours and gives barely a glimpse of red sand. But Jeanette loved it. Daf was too busy being disappointed that it wasn’t the same as the “good old days” to appreciate it. Our journey now is more like the old Ghan. Slow and steady with time to stop and be with the country.

There’s a stretch of 265 km of road without any buildings (although there are two emergency phones) between Glendambo and Coober Pedy. Then, at last, we arrived in CP.

Turnoff to Coober Pedy
Turnoff to Coober Pedy

COOBER PEDY TRUCK SIGN

The turnoff to Coober Pedy
Welcome to Coober Pedy

Jude is fully aware that CP is the opal mining capital of the nation (the world?). So when she saw the piles of rubble that dot the countryside around CP (they look like huge ant hills) and said “I wonder what they’re mining?”. Daf assumed it was a Jude joke and didn’t respond. As we left CP the next day, Jude suddenly realised her gaff!

mining piles

We stayed in an underground motel, visited an underground church, an underground art gallery, an underground home, and an old mine. The town is very dry and dusty. The dugouts are surprisingly dust free. We were told that 80% of the population live in dugouts.

Our underground bedroom. Note the air vent on the ceiling. It matches all the ones on the hill in the next phot
Our underground bedroom. Note the air vent on the ceiling. It matches all the ones on the hill in the next photo
Air vents on the hill on top of our underground motel
Air vents on the hill on top of our underground motel
Inside the Serbian underground church. The walls and scalloped ceiling are all raw rock.
Inside the Serbian underground church. The walls and scalloped ceiling are all raw rock.
Faye's underground home. Three bedrooms, kitchen, dining, lounge, bathroom and bar. Hand dug by three women with picks and shovels. Took 10 years!
Faye’s underground home. Three bedrooms, kitchen, dining, lounge, bathroom and bar. Hand dug by three women with picks and shovels. Took 10 years!

After WW1 many returned servicemen went out to the opal fields to strike it rich. They’d spent the war digging out trenches and living in dugouts. There were no building materials in the opal fields (just rock and dust), so they dugout their homes underground. With temperatures in summer exceeding 45 and below freezing on winter nights, it makes sense to live underground where the temperature is a stable 24 degrees, day and night, summer and winter. Good sleeping conditions – pitch black and no noise. But if you’re claustrophobic (as Jude can sometimes be), then being underground with no natural light, no windows, rock walls and low ceilings can become a bit freaky. It was surprising how quickly we got over the novelty of being underground. But we were also happy to emerge into the sun.

We spent a couple of hours visiting a mine museum and tour. We like that the museum started its history story with the Indigenous people – even providing a map of the local groups.

Map of local Indigenous peoples at start of  underground CP history museum
Map of local Indigenous peoples at start of underground CP history museum
Daf in the mine. The opals are all in a seam at a particular depth. So they have to dig down and get out all the rock (making the ant hills that dot the area), then follow the seam at eye level. These tunnels went in all directions.
Daf in the mine. The opals are all in a seam at a particular depth. So they have to dig down and get out all the rock (making the ant hills that dot the area), then follow the seam at eye level. These tunnels went in all directions.

Did you know that Coober Pedy was named by local Aboriginal people? It means White Man’s Burrows – a great name for the miner’s dugouts.

Outside Faye's house
Outside Faye’s house
Looking west from our motel in Coober Pedy
Looking west from our motel in Coober Pedy
Looking north from our motel
Looking north from our motel

There’s a weird beauty to the starkness. Good for a visit, but wouldn’t want to live there. Great food at the Greek taverna, served by a Filipino woman. At Cadney Homestead (150 km north of CP), the food is served by an Italian woman. Our tour guide in the mine is German. It’s a multicultural outback.

THURSDAY Day 8 Coober Pedy to Cadney Homestead

There are two “painted deserts” in the area. One, actually called the Painted Desert, is about 150 km north of CP. Rough roads and access only to the edges, so we didn’t drive there. We had hoped to fly over it and Lake Eyre, but it’s a windy, cloudy day and there were no other takers for the flight, so the cost would have been $1360 for just the two of us. We decided to settle for the other painted desert, known as the Breakaways; the turnoff is just 20 km up the highway from Coober Pedy. It’s another world. Eerily beautiful. So powerful. We were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves so we could really feel the isolation and energy. And were very pleased to see acknowledgement of the Antakirinja Mutuntjarra people.

Breakaways
Breakaways
Breakaways
Breakaways
Breakaways - sign
Breakaways – sign
"Pappa" or Salt and Pepper in Breakaways
“Pappa” or Salt and Pepper in Breakaways

Then back on the road to Cadney Park Homestead, only another 130 km up the highway. Arrived with time to do some washing, have a rest, download all the photos and finish this blog. Everyone else in the dining room/bar was an Aboriginal stockman. Friendly guys. No Internet access. We want to get this blog off because we loved getting so many warm responses to our first blog. It’s great to have so much connection with family and friends when we’re in such a remote place. (Note- that’s an encouragement to send more warm responses!)

Almost to Cagney Park Homestead
Almost to Cagney Park Homestead
View from Cadney Park Homestead at dusk
View from Cadney Park Homestead at dusk

FRIDAY Day 9 Cadney Homestead to Northern Territory

Short drive this morning up past Marla and then off onto a dirt road to Iwantja Art Centre at Indulkana. On the edge of the APY lands. APY stands for Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara. We admit we had to look that up. APY is much easier to remember! There are seven art centres in the communities spread across the northern border of South Australia. You need a permit to enter, except for Indulkana. We hope to get a permit and hire a 4 wheel drive to come back down here during our trip. We geared our travels to get us to Iwantja on a day they are open. Still unpredictable – we were told if they were closed there’d be a closed sign at the turnoff on the highway. Drat – it said closed. Well, we’d come this far, so decided to give it a try. Crossed the Ghan track and some interesting car signs to get there.

Ghan railway line and car sign
Ghan railway line and car sign
Another car sign
Another car sign
Another car sign
Another car sign

indulkana

Iwantji was open!! It’s a lovely friendly art centre. We met two artists we admire, Alec Baker and Maringka Burton. And lots of other wonderful artists. Jude bought 3 of Alec’s paintings and he honoured her by agreeing to a quick photo. Maringka was painting a gorgeous huge painting. She said she’ll paint a smaller one for us. Hope she meant it.

Alec Baker and Jude at Iwantja Art Centre
Alec Baker and Jude at Iwantja Art Centre

It feels good to be back in an Aboriginal community. Looking forward to much more in the next few months. Here’s some paintings on the wall of the community general story.

Painting on general store Indulkana
Painting on general store Indulkana
Paintings on general store Indulkana
Paintings on general store Indulkana

Then back to the highway and only 100 km to the border. Tonight at Erldunda. Alice tomorrow! Daf’s birthday dinner with friends in Alice on Sunday night. We’re happy.

The border into Northern Territory (the guy who took the photo for us forgot to include the "y")
The border into Northern Territory (the guy who took the photo for us forgot to include the “y”)