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Trip into the MacDonnells

Monday 10th August 2015

After such a busy and tiring few days, camping in the red centre I think we both had mixed feelings about yet another trip out with Emu Run Tours. At least the start was a little more leisurely as we were not being picked up from our apartments until just before 8am. We already knew that Matt, one of the guys from the camping trip was going to be with us on our trip to the West MacDonnell Ranges. There were rumours that others might also be booking to come but in the end it was just us, Matt, a young woman Annabelle originally from Bedfordshire who was celebrating her 26th birthday that day, and a middle aged woman from 'Tassie' who seemed to have temporarily 'dropped out' much to the surprise of her children. Our guide and driver Ash seemed friendly and welcoming and we were soon on our way.

Our first brief stop was to look at the memorial to John Flynn (1880 - 1951) a Presbyterian minister who founded what became the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The memorial was originally topped with one of the Devil's Marbles taken from the sacred aboriginal site Karlu Karlu, 240 miles north of Alice Springs. The removal of the marble became highly controversial and after decades of negotiation it was returned and replaced with a non sacred boulder donated by the Arrernte people. The Marbles was one of the places I would have liked to visit, but for now anyway this was the closest we were going to get to them.

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From the Flynn memorial we then drove onto Simpson's Gap, one of many rifts or gaps through the mountain range. It was a short walk along the almost completely dry river bed. In typical Aussie ironic fashion there were signs warning you not to go swimming. Almost all the water courses we came across during the day were essentially dry but many had semi stagnant pools of water which only get filled up during the very rare rainstorms. Simpson's Gap has a few such pools, most not much more than puddles. This meant that we were able to walk in the river bed without fear of getting our feet in the slightest bit wet.

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The area is also home to the quite rare semi nocturnal black footed rock wallabies, and we were lucky enough to see one characteristically hopping around on the rocks that line the base of the Gap.

Our next stop was a few miles further on, at a place called Standley Chasm. This was named after Ida Standley, the first women to teach in Alice Springs. In 1914 when no one applied for an advertised teaching post, parents clubbed together to pay Ida to teach their children. This walk was slightly longer, initially along a sandy path and then over boardwalks and rocks. The chasm was deeper than Simpson's Gap and really dramatic.

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It really struck me when we were there how people seem to rush everywhere when they walk, often head down barely looking at the scenery they are passing. Maybe this is just because we are older and less fit than many others. We made use of the time Ash had allocated for the walk and really enjoyed the beauty of the area. When we go back to the minibus we still had plenty of time to enjoy the tea/ coffee and snacks laid on for us, which was much appreciated as we had not had time (or the provisions) for breakfast that morning. It was also nice to have time to chat to the others, particularly Annabelle who had trained as a teacher but had very quickly become disillusioned with performance targets and workload, something I was able to empathise with. Our next stop was at some Ochre pits where Ash explained how the aboriginal people used the pigments particularly in their rock art/drawings, and also spoke about some of the plants and how they were used. I reflected on the fact that the palate was reminiscent of those used in watercolour painting and Ash told me about a local aboriginal artist called Albert Namatjira who became so popular and well known that he was patronised by the Queen, eventually meeting her in Canberra. Ash explained that we would be able to see some copies of his work at Glen Helen station where we were going to have our lunch.

En-route we briefly stopped at the Mt Sonder lookout and then whilst Ash had a bit of 'time out' we walked down to Glen Helen Gorge. This had more water in it than any other rivers we had seen in the Northern Territories. Annabelle went for a quick swim but said the water was very cold so we declined! It was a lovely spot and the walk to the gorge had given us an appetite for the wraps that Ash gave us for lunch. There was just enough time to look at some of the prints by Namatjira before we were whisked off to our next destination. This was a walk up to a lookout over the Ormiston Gorge. It was a bit of a climb up to the top, and again the others seemed to race ahead. I was struck by something that Ash had said about Aboriginal elders; "they might not want to go chasing after kangaroos but they have a wisdom which means they are ideally suited to educating the youngsters". I decided that if this philosophy was acceptable in Aboriginal culture then it was good enough for me, and was happy in the knowledge that my body might not be what it once was but that my wisdom is ever expanding! The lookout gave great views of what was the Finke River as well as some of Namatjira's much loved ghost gums.

It was time to start making our way back to Alice Springs, but on the way there was time to stop off at Ellery Creek Big Hole. Although it has a nice sandy beach, the water was even colder. However the view was stunning particularly the reflections of the red rocks in the water. We were there for the best part of an hour, so long enough for a wander round and time to take some photographs before another cup of tea and Lamingtons provided by Ash. Once back in Alice we got Ash to drop us off in the town so that we could get some food for dinner, so by the time we had trudged back to the apartments we were pretty tired, with only just enough energy to cook.

Posted by Gill's Travels 15:56

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