ROCKING ONTO THE ROCK—ULURU
Wheels falling off
Frozen to the marrow, I hovered over the fire. I spread my arms above the flames in an effort to thaw. Before we embarked on this venture into the Centre of Australia Dad warned me of the bitter cold. He wasn’t kidding.
Dad shuffled around the campsite in the pink light of sunrise. He chucked a few more sticks on the campfire.
‘Grab me some water,’ Dad said.
I walked stiff-legged over to the billy and marvelled at the sunlight skating off the surface. ‘Hey, the water in it has turned to ice.’
‘Thought it was cold,’ Richard said as he joined us around the fire.
‘Must be, if you’re wearing a jumper,’ I replied.
Richard yawned, his mouth so wide, I worried he’d dislocate his jaw. ‘I couldn’t sleep it was so cold.’
‘Neither could I.’
‘Well, don’t just stand there,’ Dad snapped. ‘We want to get to the Rock today.’ He tramped over to Mr. B swaddled in his sleeping bag and nudged him with the tip of his boot. ‘Come on, mate, time to get up.’
‘What? I’ve just got warm,’ Mr. B mumbled and then rolled over.
Matt poked his head out of the hood of his bag. ‘But Dad, I want to see the Rock. You promised we’d climb the Rock today.’
‘Oh, alright,’ Mr. B grumbled, ‘just five more minutes.’
Matt climbed out from his sleeping bag fully clothed in his jeans and jumper, and after pulling on his hiking boots, he joined Richard and me around the fire. ‘I’m hungry,’ he said.
‘In a minute,’ Dad slopped the icy water from the billy into the porridge mix and then huffed and puffed as he stirred it to boiling.
In his enthusiasm to reach the Sacred Rock, Dad went wild with the water in the porridge and made it very runny.
After a breakfast of this sloppy porridge, we journeyed to Uluru. Richard replaced Matt on the Rover’s top, but I remained the privileged one. To improve our ride, we placed our air mattresses on the roof-rack and rode like royalty. The air-mattresses buffered the bumps and corrugations of the unsealed road. From our mobile vantage point, we watched the Rock rise; a mauve monolith from the burnt sienna dunes. Every few kilometres, we paused on the side of the road and measured the Rock’s progress with a snapshot.
We sailed along on the road to Uluru, the warmth of the sun on our cheeks and breeze in our hair. Sand-hills rolled up and down and then into the distance. Black trunks of ironwood trees flitted past. The Rock made random appearances and disappeared. A wheel flew past and bounced into the bush.
I looked at Richard. ‘What was that?’
‘Where did that come from?’
‘The trailer,’ Richard remarked with a sigh and pointed.
The trailer scudded on its side, red dust billowing all around it.
Richard leaned over the rail and thumped the driver’s window. The Rover eased to a stop and Dad leapt out. ‘What?’
‘The trailer!’ Richard said. ‘Again!’
The men gathered around the trailer and discussed their options in lowered tones. Dad frowned, he put his hands on his hips and gazed at the ground as Mr. B glared at him.
‘Poor! Very poor for a trailer!’ Mr. B muttered. ‘What are we going to do about it, my friend?’
Dad shifted his feet and then with his boot scuffed the stones. ‘I don’t know. What do you reckon, Richard?’
‘I say, laddie, can you find that tyre?’ Mr. B asked.
‘It’s long gone,’ Richard said. ‘But I’ll try.’
‘They’re expensive.’ Dad kicked the one remaining trailer tyre. The men stared at the one-wheeled trailer as though they were visiting a gravesite.
‘Alright,’ Richard muttered, ‘I’ll go and see if I can find it.’
Richard stomped down the road. He placed his hand above his eyes and peered in the direction the tyre had vanished into the scrub.
Matt caught my gaze. ‘Boring!’
‘Let’s go up that hill and see if we can take a photo of Ayers Rock and the Olgas.’ Katajuta, (called at one time “The Olgas” by the pioneer explorer William Gosse), are a conglomeration of boulders that lie 50 kilometres west of Uluru.
We mounted the nearby rise and admired the Rock, bathed in the blue of midday.
‘There are certain advantages to trailers breaking up,’ I remarked.
Matt nodded. ‘Yep, sure are.’
‘It’s like an adventure.’
‘Yep, sure is.’
The men decided to leave the trailer on the side of the road and fix it upon our return when we passed that way. By then we hoped to have the parts and equipment required to reattach the rogue wheel that Richard had found and then hidden underneath the trailer.
When we arrived at the fence that bordered the Uluru Reserve, we took more photos of the Rock, rusty-red with black streaks, and towering above us. We drove to the Park Ranger’s office to pay an admission fee to enter the reserve and see the Rock. Once Dad had returned from fee-paying, we commenced our drive around the Rock.
As there were more tourists in their Land Rovers and cars also circling the Rock, Richard and I descended from our high status on the top of the Rover and crammed into the back cabin. The roads, though not sealed, were better graded with gravel tempering the bull dust, so though the dust was still a nuisance, it didn’t make me cough.
‘When are we going to climb the Rock?’ Matt asked his dad.
‘Soon, ma boy, soon.’
‘Have you climbed the Rock?’ I asked Dad.
‘Yep, back in the 1950’s,’ Dad said. ‘not so many tourists then. We were the only ones camping near the Rock back then.’
I remembered flicking through the stunning photos of Uluru and Katajuta taken by my Dad, and also my grandfather, who was a missionary pastor at Hermannsburg. Dad had been a teacher at Hermannsburg.
‘I went with your mum and her family that time,’ Dad said. ‘The place has changed a lot since then.’
‘The roads are better. They were just tracks back in the fifties.’
‘I dare say, ol’ chap,’ Mr. B butted in to our conversation, ‘the Rock must still be the same.’
Dad chewed his lip. ‘Well, er, yes, I s’pose.’
‘If you ask me, all looks primitive to me,’ Mr. B said. ‘I mean to say, the land looks like we’re back in the 1950’s. I really think they should invest in some decent hotels or motels. Perhaps a tourist village. For the tourists. I mean, just look at the Rock—they’re missing money-making opportunities.’
Dad shifted his weight in the driver’s seat. ‘Er, I don’t know if having lots of tourists is a good idea for the Rock. The Indigenous consider the Rock sacred. I think they’d want less tourists, not more.’
‘Tourism, that’s where it’s at. And from what I’ve seen of the natives in this part of the land, they could do with some money to boost their living conditions.’
Richard and I glanced at each other. I coughed and thought, Was this man for real?
Dad pursed his lips and turned into road leading to a cave in the Rock. ‘Before we climb the Rock, there’s this cave. It has ancient aboriginal artwork on the walls’, Dad said.
We walked along a narrow path under the shade of ironwood and acacia trees. The Rock awed me by its size. If I had a camera with unlimited capacity to take thousands of photos, I would have spent the whole trek to the cave snapping away behind the lens. Close up the Rock surprised me with shades of tangerine, crimson, umber and red of the iron stone. As we got up close and personal with the Rock I thought it looked like a giant elephant’s flank all scaly and knobbly. It had looked so smooth from far away.
We entered a cave which appeared as though it was a huge umbrella from the inside. In a zone of wonder we walked along the narrow passage under the roof. I imagined that waves had crashed against it and carved out its form. In one part, I studied the carvings of the ancient owners of this land.
We trod through the cave in silence. This was sacred ground.
To be continued…
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Photo: In Awe of an Uluru Cave © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2013