Dad meant what he said; he believed we, as the T-Team were travellers, not tourists. So when the sun began its journey to the other side of the earth, and edged towards the western horizon, Dad drove further west and far away from the popular tourist haunts for the sunset on the Rock.
‘Don’t go too far,’ Mr. B said as he glanced back at the diminishing size of the Rock. ‘I want a red rock of considerable size.’
‘I know what I’m doing,’ Dad replied.
But every vantage point that we considered photo-worthy, so did clusters of tourists. The ants may have been heading for bed, but the road west of Uluru swarmed with sightseers scrambling over the landscape to capture that momentous event of the sunset on Uluru.
‘I hope we’re not going to miss Uluru turning red, ‘cos that’s what I came here to see,’ Mr. B said.
‘Plenty of time,’ Dad said. ‘Trust me.’
‘I’ll hold you to that promise, mate.’
Dad sighed and then turned into the next available place to park the Rover.
Mr. B glanced at his gold watch. ‘I mean to say, it’s nearly six o’clock. The sun sets at six, doesn’t it?’
We joined the tourists in the small clearing to take the Uluru-at-sunset-photos. There’s one snap I took of two travellers admiring the Rock as it deepened in colour, more a rusty-red, than the scarlet I’d seen on calendars. So it’s taken with an instamatic camera and the quality is pitiful compared to the chocolate-box number my grandpa took in the 1950’s, but I reckon it captures the atmosphere.
‘Enough of these tourists,’ Richard grumbled. Clutching his polaroid camera, he stormed up the nearest hill.
‘Wait!’ I called and raced after him.
My brother ignored me and quickened his stride. I tried to catch up but soon tired of his fast pace. I watched him vanish behind some spinifex bushes and decided his quest for tourist-free photos was pointless. I gazed at the Rock squatting behind waves of sand-hills and bushes. The view’s going to be just as good, if not better by the road and the masses, I thought and rushed back to Dad before the sun went down too far and the Rock had lost its lustre.
Uluru faded from clay-red to a dull grey and the tourist congregation thinned, trickling away in their cars and buses towards the camping ground situated east of the Rock.
‘Is that it?’ I quizzed Dad. The Uluru at sunset in my mind had been spectacular in its failure to deliver. ‘Why didn’t it turn bright red?’
‘You need clouds for that. Clouds make all the difference,’ Dad said, his lips forming a beak. ‘Glad my camera’s out of action and I didn’t waste film on it.’
‘You mean, the Rock doesn’t always turn red?’
‘No, it’s the clouds that make the difference.’
‘What on the Rock?’
‘No, to the west, where the sun sets.’
‘But the photo of a red Ayres Rock taken by Grandpa had clouds around it.’
‘Yeah, well, there would’ve been clouds in the west too,’ Dad explained. ‘See, the sky is clear tonight, so that’s it for the Rock.’
‘Disappointing! A very poor show, ol’ friend.’ Mr. B sauntered past us with Matt tagging behind. ‘Come on, we better get to camp. Don’t want to be cooking in the dark. Don’t want the likes of egg soup again.’
Dad peered into the distant black lumps of hills. ‘Where’s Richard?’
I stared into the thickening darkness. No Richard. ‘Dunno, went into the sand-hills,’ I said with a shrug.
‘Oh, well, I guess he’s gone for a walk,’ Dad said.
The Rock became a dull silhouette on the horizon. We packed away our cameras and waited. And waited for Richard. Darkness settled on the land. We waited some more. The icy cold of the night air seeped into our bones. We waited but he did not appear.
‘Where could he be?’ Dad said and then stormed into the bush.
Minutes later, Dad tramped back to us waiting at the Rover. His search in the nearby scrub was fruitless.
Each one of us stood silent; silent sentinels around the Rover.
‘I hope he’s alright,’ my comment plopped in the well of silence. A chill coursed down my spine. What if an accident had befallen my lost brother? The dark of night had swallowed my brother up.
Dad grabbed the torch from the glove box in the Rover, and then marched back up the sand-hill.
I paced up and down the road. Mr. B folded his arms across his chest and scrutinised the shadows of bush that had now consumed Dad. Matt gazed up at the emerging mass of the Milky Way.
‘I hope they’re okay. I hope Dad finds Richard.’ My chest hurt with the pain of losing my brother.
Mr. B sighed. ‘Probably just a—’
‘What?’ I asked.
‘There they are,’ Mr. B said. ‘All that worry for nothing. You’ll get grey hairs if you keep worrying like that.’
I pulled at my hair and then raced up to my brother. ‘Where were you?’
‘I went out along the dunes. I kept walking and walking trying to find a good spot,’ Richard said.
Dad chuckled. ‘And when he did, he waited for the Rock to turn red.’
For the night we camped in an aboriginal reserve seven miles out of the Uluru—Kata Tjuta Reserve. In preparation for the trip, Dad had successfully applied for permission to camp there. This time Dad and I had two fires going each side of us as the previous night was so cold that I had little sleep. We hoped that two fires would be better than one to keep the chills away. Mr. B and his son Matt on the other hand, settled for one shared fire and superior fibres of their expensive sleeping bags to keep the cold out.
And Richard, after all his effort to scare us by almost getting lost, buried himself in his rather ordinary cotton sleeping bag, next to his single fire, and was the first one, after our rather simple rice dinner, to be snoring away, lost in the land of nod.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Photo: Sunset on the Rock © Lee-Anne Marie Kling (nee Trudinger) 1977