Without a Certain Person
When we arrived at the mouth of Walpa gorge, we dumped our baggage under a tree. After taking a photo of Dad, Matt and a rather chastened Richard with the picturesque gorge in the background, we advanced up and into the gorge. The heat and flies evaporated as the dank shadows of the gorge’s walls towered over us. I was sure the floor of this gully had never been touched by direct sunlight. We tramped up the narrow path, our voices echoed in the cold air, and our sight adjusted to the blue-grey shade between the boulders.
We rested where the path vanished into a jumble of rounded rocks, large wrinkled marbles wedged in the narrowing crack of the gully. I gazed back over the plain. The red ochre cliffs of Walpa Gorge framed the pastel strips of pink, blue and lemon-yellow of the land. I snapped a shot.
‘Ah, don’t know if it’ll work out, dear. Too much contrast. You’ll either get the cliffs, or the plain, you won’t get both,’ Dad said.
He was right. When my photos were developed, I’d captured some of the colour on the Walpa Gorge walls, but the land below was invisible, all washed out. One has to be there, in the flesh, and see with one’s own eyes, the true beauty of Kata Tjuta and Walpa Gorge.
We negotiated the boulders lodged like marbles in this gully. We struggled up slippery slopes and strained up steep inclines. We paused part way up and admired grandeur of the gorge. The walls glowed a russet red and the golden plains shimmered in the bright midday sun.
‘Come on, not far to go now,’ Dad said. ‘We’ll have lunch when we get there.’
We struggled onwards and upwards. Lichen-covered boulders, threatened to thwart our endeavours. But we worked together to over-come the conglomerate of obstacles to finally reach the top-end of the gorge.
Over the lip, the view of Kata Tjuta reminded me of an alien landscape as if we’d been transported to another world. Massive boulders and bulbous granite mountains jutted up from the valley. I took photos, but my simple camera could not do justice in reflecting reality of what my eyes could see. We sat on the rocks, and with the breeze cooling our bodies, we savoured the view and a simple lunch of scroggin, a mix of nuts, dried fruit and chocolate.
After taking several long gulps of water from his canteen, Dad rose, adjusted his pack and said, ‘Okay, time to get back. Mr B will be wondering where we’ve got to.’
Richard, Matt and I stood up and stretched. Then we followed Dad down the narrow, obstacle-ridden gorge.
‘Now, don’t go falling on your bottom, Lee-Anne,’ Dad said.
‘I won’t.’ I was sure I’d be fine, the hike down would surely be easier than hiking up. Not so. A muddy patch greased with moss, caught the heel of my boot. I skidded, slipped and thudded onto my rear.
‘I told you, be careful,’ Dad said.
I stood up and brushed the mud off my bottom. ‘I’m fine.’
Then I trailed after Richard and Matt. No need to have them giggling behind me. I thanked God for small mercies that Mr B wasn’t with us. Imagine what he’d say about my messy backside. I was amazed at how smoothly the whole venture up Walpa Gorge had gone.
When we caught up to Dad who was having a rest, Dad whispered to Richard and me, ‘Imagine what Mr B would’ve planned for this gorge.’
‘I’d hate to think,’ I said.
‘Probably some sort of café, I reckon,’ said Richard.
‘Hey, Richard,’ Matt called from a few metres up the side of Walpa’s wall, ‘let’s explore this cave.’ He scrambled up the knobbly side to the cave as if he were a spider.
Richard climbed up to join Matt. They perched at the mouth of the cave and I snapped a shot of them looking out.
‘What’s in there?’ I yelled.
‘Nothing much,’ Richard replied.
‘It’s just a cave,’ Matt said.
‘No art work? No carvings?’
‘Must be something,’ I muttered and began mounting the wall to the cave.
‘Careful,’ Dad warned.
The boys edged out of the cave and made their way down back to us on the valley floor.
I continued climbing.
‘You too, Lee-Anne,’ Dad said.
‘Oh, alright!’ I sighed and ambled down to Dad at the base of the gully.
We walked a little further down. I spotted a cave some way up the wall but not as far up as Matt and Richard’s cave. Dad had marched far ahead, so this was my opportunity. Thrusting my camera into Richard’s hands, I crawled up to the cave. The conglomeration of stones melted together allowed me to grasp each foothold and handhold as if the climb were made for me. I then squeezed into the cavity shaped like a slot in a letter box.
I examined this small cavity. Richard was right. The recess offered nothing in the way of adventure or excitement. Just another hole in Walpa’s wall. I looked down and spotted a boulder of similar size and shape to the cave. I called out to Richard. ‘Hey, look, there’s the rock that popped out of the cave.’
‘What?’ Richard raised the camera and then clicked one shot. ‘I reckon I got a good one,’ he said. The shot he took featured my legs. My lily-white legs.
With our triumphant return, we entered the clearing and milled around there. Dad raised his eyes and gazed around the landscape. ‘Hmm, I wonder where Mr B got to?’
Richard shrugged. ‘Beats me.’
‘Ah, well, let’s do some painting, then,’ Dad said.
Dad and Matt set up an impromptu outdoor studio and began painting while waiting for Mr B’s inevitable return. Dad arranged his water-colour paints, secured his paper to a board using masking tape, and then, contemplating the view, the new paper and paints, he folded his hands on his tummy, bowed his head and was soon snoring the flies away from his lips.
Matt held up his paint brush. ‘What do I do?’
‘I’ll help,’ I said. I picked out a thicker brush, and then most of my afternoon was spent helping Matt paint.
Mr B strolled down the track. He tip-toed up to Dad, head still bent in the art of sleeping.
‘Boo!’ Mr B said.
Dad woke with a start. ‘Who? What? Oh, it’s you.’
‘I found the perfect campsite,’ Mr B announced. ‘No problems with neighbours with this one.’
‘Did you get the flour?’ Dad asked.
Mr B raised his eyes to the sky. ‘Who do you think I am?’
‘Of course, ol’ chap. But I dare say, I expect something extraordinary with that flour I went the extra miles, on top of all the travelling I did to find us a better site. Understand?’
‘You haven’t tasted my damper,’ Dad said. ‘And besides, we’ll be feasting on the Bread of Life.’
‘Devotion,’ I piped up. ‘God’s Word.’
‘It is Sunday, after all,’ Dad said.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Photo: Walls of Walpa © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2013