STANDLEY CHASM — Angkerle Atwatye
Mr. B slowed the Rover and eased it into a park joining the line of cars, land rovers, and buses awaiting their owners’ return. The T-Team piled out of the Rover and in single-file, followed Dad along the narrow track heading towards Standley Chasm. In the twists and turns of the trail that hugged the dry creek bed, I spotted ferns in the shadow of rock mounds the colour of yellow ochre, and ghost gums sprouting out of russet walls of stone. Hikers marched past us returning to the car park.
‘G’day,’ they said. ‘Well worth it.’
Dad checked his watch and quickened his pace.
I ran to catch Dad. ‘Have we missed out?’
‘We better hurry,’ Dad snapped.
A leisurely short stroll became a race to the finish as we struggled to keep up with Dad; scrambling over boulders on the track, squeezing past more tourists going to and from the chasm, Dad snapping and cracking the verbal whip, and Mr. B moaning and groaning that “it’s not for a sheep station”.
The crowd thickened, stranding us in a jam of people, fat bottoms wobbling, parents hauling their whinging kids, and men clutching cameras to their eyes for the perfect shot. Dad checked his watch and then shifted the weight from one foot to the other.
‘Are we there yet?’ I asked.
Wrong question. Especially when asking a grumpy Dad.
‘Not yet!’ Dad barked.
‘I reckon we’re not far away,’ I said. ‘All the tourists have stopped. Must be some reason.’
Dad screwed up his nose. ‘I dunno, it doesn’t look right.’
‘Excuse me! Excuse me!’ Mr. B, one arm stretched out before him, parted the sea of people and strode through.
We followed in Mr. B’s wake and within twenty paces, there it glowed. Standley Chasm. Both walls in hues of gold to ochre. Dozens of people milled around its base.
Dad gazed at the chasm, and then squinted at the position of the sun. ‘It’s not there yet.’
‘How long?’ I wanted to know.
‘Not long, just wait.’ Dad paced towards a white gum that bowed before the grand wonder of the chasm.
‘Wait! I’ll take a photo of you,’ I said.
‘Do you have to?’
‘We might miss the walls turning red.’
‘They turn red that quickly?’
Dad leaned up against the tree. ‘I s’pose not.’
I dug out my instamatic camera and photographed my grumpy Dad.
Then we waited. The tourists snapped their shots and then filtered away.
‘When’s it going to turn red?’ I asked for the fourth time.
‘Be patient,’ Dad said.
‘This is boring,’ Matt mumbled.
‘Let’s see what’s the other side.’ Richard tapped Matt on the arm. The two lads scrambled over the rocks and I watched them hop from one boulder to the next over a small waterhole.
Dad paced from one wall to the next while Mr. B photographed Standley Chasm from every angle.
I watched mesmerized by the sunlight playing on the walls. They turned from a russet-brown on one side, gold on the other, to both glowing a bright orange. But by then, most of the tourists had left, thinking the Chasm had finished its performance for the day.
As the other wall turned in hue to sienna, Mr. B packed his camera in his leather case and stood back admiring the view.
‘Get some good shots?’ Dad asked.
‘I reckon I did.’ Mr. B patted his camera bag. ‘You know, once the crowds thinned out, I reckon I got some good ones.’
‘Ah, well, I’ve seen Standley Chasm put on a better show in the past.’ I think Dad was trying to justify not having a functional camera.
‘Well, I enjoyed it,’ I said. ‘This place is amazing!’
Dad patted me on the back. ‘Ah! Lee-Anne, you haven’t seen anything yet. Wait till you see Ormiston Gorge.’
‘By the way, where are tha boys?’ Mr. B asked.
‘Looks like we have to be patient and wait for them now.’
‘I hope your son doesn’t get ma boy lost.’
Dad laughed. ‘No worries. There they are, just the other side of the chasm.’ He waved at the boys.
Richard and Matt scrambled through the chasm to join the T-Team on the hike back to the Rover.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Photo: Standley Chasm © C.D. Trudinger circa 1955
[Standley Chasm is about 50km west of Alice Springs and is one of the first of many beautiful sites to visit in the MacDonnell Ranges.]