A Walk into Prehistory
[Extract from Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981]
Before rewards come trials and tribulations. The smooth sailing on the sands of the Finke River gave way to the harrumphing and grating over boulders the size of petrified dinosaurs. My younger cousin (C2) and I bounced around the back cabin like rubber balls in a squash court.
‘Dad!’ I shouted. ‘Let me out! I’d rather walk!’
‘Very well, then.’ Dad stopped the Rover.
I jumped out the back and then walked alongside the lumbering Rover while C2 rattled alone in the back cabin.
My brother and older cousin (C1) held on for their lives while refusing to give up their seats on the top of the Rover. I strolled on ahead, then turned to check the Rover’s progress. Crunch! Thud! Brother and C1 flew half-a-metre in the air and plopped back on their blow up mattresses.
‘That was close,’ my brother remarked.
‘Whoa! Horsey!’ C1 waggled his head, and adjusted his grip on the rail. ‘Give me more!’
The Rover halted. Dad got out and suggested to the lads to get in the Rover or walk. The next section of the journey would test even the bravest drivers and passengers of four-wheel drive vehicles.
We skirted around a Bill Kings Tour Bus languishing in the middle of the rocky creek, axle snapped in half and a dozen dazed tourists milling around by the side of the truck waiting for the help that probably wouldn’t come any time soon.
Richard sniggered. ‘Tourists.’
‘What have you got us into?’ family friend (TR) asked. ‘I hope that doesn’t happen to us.’
‘It won’t.’ Dad tightened his grip as the belly of the Rover’s engine scudded over some boulders. ‘Our Rover’s built for these kinds of conditions.’
‘And theirs wasn’t,’ my brother said.
About 2:00pm we reached the end of the road, if one could call it a road. We had to walk down a dry creek-bed, and trudge along a sandbank full of silt to reach the thick of the palms. Every ten minutes or so, TR commented, ‘I thought you said it was paradise. I don’t see any paradise.’
‘We’re not there yet,’ Dad would say. ‘Good things come to those who wait.’
At a large sandbank, TR dropped his bundle. ‘Are we there yet?’
‘Nup,’my brother said, ‘but I see ducks, lots of ducks.’ He shrugged off his pack and then peered inside. ‘Pity I didn’t bring my rifle.’
‘Wow! I love it here!’ C1 lowered his pack and sat down. ‘It’s so peaceful.’
For a few minutes, we all took in the soft breeze whistling through the trees and occasional palm, the quacking of waterfowl, and the ancient stillness. After this rest, we walked a little further and reached Palm Valley-proper with its palm trees and cycads; the relics from the last Ice Age.
‘Did I mention Red Cabbage palm trees are so rare that they are found nowhere else on earth?’ Dad said.
TR grunted. ‘Yes, you did.’
We walked through the valley following the river bed.
C1 surveyed the view through his pocket camera. ‘This is amazing!’
‘Feels like we’ve entered the land of the dinosaurs,’ I said.
‘It’s so calm,’ C2 said.
I climbed up a ridge on the north-west side to see the valley from above. At the vantage point, I took in the bird’s-eye view of the river thick with palms snaking into the distance. Was it worth a photograph? No, probably not with my camera.
A large ghost gum jutted from red rocks, its trunk thick and straight but branches twisted and gnarled with character and age. A good subject for a painting, I thought, and lingered in my effort to take a couple of photos, one with the cliff and one with the gum protruding out of wads of grass.
The sun edged closer to the horizon. Where are the others? I had to find the rest of the T-Team, and inched my way down the grassy slope. Rocks skittered down the narrow path under my boots. My heart leapt to my mouth. I clutched at weeds. My fist slid as if grasping at wet straws. I dug my elbows into the jagged sandstone for balance. Step by crab-step, I reversed up the gully until light-headed with relief, I reached the ridge. Not going down that path.
Back to the trail I first ascended. As my best school friend used to say, ‘Better to arrive late than dead on time’. I strolled down the valley, absorbed in this ages-old world once home to giant mammals and dinosaurs. I imagined the inland sea, the sea creatures, molluscs, and shell fish that no longer exist except in fossil form. I recalled Dad telling us about the unique fish that come to life here in the Finke after heavy rains. I had stepped into the past.
Way in the distance, my big brother trudged through the palms with his tank like muscles rising above his brown stubby shorts. I ran to catch up.
‘Hey! Wait for me!’
He stopped and waited.
‘I thought you’d left me behind,’ I said, then bent down hands on knees and panting to catch my breath.
‘You took long enough.’
‘No longer than you.’
‘No, it’s not.’
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Photo from slide: Palm Valley © C.D. Trudinger 1981
Palm Valley is about 20km south of Hermannsburg travelling on a track that follows, or is actually on the Finke River. As the track is rough, you need a four-wheel drive to get there. And when I say a four-wheel drive vehicle, I mean a four-wheel drive vehicle. ~ LMK