MacDonnell Gorges


In, Out and Above


Wednesday August 12, 1981




[Excerpt from Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981]




This morning, we raced along the road parallel to the MacDonnell Ranges, dipping into the gorges, Dad verbally ticking the boxes of gorges visited, speeding in and out of each one, snapping photos just to prove our having been there, done that.




ellery creek gap rockscompressed


 [1. Ellery Creek]


At Ellery Creek, I climbed up the hillside rising above water-hole to view the ranges looking like ripples behind the gorge, and the men as tiny plastic dolls milling on the bank amongst the river gums below.




Serpentine Gorgedadca50030.jpg


 [2. Serpentine Gorge]


We hiked through Serpentine Gorge, making good time aided by a receding water-line and an eager anticipation to catch the gap at midday when the sun would shine on both walls casting a red glow on the rocks. C1 and I reached the narrow gap first. A dark burnt umber hue cast a gloomy shadow over the walls.


‘Are we in time?’ C1 asked.




We perched on the rocks below near the murky pool and watched and waited. The gorge grew darker, the walls bleaker. C2, TR and my brother arrived.


‘I thought you said there would be spectacular red walls like Stanley Chasm,’ TR said. He peered at the dull rock-hole languishing in shades of brown.




Dull Serpentine dadca50033.jpg


[3. Dull Serpentine for us] 


Brother picked up a stone and attempted to skim it across the water’s smooth surface. The pebble arched over the pool and landed with a mournful plop in the middle.


‘It’s all in the wrist action, mate,’ C1 said flicking a flat stone so it skipped across the green surface to the shore opposite.


‘This is boring!’ TR plonked down beside me. ‘What are we meant to do? Wait?’


‘Yep.’ My brother chucked another pebble into the middle of the water-hole.


‘For what?’


‘Well, Dad, of course,’ he said.


‘I think I saw a Perentie on my way here.’ TR sniffed. ‘It was sunning itself on a rock.’



Parenti Dad - h-burg282.JPG


[4. Perentie ]




I hurled a stone in the pool. ‘What? Another one?’


‘If you go for a dip in the pool, you might meet a snake,’ C1 said and skimmed another stone across the water.


‘A snake?’ TR shivered. ‘Are you serious?’


‘Well, it is Serpentine Gorge.’


TR wrapped his arms tight around his waist. ‘I’m not going in!’


‘Probably best not to.’ Dad emerged through some wiry bushes. ‘The gorge’s sacred to the Arunda people under the Carpet Snake Dreaming. They fear they’ll die if they drink the water or swim in the gorge. However,’ Dad sighed, ‘in the 1950’s your Mum and I paddled up Serpentine Gorge on a lilo. Mum was several months pregnant with your brother, and she paddled on the blow-up mattress and I swam beside her. I almost died of hypothermia, the water was that cold.’


I glanced around the grey-green scrub. ‘By the way, where is that brother of mine?’


‘Gone for a walk, I guess,’ C1 said.


‘We’ll have to wait for his return,’ Dad said and then sat down beside me. He glugged down some water from his canteen.


So, we waited. And waited. Not my brother lost again! Half an hour crawled by. C1 skipped stones. C2 stared into the gap willing it to turn red. TR reclined on a flat bit of rock and slept. And Dad ferreted around in his back pack.


‘A watched pot never boils!’ I said. ‘I’m going for a walk.’


I stomped into the bush, heading up towards the ridge to survey the gorge from above. Murphy’s Law, he’ll return the moment I’ve left.



Gorge from Abovedadca50032.jpg


[5. Gorge from above ]




Five minutes into my foray, cliffs barred my way. I diverted to the left, hoping for slopes to accommodate my rise to the top. Instead I faced loose rocks. I stepped on one and it turned my ankle. Ouch! I hobbled on. A wall of prickle bushes scraped my shins. A barrage of spinifex bushes pricked my legs and ankles. I pushed my way through. A rock slid from under me and I scudded down the slope. I grabbed a gnarly stump and dug my heels into the dirt. My bum-ride stopped. I looked down. Beneath my feet, nothing. Just thin air whistling in the breeze. The land fell away into a three-metre cliff. I gripped the trunk. My heart thudded in my chest like a herd of raging cattle. Holding my breath, I pulled myself up a centimetre, then another and another, winching my body up to a nearby ledge. I exhaled, relieved that I made it to safety. From there I crawled up the slope to level ground.


Knees trembling, I was conscious that much time had skidded way past lunch. I found the track leading to the base of the hill and plodded downwards, my eyes fixed on the enemy disguised as loose rocks and snakes. I approached the water-hole. I hope they haven’t left me behind. It’s awfully quiet down there.


‘Lee-Anne! Lee-Anne!’ Dad called. He sounded like he was calling a pet cat for dinner. ‘Lee-Anne? Where are you?’


I galloped to the creek just beyond the water-hole. ‘Here I am.’


Dad stood up from his rock seat, and put his hands on his hips. ‘Where have you been?’


‘I just went—’


‘You need to tell us where you are going!’


Yeah, like my dear brother tells us where he’s going. My brother sat on the rocks by the Serpentine pool as if he’d never left.


Then we strutted back to the Rover in silence.




© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017


Photos: Feature photo: Ellery Creek © L.M. Kling 2013


Photo 1. Ellery Creek © L.M. Kling 2013


2. Serpentine Gorge as Dad remembers it © C.D. Trudinger circa 1955


3. Serpentine for us © C.D. Trudinger circa 1981


4. Perentie by C.D. Trudinger © C.D. Trudinger 1981


5. Gorge from above © C.D. Trudinger 1981


2 thoughts on “MacDonnell Gorges

  1. I loved how you included the photos amongst this piece of writing. Everything goes well together.
    Ouch I felt when you twisted your ankle. I felt sorry for you as have read the boys went off without stating where headed etc. Least you survived to the story.
    Keep up the good work .


    1. Praise God I survived. Especially almost falling down the cliff. Mum mentioned my Dad was bold and so reckless swimming in the freezing water back in 1958 when Mum was pregnant with my brother. Mum said, ‘What if he had died? I would’ve been stranded in the gorge.’ Praise God Mum and Dad were kept safe.


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