T-Team Series — Tnorala Mystery
[The T-Team with Mr B — Dad’s friend Mr Banks and his son, Matt (not their real names), joined Dad, my brother (Rick) and me on this journey of adventure. I guess Dad had some reservations how I would cope… But it soon became clear that the question was, how would Mr B who was used to a life of luxury cope?]
Tnorala — Gosse Range
[An episode in the prequel to my first travel memoir, Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981. ]
Our Indigenous guide, Sammy (not his real name) jiggled his knee. He clutched the paper-bag containing his pie, his fingers curled tight scrunching the top of the bag.
‘Aren’t you going to eat it?’ I asked.
The T-Team had just left Papunya; our first contact of “civilisation” since the trek way out west to Mt Liebig and Talipata Spring. Sammy’s first meat pie for at least a week, I reckon, and all he did was hold it in the bag like a prized souvenir.
Dad promised us barbeque beef steak and sausages at Gosse Range before travelling onto Areyonga. Mr B, our family friend who with his son Matt (not their real names), had accompanied us on this trip, seemed pleased with this proposal.
‘I dare say, David,’ Mr B said, ‘I can’t help having a certain satisfaction eating steak after what one of their sort did to us, there, camping near Mt Liebig. I mean, that beast of a bull terrorized Matt and me while you and your son and daughter hiked up the mountain.’
Dad sighed. ‘It is cattle country and we did camp on their territory.’
‘Hmm, I thought you would’ve checked that out, mate. Most uncomfortable.’
With the mention of uncomfortable, I glanced at our Indigenous guides, Sammy who I’ve mentioned, and Harry (not his real name). As the Rover lurched and rumbled along the corrugated road to the Gosse Range, Sammy fidgeted, twisting the top of the paper bag in his fist, while Harry sat relaxed, rolling with the bumps.
I nudged my brother, Rick. ‘Why isn’t he eating his pie?’
Rick shrugged. ‘Perhaps he’s being polite, not eating in front of people.’
‘I don’t mind.’ I gestured to Sammy. ‘It’s okay, you can eat it.’
I watched Sammy pull the meat pie from the bag and bite into it. He chewed each piece as if a cow chewing cud. He grimaced. He looked like he was eating a pie full of worms. With each bite and grimace, I giggled.
Sammy persevered, his mouth downturned. Every so often, he muttered to Harry in their Aranda language. Harry nodded.
‘I reckon he doesn’t like the pie,’ I muttered to Rick.
‘Probably cold,’ Rick mumbled.
I snorted. ‘He took long enough to start eating it.’
A glimpse of the jagged peaks of the Gosse Range flitted past through the dusty Rover windows. I peered past Sammy who had finished his pie to catch more views of the range.
‘Hey, Rick, look!’ I pointed. ‘The Gosse Range, it’s just like the painting Grandma’s got in her lounge room.’
From the front of the Rover Mr B asked, ‘Did you say, David that you met the famous Albert Namatjira when you lived up in Hermannsburg?’
‘Oh, of course. My father-in-law was a great supporter of Albert’s art.’
‘How did the Gosse Range come about?’ I asked my audience from the back of the Rover.
Rick sniffed. ‘A meteor, I think.’
‘Or comet?’ I added. ‘What do you think, Sammy?’
Sammy wiped his mouth and didn’t respond.
Harry smiled and also remained mute on the subject.
I sighed and said, ‘Another thing I have to look up in the encyclopaedia.’
Harry looked in my direction. ‘Sammy wants to leave before we go to Areyonga.’
‘He doesn’t want to go there. No friends. Not his family.’
‘Oh, that’s a funny reason.’
The Rover began to jerk and rumble over rocks and ditches. The jagged walls of the Gosse Range towered above us as the T-Team navigated the track leading into the middle of the range.
Sammy glanced left and right and wrung his hands together. Beads of sweat collected on his forehead and temples.
Once inside, Dad built a fire for the barbeque. Rick and Matt dangled sausages on sticks over the yellow flames. I gazed around the plain, it’s dry flat surface dusted with red-tinted sand and golden grasses. The range in shades of salmon pink surrounded this paddock. There seemed to be one lonely tree in the vast field that spanned several kilometres, and this was the tree we found to picnic under. While Mr B and Harry set up picnic essentials on the tarpaulin, I watched Sammy pace back and forth.
‘Lee-Anne, can you select your beef steak, please, and put it on the grill?’ Dad called.
I turned and picked out a smaller portion to add to the sizzling pieces of meat on the grill on top of the coals. Then I looked up to track Sammy’s progress. Sammy had vanished.
‘What’s the matter with Sammy? Where’s he gone?’ I asked Harry.
Harry nodded. ‘The real reason Sammy no want to go to Areyonga—there’s a big initiation ceremony, a corroboree going on there.’
‘Ah, yes,’ Dad said. ‘He’s scared.’
‘Sammy’s not from that tribe,’ Harry explained.
‘Would he get killed if they saw him?’ Dad asked.
Harry nodded. ‘Even if he didn’t see the ceremony, they’d kill him just for being there.’
‘Really?’ I said. ‘No wonder Sammy wasn’t himself. He’s usually laughing and so funny. But not today.’
Munching on my steak, I absorbed the expanse of dried grass, and the ochre range that’s eroded, yet the mystery of the rites and customs of the Indigenous of this land on this day at least, fascinated me more than a crater created by a meteorite thousands of years ago. Still, I did wonder at the devastation and effect on the Earth such an impact would’ve had. The crater spans 4.5km in diameter, so must’ve been one big rock.
After lunch, we left Sammy in the Gosse Range, his country, and headed for the lookout. There the range appeared mauve in the afternoon light.
Dad tapped his pocket. ‘I think we’ll go from here to Hermannsburg, it’s too late to drop into Areyonga.’
‘Pity,’ I remarked, ‘Sammy could’ve come with us, after all.’
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2018; Updated 2019
Feature Photo: Sunset on Gosse Range © S.O. Gross circa 1946 (courtesy of M.E. Trudinger)
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