Red dust, red centre, red hot.

Trip Start May 27, 2009
Trip End Nov 14, 2009

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Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Saturday, October 3, 2009

Have you been wondering what I've been up to since we last 'spoke’. Well it won’t surprise you to know that yes I was in Sydney when the red dust storm hit town, I of course slept through the red storm, the orange storm but was awake in time for the khaki coloured one. Well what do you expect,  the red one hit at about 5 am . The photos later in the newspapers were amazing and from hearing people talk – it was the only subject that day, locals thought the world was ending – those further afield told them to get over it as that was what they live through on a regular basis but when your  normally spotless and shiny 4 WD actually gets covered in up country dust it must have been very distressing!

I spent over a week in Sydney staying with a friend from school who is a doctor living and working in the eastern suburbs .A lot of time was spent catching up, sharing wine and stories and meeting with her friends and family – that was good and I am sure by the end of my stay her  Motherwell accent will have returned a bit stronger – hope her patients at least still understand her. Early activities also included a trip to the ballet, a game of golf and watching my friend’s niece surfing – from the state of my golf I would have been better keeping up with the ballet lessons Mum!  And then sipping champagne at the Sydney Opera House bar after midnight gazing out to the Harbour Bridge – magical.

The transport system is fab and for a day tripper ticket costing only $17, you can hop on and off buses, trains and ferries across the city centre and the wider suburbs - so I did on several days. On one day I went to Bondi Beach in the morning, posting my last NZ episode from Macdonalds as wifi access is free, then coffee and baklava in the afternoon at a Greek kafenion in a very upmarket little enclave of Woolnarra, a haven of peace after the brashness of Bondi, a wander round the botanic gardens and round the sea wall to get photos of the opera house in the daylight. I have been here before but can’t do a blog including Sydney without some of the most iconic sights. Followed all that with a wander round the Harbour Rocks area and then nipped over to Manly on the ferry. That was a complete contrast to the Bondi experience – by this time it was getting dark, the rain came on with a vengeance and on the return to Sydney, a spectacular lightning storm lit up the sky – this was an omen of the dust storm which was to follow.

Only visited one museum – the Australian Museum, free admission except if you wanted to see the special exhibit Treasure of the Pharaohs which I think must have followed me form San Francisco. I gave it a miss – who wants to spend time in Australia looking at ancient Egyptian stuff – I can still clearly remember my first trip ever to London to see the original Tutankhamen exhibition which did feature his gold death mask – nothing will top that. I spent most of my time in the Indigenous culture section and at the exhibit of current Indigenous sculptures featur8inmg works in all media – they were both excellent and some really moving stories  in relation to the Stolen Generation – shaming that white European ‘Christian’ society thought it appropriate to remove "half- caste” children in order to bring them up as European settings -yes another rant could easily spill out but I will spare you my opinion, other than the comment that if people have been managing for 60,000 years in a harsh environment they must have been doing a lot right..

Spent another day in the city with my friend visiting two very different suburbs – Cabramatta and Newtown, The former is a mainly Vietnamese area which we were visiting to buy fabric (not for me – never did hand in my first year sewing project) – better choice and much lower prices than in the city – it would normally be really busy but this was the morning after the dust storm so a lot of folks had stayed indoors. The latter is a sort of academic hangout being near the university so there were more book and coffee shops  than you could shake a stick at ( oh and a few pubs too) – so that was a good day getting off the beaten track.

The next few days were spent on admin type stuff such as where to go next and how to get there which is much harder than anywhere up till now – can’t just jump in the car or camper and be there in several hours! Also managed to box up some stuff including my cold weather gear to send home – some is going by sea freight so I am likely to be home first - hope it’s not too chilly.

On my last day in Sydney we went for a walk and picnic in the Royal National Park with my friend’s young niece and her pal. Whilst waiting for the ferry across to the park water we met boating friends who were sailing their catamaran across too so we all hitched a lift – do you hitch lifts on boats? That was great fun especially the bit where the tender taking us to shore got hit by a big wave and we got drenched – luckily the picnic was saved. We dried out fairly quickly and enjoyed the walk, taking in some aboriginal rock carvings on the way. And then a quiet night in as I had a very early flight next day –destination Alice Springs leaving at 6am and my friend had kindly offered to give me a lift – which she did - in her pyjamas –  hope she didn’t break down on the way back!

And so to Alice Springs in the red centre of Australia where I had booked to go on a 5 day camping trip – no tents just sleeping under the stars in swag bags so that was going to be different from anything so far.

Flight went via Melbourne and all went well and on time. I had a window seat but I have been so used to being above the clouds that I didn’t look out at first – watching Angels and Demons instead, trying not to laugh out loud at the corny script and hammy acting - then happening to look there was the fabulous view of the scale of the red desert I also caught a glimpse of the huge inland sea, Lake Eyre.

I had 2 days in Alice Springs both before and after my camping trip so decided to continue in experimental vein and book into a backpacker type hostel, Alice’s Secret Traveller Inn. It was a very quirky spot just 5 minutes walk from the town centre and the fellow guests ranged from teenagers no doubt on their first big overseas trip , some like me who were going on other trips and just needed a stopover point and some who were there for work reasons. The room was just off the common kitchen so it was a bit noisy at times when the teenagers were coming and going – or cooking. My roommates before and after the camping trip seemed to take offence at the noise but if you want peace and quiet I don’t think you should book into a backpacker hostel.

Alice Springs has lots of outlets and galleries for Aboriginal Art – some for the souvenir market but mostly for the art market. There was an exhibition at the Arts Centre called Desert Mob which happens every year at this time where the artists from the surrounding areas exhibit their works and serious collectors and galleries from home and abroad come to buy. There was some fantastic stuff on display and most of it sold, including a couple of pieces costing $30000+. You will have to take my word for its fabulousness as no photos are permitted of any works in galleries. My first roommate was very interesting- she was doing a PhD on Aboriginal Art and Abstraction so we had a really good chat about the art influences and development. She was off to live in one of the desert communities to spend time with the artists to get more background on their influences and symbolism. She was a bit worried as this was her first venture out on her own without an Aboriginal council guide – not sure where she would sleep, eat etc – would they talk to her. Hope it all went well – I have her details so will look out for the published thesis.

And so to my camping trip – 5 days , 4 nights in the bush . I had the most fantastic time and this was definitely a highlight of my entire trip. There were 13 of us and a real mixed group ranging in age from a couple of teenagers to a couple in their 70s and in nationalities we had Germans, Swiss, English, American, Canadian, Kiwis and Aussies. We all had to muck in with the chores – collecting firewood, lighting the fire, cooking and doing the dishes and mostly everyone did a bit of something. We had no tents and were sleeping out in the open in sleeping bags within swag bags – these are heavy duty waterproof canvas bags with an integral mattress and pillow. They were really comfortable and I think everyone should experience the brilliant feeling of falling asleep looking up at the stars and waking up when the sun rises – easy when there are no curtains blocking the light. And showering under the stars with water heated by a wood fire was an amazing experience when I eventually got my turn – I have to say there was one amongst us seemed to think that having half an hour in the only available shower was OK

Our destination on the first day was Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock) so an early start and a very long drive from Alice – I think it is about 440km – thankfully a couple of comfort breaks and a lunch stop, where everyone stood around kind of awkwardly waiting on Macca our guide to give us instructions, but from then on everyone mucked in. He was a pretty laid back bloke I thought maybe too much so in the beginning but actually I got used to it, much better that he was that way than over the top gung ho. We then did the base walk round the ‘Rock’ which I think took about 2 hours – no doubt that we were in the desert now it was dusty and airless and everything was red –including my face. I think I sweated off every ounce of spare liquid and salt in my body and despite seeming to drink plenty, I felt rough later on but I was conscious enough to take in the experience and appreciate why the place has such spiritual significance. From there we went to our campsite at Ayers Rock resort and a vantage point to catch the sunset over Uluru. It is such an iconic sight that I couldn’t quite believe I was there. We celebrated with a beaker of bubbly, then back to have our first dinner under the stars. I really couldn’t face food – I won’t go into detail of how I cured myself of the nauseous, too much sun feeling – but it worked.

And from sunset at Uluru to sunrise over Kata Tjuta ( formerly known as The Olgas), an early start but it meant that for our 3 hour walk today at Kings Canyon we were not doing it in the hottest part of the day. It was a fantastic walk – a bit steep challenging at first but once you got your second wind it was fine – lots of rock hopping and cliff edges to steer clear of but the views were worth the effort. A special feature with our tour company (Wayoutback Safaris) was getting to camp at Oak Valley, a site owned by an Aboriginal family  who gave us a tour of part of their property next morning – dad Robbie showed as the part which had been an inland sea in a formal life, evidenced by significant numbers of fossils and then son Craig gave as a brilliant spoken and visual description of their family history on the land, their claim to it and their determination to live a 21st century life whilst maintaining cultural traditions. We learned more in that hour than from reading any amount of information in cultural or tour information centres.

For our last night we really roughed it – no toilets or showers and I don’t know if food will ever taste the same without a liberal sprinkling of red dust. The 4Wd failed so we got a bit mired in the sand but fellow campers came to our rescue. Luckily it got fixed next day as the off road drive to Palm Valley in the west McDonnell Ranges was incredible – so unbelievably bumpy but great fun – we didn’t want it to end. But sadly it had to and we were back to Alice before too long. Trip over but some of us met up later to go to a concert by Jimmy Barnes, big Aussie gravelly voiced rock star (left Glasgow as a boy) – and of course it was an open air concert – what else?

Well that’s all for now folks (did someone say thank goodness?) I know I have gone on a bit but I have covered so much ground over the last couple of weeks that I couldn’t cut it down
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janeybabe on

catching up
just caught up with your last couple of entries I am gobsmacked photos are outstanding. Work so busy I am reading your blogs and looking at your photos on my laptop at home while champions league football is on the tele! So many wonderful adventures I hope you will be able to settle when you get home keep safe x

clap on

im in class

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