Posted tagged ‘desert’

Rothwell and landscape

August 23, 2010

So often our primary thoughts are that it is us, the humans, who dominate the landscape and control and change it. Whether our attempts are to conserve or to exploit, or to record and interpret, our thoughts circle around the ideas and the changes and actions that eminate from us.

There is another attitude, possibility less easy to take – that instead the landscape might take hold of us, shape us and speak to us, in ways we cannot yet imagine or even describe.

These words below are not my own, they are the work of journalist Nicholas Rothwell, in his latest book “Journeys to the Interior”. But still, they help me find a way into those indescribable ideas about the natural world and the work it does on me.

Can today’s Australians inhabit such a landscape? Can we feel at home there? When you find yourself in a pale dunefield at sunset, with the sky blush pink and deepest indigo, or when you look out from the crest of an inland mesa at the clouds in their indifferent race across the sky, such questions tend to dissolve, and patterns and thought-chains separate from man’s deliberate kingdom take hold.

I have always felt, at such moments, on the verge of dissolution – close to death as much as on the threshold of new revelations in the march of life – and rather than imposing my will on country, or on landscape, and prolonging the dictatorship of control and consciousness, I am overwhelmed – I am a creature of new rhythm, and the desert, and the inland, are writing me.

From “Journey’s to the Interior” by Nicholas Rothwell (2010, p53)



July 28, 2010

Some further thinking about the lack of preparations I wondered about …

The desert, so often described as ‘unforgiving’, was the opposite. The length of the journey, the eternity of the horizon and the dirt track laid out before us, it gave us time. Time to remember, time to stop often, time to listen and watch, time to take in the sky and the spinifex. Time to sit by smoky fires and admire the stars. The journey forgave us our lack of preparation.

And the folks who hadn’t heard of us for so long? Hard to describe, hard to grasp even.

There are calls across the bush for children and ladies to come and see these visitors. There is holding of hands, swapping of stories. There is a longing gaze, and a shy glance. There is laughter, and whispering of sadness. There is time together that I will never forget, and hope to return to again.

The desert and its people, welcoming and forgiving.

Heading for the desert

July 27, 2010


A few weeks ago we packed up our Hiace van with a tent and food and our kids. We headed east from Perth, first to Kalgoorlie and then further east and north through the Western desert, and on to the Northern Territory and Alice Springs. It was a wonderful journey, not without it’s challenges, but very worthwhile. It is too much to try and write it down all in one shot, so perhaps over time I’ll record some bits and pieces. They are not in any order or around any particular themes, just thoughts and ideas and memories I had along they way. Sometimes I wrote them down, or just filed them away in my mind for later.

Part of the reason for the journey was to revisit Tjukurla, a remote community in the Ngaanyatjarra lands, where we lived over a decade ago. The Ngaanyatjarra lands are in the central eastern part of Western Australia, include parts of the Gibson, Great Sandy and Victoria deserts and cover over 250 000 square kilometres (about 3% of mainland Australia). The lands include the communities of Tjukurla, Warakurna, Mirlirrtjarra (Warburton Ranges), and many others. It is striking country – dirt tracks stretching to wide horizons, ranges and desert oaks and rock-holes, stark blues and reds and golds.

The kids at the school where we taught are all grown now, and many of them have children of their own. One of the golden moments of our journey was coming across a group of ladies on the road east of Warakurna. They had car trouble and were doing some hunting while they waited. It turned out that these were Tjukurla folks, and we had a beaut time there by the side of the road, talking and meeting each other’s children, hearing stories of who lived where now, and even joining in the hunt for tirnka (goanna). It was worth the trip just for that.

We did lots of ‘preparation’ for our journey, a great deal of it geared around things like spare tyres, food, where we would stay, and making sure the van could go the distance. I did wonder though, whether we were prepared enough in other ways. Among the demands to fit out the van, to tidy up and pack, and find a home for the dog and the chooks, it seemed less urgent to prepare in ways not so tangible.

Even though we lived for a time in Ngaanyatjarra country, there is a lifetime’s worth of learning to be done about history and culture and change, and the extended time since we’ve been there means that some of the knowledge and memories have significantly faded. There is a language to learn that makes relating to local folks much more meaningful and respectful. And how might we tune ourselves and our children to the new rhythms of a remote place and people who were part of our past but to whom we’ve been stangers in recent times? None of this works well done in a hurry, and there is no course to do or single text book to read. Perhaps the journey itself is the only preparation.

To be truthful, we tried a bit. With the aid of old photos and stories and some language books, we at least made an attempt. But the proportion of time spent preparing ourselves in those ways was far outweighed by the practicalities.

It is a note I make to myself for the future – wherever I go are go, close by or far away, the balance and nature of my preparations are worth further attention.