Central australia

Central Australia Road trip part 1

Jennifer and I have been on the road since the 16th of May, arriving on the north island on a cool, dark Melbourne morning as we drove along the ramp out of the Spirit and into its early traffic. Against a dark and dusky sky, we drove along the city streets towards Geelong Road, then diverted to the Western Ring Road on the way to Hilary’s place in Roxburgh Park. After breakfast, all four of us not counting the dog, did a walk at Woodlands. Isla fell asleep in her backpack, Gertie padded along and around, as Hilary and us walked along the bush tracks. Afterwards, we enjoyed immense fresh scones with dizzily piles of cream and jam at the Woodland homestead. While we were enjoying ourselves, the trailer was getting some minor repairs for a leak around a power outlet at Cub Camper in Campbellfield. 

That evening we arrived at Horsham, raining, dark and so putting up the camper for the first time seemed a little too daunting. We stayed overnight at the International which was surprisingly quiet despite being right beside the Western Highway. In the morning we got off to an early start, arriving in Adelaide after dropping through the very scenic tree filled Belair Park, to stay at the Big 4 Marion Holiday Park. It had excellent facilities. I was a bit too tired and I think I may have left the car door ajar. We discovered later we had got off lightly with only my ancient iPod stolen. Our cameras were found by someone staying at the park, so we got those back so thank goodness. 

We spent Saturday at the Convention centre at a conference / GP Update on women’s and children’s health. It was busy, packed with useful presentations and so well worth attending. 

On Sunday we took it easy with a slow start. We had had dinner on Friday night on the sea front so we thought it was worth having lunch at Glenelg. When we arrived street side, the air was punctuated by the ear splitting sounds of pile drivers and earth moving equipment. We had a light lunch then scuttled back to the quiet of the camping ground.

On Monday we started the next leg of our journey back to Alice, arriving at Port Augusta mid afternoon with plenty of time to set up the trailer. We are both finding the trailer very comfortable, it’s cooking platform excellent and bedding lovely, cosy at night. It takes about ten to fifteen minutes to set it all up unless you need to add the awning which is zipped to the main tent. 

From Port Augusta we drove to Coober Pedy. I felt myself quite tense in Adelaide, a mixture of big city noise and bustle plus having had such a close shave with a robbery. I felt myself relaxing as we headed north, the wonderful music of Bach and Handel in the car, the featureless plains and hills and above the beautiful, blue, crystalline skies of the outback. 

Coober Pedy is fascinating and should be on anybody’s ” to go ” list. The caravan park is called the Stuart Range Resort. It’s major problem for us was the thought disordered layout of the camper and caravan parking. Eventually we located a spot and set up. We clicked open our chairs, tossed on the blankets for later and had showers. We spent two nights at Coober Pedy and here is what we did. The next morning we spent an hour setting up the tyre dog sensors on the tyre valves. This remote sensing gives the pressure and temperature of both trailer and Car tyres. It’s fascinating to watch the pressures over the drive. Changes in pressure can indicate leaks, the lower pressure means more tyre road contact and the friction sends up the temperature which causes blow outs.
In the afternoon, we joined other travellers on a bus trip around Coober Pedy. Now Coober Pedy is an Aboriginal phrase that means ” white fellas living in holes” which is what the miners and locals do to escape the heat of Summer ( 50plus degrees) and the cold ( minus five) of Winter. The underground houses are called Dugouts and have a uniform temperature of 23degrees all year round. Ventilation is provided by a narrow pipe that sits a few meters above the ground directly above the dugout. Two of these ventilation shafts are perfect. If you have too many the warm air can heat the dugout too much.
We learned about the rise of Opal mining in Australia, beginning in remote Queensland and ending In Coober Pedy, the richest opal site in the world. Our guide had been a miner for many years and knew many interesting stories about the history and characters that make up a frontier town like this. We visited the Breakaway Hills. This area has been used for films such as Mad Max Thunderdome and Pitch Black. It is now a reserve. The scenery is stunning, the ironstone caps if the hills staining the shale with red and gold down their flanks. There is no mining allowed here, its all natural. For most of Coober Pedy, conical piles of diggings fill the horizon. They are dangerous to walk around as no shafts are refilled. A 70 meter drop has killed or injured tourists and locals alike. 
We visited the museum. Here was saw a movie on Opal. It described its ancient origins in human affairs, beginning in Roman times. Then opals were dug out of secret spits in the carpathians. These opals are muted compared to the vivacity and colours of Australian opals. The sheer brilliance and quality of our opals made European buyers hesitant to purchase them. The Australian Opal market really took off in the USA, and to his day, many fine opals find their eventual owners in America. I bought Jennifer some Opal ear rings and matching pendant, milky white with fiery reds and greens. The colours come from diffraction of light by minute amounts of water trapped in the hardened silica. Opal is ancient sand, descended from the ancient seas of Australia, 120 million years ago. 
Our penultimate visit was to the Serbian Church. This is also a dugout as are most of the many churches here in Coober Pedy. It is a serene home of prayer and community, the parishioners are now to old to stand for the two hours of an orthodox service. On the walls are five sculptures by an early member of the church. They are religious. They are are of Christ, Saints and the man in saint of the Serbian church. He died soon after he completed them, still a young man and clearly a gifted sculptor.
In the evening, we had pizzas at the resort. These were the yummiest pizzas I have ever had. John who owns the resort, jokes that it took a Greek like him, to make Italian Pizzas. He would be in his mid seventies, and is still vibrant and hard at work, taking tour groups in the daytime and cooking pizzas in the evenings. 
The next day we drove to Erldunda. This is only 200km from Alice but it would have made a 700km drive for the day which is just to far to be safe. It’s a very good park but suffers from the noise of the generator even though it’s 200meters from where all the trailers and caravans are parked. But the wonderful sunrise made up for that. A few people were disturbed but I slept well, with my silicon earplugs soothing my sleep. 

We met Con and Sue Polizos from Phillip Island, they had a terrific rig with all amenities, microwave, oven, you name it. They are a lot of fun and joined us for a chat while I played my guitar, and we sat outside in the sunshine. At Adelaide we met Ted and Joe, who are travelling as well. They helped using with the cub as they have a very similar model to us.
Well right now, I’m writing this as we head to Alice Springs, north on the Stuart Highway. We are seeing our old landmarks like the Finke and turn-offs to places we have heard about or have visited before.

Central australia

Alice Springs Tour of the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges

It’s 8:30 pm, Easter Saturday evening. Today we were collected by Mark of Sandrifter Safaris at 7:30 am just outside the flat. It was a cloudy, cool morning just short of one needing a sweater. He drives a Landrover discovery which I can say from experience, is a very comfortable vehicle. At the kerb and parked it actually drops a few inches making it easier for ladies to board and then elevates when starting on the road.

Our first stop was Emily Gap, one of the many beautiful natural features of the Eastern MacDonnell. Unlike the west, the eastern end is much quieter. The areas around Hermannsburg and Glen Helen are full of tourists over Easter in contrast to where we visited today, there were only a few people driving or walking. After the busy rush of India, the peace and quiet beauty of this region is very relaxing. Emily Gap is formed at the junction of great sandstone hills, riding abruptly, near vertical, with ghost gums and river gums in the river bed and acacias scattered precariously on the cliffs and heights above. As I walked on the deep grey sand, I could study the orange rocks and trees. Near the end of the Gap, is a wall with ancient Aboriginal art, red stripes and three small eyes formed each painting, each one a precise rectangle. In fact, there are several paintings, high up above the level of the river base. Mark dropped to his knees, and dug away at the sand, and after only a few handfuls, water filled the depression. A meter away, there was another depression where a kangaroo had dug for water in much he same way. Water is everything. If you are lost in the outback and see Zebra Finches, you will survive a week. Why is this? It’s because a Zebra Finch must drink thirty times it’s body weight every day, so if you see these birds, you are near water.
The paintings are part of the Caterpillar Dreaming, which is centred at the gap coming into Alice Springs, where two long ranges end, seeming to face each other. With some imagination, you can see a single eye at the end of each, the eye of a caterpillar perhaps. This is part of a song line, a path of Dreaming from one part of Australia to another, joined by natural features and Rock art, paintings like these and petroglyphs, carvings. On this pathway, the people can find and celebrate their country and most importantly, navigate confidently from place to place.
We drove eastwards, stopping then at Corroboree rock. There is a short walk about this formation. On on edge I could see how narrow it is, like half a coin sitting in the ground. Metamorphic sandstone, its sedimentary layers no longer horizontal but vertical. Each layer a layer of ancient sea floor. The history of central Australia goes back to not long after the formation of the earth itself. Great oceans formed and reformed nine times in all , but beginning two billion years ago. Mountains were eroded by ice, by great glaciers when Australia voyaged to the South Pole. Wind and water also eroded these ancient peaks. Their debris and stone, gravel and soil, filled the huge hollows between each mountain, all ocean washed and layered, over and over again producing ever thicker layers of sand then stone This became sandstone as the material above compressed that below. Then the very continent, twisted, contorted by the other great plates, created massive forces of stress and compression. New mountains formed, but twisted like the spines of fossilised dinosaurs. This what you see from planes as they fly overhead. In addition, these same forces spat minerals out of the mantle and from deep in the plate, forming intrusions of quartz, nickel and gold.

Our next stop, was the result, at least in part, of all these geological events. After the Overland Telegraph was built, and a basic road was available, the government wanted a town built near the Alice Springs Telegraph Station to be called Stuart. A government auction of blocks in Stuart, did not have impressive results, with only three sales from the one hundred allotments surveyed. However, there were men, who travelled Australia looking for opportunities. Gold miners from the Ballarat Goldfields visited this area, and saw the rock, understood the geology and realised gold might well be here. Well they knew it was not in Stuart or anywhere near it but some one hundred kilometres east, in the Eastern MacDonnell ranges. This settlement was the first town in Central Australia, called Arltunga. It was a town based on mining, and mining principally for gold. Investors, miners, butchers, administrators, bakers, and publicans, all set up businesses. The mining was intense. Over all only six million dollars in modern equivalence was recovered from the many mines. It was terrible work, the heat over summer, the problems with porting water. The canvas bags used all over Australia, dried out, fraying and leaking. The stamping machines needed water and plenty of it to work. They developed air blowers to blow away, the fine dust from the heavier gold, after physically bashing quartz in troughs. Food had to be transported from Adelaide, or slaughtered locally. The mining ceased early in the twentieth century and most of the people left. Some stayed, solitary miners who liked the isolation, some businessmen bought up cattle stations and became farmers. The ruins of the bakery and post office are badly damaged by vandalism and souveniring by locals and tourists alike however even today, the Hotel is still there, it’s not open anymore but sits there, near the gravel road, still proudly bearing the name Arltunga. Somehow this splendid pub kept serving cold beer inti the 1960s! There is a fine museum of memorabilia and mining artefacts from old days that is well worth a visit. There is a you tube video anyone can access online about Arltunga too.

Over the years, there was more and more confusion about Alice Springs Telegraph Station which included the post office and the town of Stuart. The locals knew which was which, but no one else did. So to settle this mess, poor Stuart lost his town and it all became known as Alice Springs. By the the time Arltunga had died, Alice Springs was established and going ahead, with better access north and south, better communications with the telegraph, better water supplies and more to it than just mining. However it was not the first town in Central Australia that was Arltunga.
We drove a a short distance to Hale River Homestead ( also called Ambalindum Station). This is a business venture of a mother and daughter. They bought or leased sixty hectares of land from the main station for a tourist venture about 18 months ago. They have revamped the old buildings to new purposes. The battery room becomes a charming bed sit. The old homestead becomes multi room accommodation, its interior designs and furnishings reflecting the 1950s when it was last renovated. The dining area is an old tractor and mechanicals shed, with a lot of the paraphernalia of outback life on display. We had a terrific yummy lunch with home made pickles and chilles on corned ham rolls. Sophie, the young manager and part owner, not only joined us for lunch but showed us around her property. It’s wonderful to see and hear a young local woman, raised in the outback, with such determination and capacity for hard work. Over lunch, we talked about life in the outback. I saw a black goanna, a little one, on the concrete path to the dining room. Sophie and Mark told us some stories. Marks wife and co owner of their business, is a veterinarian. She was called to see two injured horses with damaged calves. The calves had been torn away by something. The first thought was dogs but when it happened again, she attached cameras to the horses. These cameras did not show dogs but a goanna, a Perentie which was about two meters high when standing and trying to kill the horses. Perenties are venomous, agile hunters, the fourth largest lizard in the world and will take on anything. Once the station owner knew what to look for, they located the lizard and captured it and relocated it. Well that what they told Marks wife. Mark remains sceptical about the fate of the animal.
After leaving the homestead with Mark at the wheel, we drove to Trephina Gorge. We took the Rim walk, which went steeply up and above the gorge, offering wonderful views of the rock face opposite us. We descended sharply at the western end, to enter the gorge itself. There is hardly any water here to see, but just like Emily Gap, the river is still flowing, its just moving under and not over the sand. The ghost and river gums sending down huge, long roots to tap into this near permanent flow. You may have heard of two German tourists who died at Trephina in February. The story goes something like this. The married, elderly but fit for their age couple arrived at Alice Springs Airport and collected a rental car. They were booked into some very exclusive accomodation for that evening. They drove to the gorge, parked their rental vehicle and went on one of the many signposted walks. Most likely the Rim Walk. After about 1 kilometre they turned off the three kilometre track onto a 18 kilometre return track. I saw the spot and even I had to ask Mark, which was the right way. They carried on this longer walk, got badly confused about direction. Their hotel manager was concerned when they did not show up and he called the police. No one had a clue where they were going. A ranger found the car three days later at Trephina Gorge, and two days later searchers found the first body, and the next day, the second body was located. What mistakes did they make? In short, plenty. The only water they each had were those 250ml bottles you get for free on the plane, they walked in 40 degree plus heat, they had no hats and they told no one where they were going. The map they used was a tourist guide to Alice Springs and surrounds and it was was never designed to plan walks as it was not to any sort of scale. There are excellent maps at the visitor centre at Arltunga and online. They died from dehydration after getting lost and confused, making bad decisions from start to finish.
A feature of our trip are the many native birds. When parked on the road, suddenly a flock of iridescent green and yellow budgies darted in the air and landed en masses in a tree’s branches, a red breasted robin with its black jacket flew in to rest on a branch at afternoon tea near Trephina Gorge and Spinifex pigeons walking on river sand at Emily Gap.

After leaving the gorge we drove back to Alice Springs. We arrived at 5:30, wished Mark well and sat down together for a chilled glass of wine. It’s been a terrific day. The beauty of the hills and plains, the rich red and brown colours of the sandstone spines of this country splashed and then dotted by the greens of the gum trees and native grasses, makes watching the passing scenery very addictive. But there is something important you need to know about much of the grass, vast swathes are not native, but a pesky introduced grass as damaging to central Australia as the Cane toad is to northern tropical Australia.

Much of the native grass is gone due the CSIRO releasing buffel grass in the 70s. This South African grass was planted around Alice Springs Airport to reduce the airborne dust that was damaging Ansett’s jet engines. This was the beginning of the boom in tourism and nothing can be allowed to interfere with its profitability. The fine dust is as corrosive to engines as to everything else. The result has been that this grass is displacing native grasses all over central Australia. It grows back quicker after fire than natives, including grasses, palms and saplings, choking them. When it burns, it burns so hot, that native seeds are destroyed rather than being germinated by lower temperatures. And it’s tough and very hard to pull out off the ground, you need a matic to remove the roots. It looks nice enough but it’s replacing the diversity of grasslands and increasingly forests with a single plant. Kangaroos and other marsupials don’t like it and graze elsewhere. Bush tomatos, bush passionfruit, and other plants cannot grow. This means that bush tucker is not available in many parts of central Australia. This worsens the nutrition and damages the hunting culture of Aborigines. Graziers and government are not all that interested in solving this problem as cattle do like it and eat it and it has made grazing more secure a practice and as a business. 

Central australia, Central Australia Work

Alice Springs April 2017 Yuendumu: Water Dreaming

Greetings from Yuendumu. Yuendumu is a 3 and 1/2 hour drive from Alice Springs, a substantial part of that travelling northwest on the Tanami Highway. Much of this road is single lane, bitumen with red gravel on either side. Approaching distant vehicles merge with the silvery illusion of mirage. At one stage when I was travelling on the highway on the way back from Laramba, I pulled over to let what I thought was a truck pass but turned out to be a tree ; It didn’t arrive.
The country on the way to Yuendumu is flat pasture land, with long low sweeping hills. It looks and feels like a landscape in a spaghetti western. I would not have been surprised to see mounted cowboys flying across it on Appaloosas. 
Work has been a bit quiet here which makes both of us restless but the saving grace is as always, we have met some terrific local people. They are a thoroughly friendly bunch , staff and patients both. Of special note is the driver here, his name is Jabison. A softly spoken, bearded and slim Aboriginal man who helps out with driving and at the front desk. This afternoon, Lowana the manager told us that Jabison would like to take us for a drive. We jumped at the chance as we had felt pretty trapped in the house, as walking was impossible due to the noisy, aggressive camp dogs all over the town.

Jabison pulled up at the roadside by our house in a troopie, we clambered in and set off. The road got dusty and sandy, and not far below the surface a bit muddy too. This we discovered as we got bogged crossing Mission Creek. Jennifer and I jumped out, and we all put rocks under the tyres until we could drive out. We pushed first one way then the next, having enormous fun. Then after exiting backwards successfully Jabison drove over again now at full speed and very nearly got across till getting bogged again, a mere two metres from the bank and certain safety. Then the local youth group arrived and one of their party, a bear of a boy, big and friendly called Max recognised Jennifer. They tied on a snap strap ( wrongly) but it did give enough pull to get our troopie out of trouble at last. 

It was then only a short trip to the rocks, I think he called them Juts Juta. They are the place of the water dreaming. The place to make rain. It’s also a terrific place for camping out, the eerie red rock formations creating a magical backdrop. This is where the youth group is going to stay this evening.The rock formations seem to erupt out of the irregular grassland and amongst the scattered trees. A very beautiful sight. We walked a path of our own , nearer and nearer, threading a cautious path between rocks and rare patches of flat ground and all the time looking out for snakes. Every new vantage point offered even more fascinating views. What a great privilege it is for us too see this sacred place. Near this place, under the stars they have corroboree, staying here for a few nights; celebrating this beautiful land and sharing their stories.
Jabison drove us back by an alternate route. This track avoids the creek crossing that provided so much exercise earlier. What a fabulous trip this turned out to be as the troopie dashed along the track, a track overgrown by metre plus high grass. The grass was lit up, almost disembodied in the brilliant light of the setting sun. The rays of light were broad beams of illumination into forest, down hills and across grassland interspersed with early night shadow.. As we drove along, Jabison told us some wonderful stories of this place. This area, a plain ringed by five low hills is full of secret places. We passed the men’s place earlier but here were many more. There is a swamp where the people can swim. This swamp has permanent water and has a great lizard, bigger than a crocodile. This great beast stays under the water as it has done for a very long time. Only one thing will cause if to attack and eat a child or adult in the water or lounging on its grassy banks. This is if someone is talking another language to the local people of Yuendumu. They themselves are always safe unless they speak another language. One day a coloured fella brought a group of children to swim and while they played in the water, he saw something big deep in the water. He warned them all to only speak in their language which was hard for him as he was not fluent in the language. No one came to any harm but he was still worried he would get blamed if some of the children got eaten. By the way, Aboriginals call themselves the people and we are the coloured people.

Further along he told us about Bigfoot, a giant who would eat the people, the grown ups and the children of Yuendumu. Anyone who got last or even went out at night was not safe from him. He lived in a cave still called the Giants Hole and he was so big and so strong, he would move a massive rock to form a door. One day the people had had enough and a warrior called Bint Ji ( I have not got the names quite right so apologies to everyone for this) who with other warriors killed the giant, once and for all freeing the people from him..

Today, if it rains, and rains and night comes, in Papunya which is not far from here, if you go out you will see giants carrying huge burning fire sticks. But you can never tell anyone because they invariably will catch you and eat you. 

By now our track had joined the Halls Creek road, and we crossed Mission Creek at in more gentile style. The sun was setting apace now and the clouds formed huge folds of richly glowing colour. As we pulled up outside our house, we thanked Jabison profusely then walked across the sandy road to take photographs. We had seen Beryl, who is one of the nurses, standing on the road doing just that with her iPhone. We ignored the barking dogs and watched the sunset with its splendid desert colours light up the western sky. Wow! 

Central australia, Central Australia Work, Uncategorized

Alice Springs March 2017 part 3 Laramba

IMG_3187IMG_3184IMG_3222IMG_3217IMG_3216IMG_3213IMG_3206This week we have travelled to different communities. Jennifer has driven up with a medical registrar, Sally to work the week based at Ali Curung. I have returned to one of my favourite haunts of 2016′, the little community of Laramba. I brought a student nurse with me who will be staying 2 weeks to my 5 days.

Today is Tuesday, and beside the young student Loren, there is Helen who I met last year and Natalie who is working a few months before taking up another nursing position at Gove. They are a terrific bunch to work with, more chaotic than some, but are willing to do the work and round up the patients I need to review. Natalie and L drive round the dusty and bitumen streets in the troopie, getting out of the car/truck to wake up people sleeping in the afternoon and most interesting for them, a card game of the ladies where many crisp fifty dollar notes were piled on the red ground between them all. Yes, it’s not just the men who gamble, the ladies do too.
The weather has been truly magnificent, about 30 degrees in the daytime, beautiful sunshine, a gentle breeze and a pleasant 10 degrees overnight. I walk to work, it’s not far but I’m thought of as a bit of an oddity trudging along the sandy road from my accomodation on the edge of town to the clinic nestled between the local primary school and the work for the dole centre. The children are wonderful. As I walk past, they call out Hi, Hi. They all wear a blue collared shirt, and blue shorts and run and tumble in the playground every chance they get. The best lawn in town is at the school and it’s protected from the sunlight by a large steel gazebo. It’s lovely hearing laughter from the school wafting around the clinic, best sound ever.
I have seen some interesting medicine, met interesting people, talked to some inspiring people, sparked a few ideas in my colleagues about how to look at problems and tore strips of a mother who did not have the brains god gave a badger by allowing her child to throw away a plaster put on for a serious fracture. I said to her that obviously your five your old daughter is in charge at home – why else would you not keep specialist appointments or do the right thing by her. If I put a plaster on now, would you let her take it off again. Of course your answer is yes. Parents abnegating their responsibility as adults is feeble laziness and a moral failure in their duty of care for their child. However most Aboriginal parents, especially the mothers, can deliver a tongue lashing if the kids step out of line. Overall kids do have a lot more autonomy, if they don’t want to eat or wash, that’s okay, until they get to school and meet Lucy. Lucy is the no nonsense head teacher and she has definite rules about hygiene and self care which she demands from the children – as a result the kids are happy with such a firm consistent hand, and all the little ones love school. One eight year old, a slim young lad said the thing he enjoyed most at school was spelling, closely followed by reading and writing. His mum was sitting in the chair beside me and volunteered that he already can speak three languages, Matabari, Walpiri and English. He is planning with his Mums support and encouragement, to go to high school in Broome to really study English, and he has his eye on another Aboriginal language too. It is tremendously encouraging to see a child and parent with the talent and wit to work hard at something the child loves doing. I talked about how it’s important to study white man stuff but also study Aboriginal stuff too. It’s not easy, it’s learning two cultures, two ways of thinking but the great advantage is that such a person straddling two worlds will have a huge knowledge and spiritual base to understand their experiences. White people tend to be spiritually and community impoverished, living lonely materialistic lives while Aborigines can live in each other’s pockets and inhabit a rich and real spiritual and magical universe. On the other hand, Aborigines struggle to cope with concepts of disease and the part they can play as individuals to ease the burden upon themselves. The welfare state of the 30s to 70s created expectations that white people will bale them out but I think they are rapidly learning they must be self reliant and stand up for themselves. Recently one community was basically diddled out of government housing money, where tens of millions went to bureaucrats in the NT government and was not used in producing actual buildings. They complained loud and long, good on them.
Most Aborigines are poor, they are cut out of the money making pie by location ( remoteness), education ( minimal general and vocational training opportunities) and for many, a lack of aspiration and for all of them a lack of opportunities. You cannot just fall into a career here like you can do in a major regional centre or big city. However, I am very optimistic about the future because of the children I talk too and hearing what they have to say. Education is definitely improving, the standard of reading and writing and numeracy is vastly better than it was a generation ago and improving yearly. I have spoken to many teachers that assure me this is the case, and all the many enthusiastic young students who tell me they love to learn certainly backs this up. Remoteness will get less with satellite based internet and communications, improved roads and better resources in regional centres – Alice Springs has a university and vocational colleges geared up for serving students from remote communities. How functional they may be open to discussion. There are at least five proper high schools in the central desert. The days where substandard education for Aborigines was assumed is rapidly going with more and more dedicated teachers. The biggest problem us truancy often abetted by the parents, but local engagement and encouragement is helping. Now in Laramba most truancy is connected to family dysfunction, reflecting potentially serious problems in those families.

Aspirations improve with exposure to realistic ideals of success and the ever increasing momentum from many inspirational indigenous role models, then through effort and opportunity, they will become people useful to their communities whether as Aboriginal health professionals, nurses, doctors, dieticians and all the other trades and professions. I had the pleasure of meeting Alice who is newly in charge of the work centre. She agreed that there is not much work offering but if you create it, there are lots of useful things that need doing in the Laramba community. Roads, recreation areas, public facilities can be improved or introduced. She has the wherewithal and connections to get resources from government, a process which is always a morass for the inexperienced. People like her can make an enormous difference to any remote community.
However, whatever the chosen career they should not abandon the magic, love and community of aboriginal culture, they will need that to cope with the modern world and stay Aboriginal in their hearts; indeed, I hope that with time they can share these skills with us all. We city people say community, family, love and faith are important but we don’t walk that way, instead embracing isolation, materialism, selfishness, and a vacancy in place of spiritual yearning. Aboriginal culture can teach us a lot about how to live life better as well as what not to do too. It’s all rather fascinating. The spiritual and magical aspects of all of our lives have been neglected for too long.
I went walking Tuesday night and then this morning, for the hour of sunset and sunrise, along the nearly dry Napperby Creek. It was about 30 meters wide when it was in flood earlier this year following the unusually high rainfall in January and February. It’s now mostly dry, sandy walking. There are a few lingering dark pools, mostly full of madly breeding mosquitos and insects. Yet sometimes they give wonderful reflections of the trees and grasses of the creek bed. The sandy floor of the creek has many undulations formed by the flow of water and eddies produced around islands, trees and shrubs. The ghost gums and river gums look especially beautiful at the extremes of the day, their multicoloured bark highlighted in patches by the oblique golden rays of the setting or rising sun. There are many birds enjoying the shade and water; zebra finches, ring necked parrots, galahs, cockatoos, budgerigars, crested pigeons, and even a wedge tail eagle was perched in a tree above me. It flew off, lumbering into the air with big lazy flaps of its immense wings; it must have been spooked by the sound of me trudging through the sand.
Laramba is a very beautiful place.