Weird things and surprises constantly occur in my life — I have often found that I know less about others than I realise and other people seem to know about me than I realise.
How does this happen? Is it because I simply jump in and talk to anyone? I have no idea.
This is a story about the synchronicity of flying to distant places with an odd story about the “THE HOUSE OF BOOKS”.
Once I was waiting in the departure lounge of the Bangkok airport for a flight to London. I noticed a man I recognised from the streets of Fremantle also waiting for the same flight.
I would often see this man his wife and children walking together around Fremantle. When ever I saw them I imagined that he was a kind supportive partner and father.
The plane was a jumbo with hundreds of seats and as life would have it — he ended up being allocated a seat next to me.
The flight was 12 hours so during that time I was able to get to know this man fairly well — particularly as he seemed extremely happy to talk about himself.
I learned that my imagination was wrong and that this man was unkind and abusive. He said things about his wife that made my thick straight hair curl.
He told me that he was leaving his wife and I could only think how lucky she and the children were to get away from him. What a lesson about my imagination!
On another flight which was to Indonesia from somewhere I was seated in the middle row of five seats.
In the first four seats were my daughter, then me, an Asian man and a blond Australian surfie who was in his 30’s. I have no idea who sat in the fifth seat.
The Asian man sat there with his coke bottle glasses, his quiet demeanour, his beautiful jet black hair that was completely in place. He was quiet and tried to keep a low profile.
The Australian Surfie had wild blond hair bleached by the sun and rarely done! It was quintessentially “surf hair”. He was happily drinking beer. He would call the air hostess as soon as one can was finished to get another one. Can after can went down the hatch.
As he drank he became happier, louder and friendlier so eventually he started trying to talk to the Asian guy.
The Asian guy was extremely shy and he kept looking away from the surfie. In doing that; he would turn towards me and then feel even more awkward. Finally he tried to not look either way and simply tried to make himself shrink back into his seat. Surrounded by Australians seemed simply too uncomfortable.
The surfie guy was oblivious to his affect on the Asian guy so he kept drinking and getting more or more “friendly.”
Finally I decided to join in—who can resist such an awkward situation?
I started quietly by asking Surfie about himself. He told me that he was a professional surfing promoter and was going surfing with his clients in the back blocks of Indonesia.
He garrulously talked about the terrible lives and conditions in the villages in that part of Indonesia.
He spoke of the health problems and about an Australian Surf Charity that he belonged to that was helping these people. Immunisations, medicines and all sorts of practical help was flowing from that charity to the people who owned the beautiful surf beaches. Rahdah, rahdah … on and on he went.
The Asian guy stopped shrinking back and started to look relieved and then finally became interested. With my chatting and the Asian guy joining in the Surfie relaxed and he proved to be a kind and good-hearted bloke who was simply a loud, chatty, friendly drunk.
Finally the Surfie started talking to me and the conversation went like this —
Surfie: “Where do you live?”
Me: “In Fremantle”
Surfie: “Where in Fremantle?”
Me: “Solomon Street.”
Surfie: “Oh, I know you. You live in the house that is raised up from the road with a view. You have a the limestone wall at the front and you go up the stairs to the front door.”
Surfie (oblivious to my response)
“I call your house — the house of books— Your house has books stacked everywhere… You had so many books about all subjects it was the most interesting house ever. You have so many books — yes the house of books.
I was feeling rather strange at this stage, as he was thoroughly correct about all of this.
Me: How do you know my house?
Surfie: “I went out with Libby who lived across the road from you. She was a really great person and I still think the world of her.”
Well, Libby she was the daughter of the people who lived across the road from me and she was also a surfer.
Surfie: “When you went away once you had her looking after your house and dogs so we stayed there together.
The very first man I dated at nineteen reappeared in my life thirty seven years after our split. I had forgotten why our relationship had ended.
During those thirty-seven years if someone had asked me about the most influential relationships I had in my life I would have missed that relationship out completely.
Not because I did it consciously, I had simply relegated the experience to the most distant recesses of my mind and only the basics of it were available for recall.
My first-ever long-term relationship… That lasted a whole year… My first love… Not an important influence?
Now that was an interesting psychological phenomenon to observe in myself.
I will explain…
In seventies and eighties the thing to do on a Sunday was to go to the “Sesh.” The Sunday session was a few of hours of binge drinking that occurred because of the liquor licensing laws.
It was probably the catalyst for our binge drinking culture — the government of the time had special religious laws that trained us to binge drink.
My sister and I started the habit of going to Steve’s “Sesh” in Nedlands when I was about fifteen or sixteen years old and we kept it up until I was eighteen and once I was of legal age I felt that it was optional.
Steve’s was popular and packed and there were always people spilling out the doors. I didn’t have any money at the time so drinking wasn’t an choice, I would order a glass of water and it would arrive with ice and I would sip it as though it was straight vodka.
I was at boarding school at the time, and every second week-end my parents would sign me out so I could stay with my grandmother in Nedlands.
It was wonderful staying with her as she really cared for me in a way that my mother couldn’t so I revelled in her attention.
At the “Sesh” if a man asked me if I wanted a drink I would order a Pim’s because it was pretty and I liked the umbrella — I actually didn’t much like alcohol and didn’t really drink much of it until my mid 20’s.
On the Sunday’s that I was with my Nanna, I would hang out at the “Sesh” for the few hours allowed and then go back to Nannas, don my school uniform complete with tie, hat and lace up shoes. I would take the taxi back to the “gaol like” boarding school by 8pm.
I had no idea what Nanna thought we were doing. Maybe she thought that we were just going for a walk?
Times were much freer then and most adults were not the control freaks that many parents are now.
I left boarding school and continued with the Sunday “Sesh” with friends when there was nothing better to do.
We would trawl around to different places. One of the places was Chelsea Tavern also in Nedlands but on the highway. We would walk in and it would be so crowded that we women would get fondled and pinched and not know who did it as there were too many close men to choose from.
I always found these places noisy, confusing and as I didn’t often drink — outright stupid. I remember men with reddened, beaded sweaty faces and slurred words coming much too close to me and blasting me with alcoholic breath while asking me out.
I don’t really know why I went. Peer pressure I am guessing — it just seemed to be the thing that was done on a Sunday afternoon.
After a couple of weeks going to Chelsea Tavern I got to know a guy who I will call Sam. He was English and had not been in Australia for long. Sam had the strongest accent, and to my unschooled Australian ears it sound as though he was from Northern England — Manchester or somewhere like that. I thought that he was from the back blocks of nowhere.
Little did I know that he was from London and had a life of endless opportunity and due to rheumatic fever conversely had experienced such pain that he would spend his life trying to prove that he was good enough by being spectacular.
He was quiet and thoughtful and didn’t seem to get drunk, sweaty and garrulously — stick his face in my space — annoying.
I was a student and was still skint so I am guessing he bought me a Pims or two. After some time we got to go out together.
We went out for about a year but it was a strange relationship because he spent all weekend playing soccer.
I am not a spectator so when he invited me to “watch my man play sport” I declined as I had assignments and study to do. I could see no point in sitting in the cold being bored to death. It would have been like putting my life on hold to “please” my man — while I wasted my life. That was not going to happen therefore we caught up during the week and I would be home by midnight.
Sort of a Cinderella thing, I had my life to lead as he did and we both accepted that fact.
Apparently he was well known in the soccer world but I was oblivious to that fact. He had played a few games for Chelsea and then played in Johannesburg before coming to Australia under a very good contract. I knew nothing about soccer so this didn’t impress me.
Although he had only been in Australia a short time he owned a house and had started a business. Again I knew nothing about buying houses and business so didn’t give those facts a thought.
OK — lets get things straight here. I was nineteen years old and at that age many people are not interested in that sort of stuff, and I wasn’t. I was on my own life path where I had decided that these sorts of things were going to be done by me and I was not interested in the success or lack of it in the man I was dating.
Another fact was that he was eleven years older than me. “What the?” was I not thinking. “What the?” was he doing?
When I was older and told my friends about him they called him the “Cradle snatcher.”
Anyway, that is the way it was…
Sam had a younger brother who was addicted to heroin and at times he would come and stay at the house. This brother was extremely good looking — at the time — however — just having him in the same room as me gave me the creeps. He would proposition me the minute Sam was out of the room — it was skin crawling stuff.
I tried to speak to Sam about this but he was dismissive.
What is it about alpha males? Do they have a specific neuropathy of the eight cranial nerve — auditory/vestibulo-cochlear? Or is it a fact of life that most men simply don’t listen to women?
He had a life full of work, business deals, soccer training, games and deals on the side and he mainly focused on that.
Over the year I came to understand that he was just not really interested in putting time let alone care and kindness into creating a healthy relationship with me, so I moved on.
My heart was bereft. In order to deal with it I blocked him out of my mind — I hit the delete key and that was that.
I remember him being really upset by our relationship demise. This is the polar opposite of the previous behaviours of ” I don’t give a toss” that he had been doing before the split.
It appeared to me that he only gave me true attention once I had let him go. How many songs of that time sing about that situation? Whole albums of both male and female singers.
For some time afterwards my doorstep would have gifts from him.
First a dozen red roses in a beautiful white box with a red ribbon — my reaction to that was “Why didn’t he bother to do that when were together?”
Then he started to leave records. First Carole King — Tapestry — with a note to listen to track four — “Home again.”
Luckily at the time I simply put the record away and didn’t notice the irony of Track three — what I felt — preceding how he felt or I could have got him to listen to Track three “It’s too Late.”
I purposely didn’t listen to the words of Home Again and didn’t until decades later. I just didn’t want to revisit a relationship with him — that level of painful confusion was not an option.
Over time he became more introspective so left Carly Simon and then the Moody Blues records— again I didn’t listen to the tracks that he asked.
Once I had hit that exquisitely painful delete key I just couldn’t.
From about that time onwards I had a “gluey” disc at L5/S1 and it would regularly get stiff.
I would always do the right thing being the “a good Physiotherapist.” It didn’t give me major issues apart from feeling stiff on and off. It did sometimes annoy me that it would come back but it was never severe enough to actually seriously treat because it would release with a few stretches. I didn’t give it much thought.
Over the years I occasionally saw Sam and each time he tried to engage me. I was always polite but I had him filed away as “not good for me” so I kept him at arms length so that he had no way in.
Fast-forward thirty-seven years.
When I was fifty-six Sam contacted me again and asked me for coffee.
At this age I was unphased by the behaviour of others. Time had cured me of the vast majority of my insecurities. I felt up to whatever arose in life. Therefore, I curious about us as I realised that I had forgotten or blocked most of the details of that relationship.
I was not sure that was a good thing.
This left me feeling interested as to why I couldn’t remember what had happened and open to meeting up with him.
I felt that it would be “character building” for me to open that Pandora’s box of suppressed emotions, so I decided to follow that idea. We started dating again or as I can see it now. I consciously put myself into “past-life-therapy”.
It was a strange feeling to date Sam, as I would slip in and out of current time.
One moment I would feel like that nineteen year old who was enamored with him and at other times I would see him from my calm older eyes, only to be flipped back into the past and feel all confused and bothered again.
It was exquisite fun!
At times I would simply say to him “I’m back at nineteen you’re not going to get any sense out of me now, I will answer that later” Sam would look confused by that answer but I was telling the truth.
It was bliss to be back in his arms as it was familiar and felt “right.” I think the physical attraction was probably the main reason I was with him at that young age. He was actually a good choice as he had been a very gentle, interesting and kind lover. Just what an inexperienced nineteen year-old would require when you come to think of it.
He thought that it would be a good idea for us to travel together for a week to see how we would get on in present time. It proved to be an amazing week for me. Familiar and easy would be the feelings I would give our time together.
Each day another memory would return and I would be whipped back into the past to face another situation that I had buried.
It was like having a daily Kinesiology or Psychology session without the Therapist.
A gentle unfolding of feelings and memories, so as the time went along I realised why I left him in the first place and it was a solid reason that would have to be sorted if we were to keep dating.
In current time I teach a course on relationships and this is one of the quotes by Tolstoy that I use in the course.
All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Happy families require all of the functional behaviours and if one or more is missing then you can’t have a long term healthy, happy family.
This maxim is true for relationships and businesses. I have stolen that quote and rewritten it.
All happy relationships resemble one another, each unhappy relationship is unhappy in its own way.
Wendy Schulze (apologies to Leo Tolstoy)
This is the reason why I chose to move on from Sam — he didn’t have a few basic relationship skills.
We discussed this and Sam was most happy to talk however, his actions remained the same. This is exactly what had happened thirty seven years before and that gave me a clear choice.
It was like a “not so instant replay” thirty-seven years later.
This time I left him knowing that he was not meaning to be hurtful or unkind. He simply didn’t have primary relationship skills and didn’t seem interested in learning them.
He had explained to me that his relationships during those thirty-seven years had not been very happy. They had been filled with bitter recriminations and all that sort of stuff that doesn’t really interest me — these unhappy relationships were still affecting him in current time.
After we stopped dating I was struck down by severe back pain. I couldn’t sleep at night due to the pain. Worse, treatment didn’t help. This is because I was stretching it as I would normally do. I hadn’t realised that this time it was a different situation for those joints.
After a couple of weeks of not sleeping I understood that the pain was mainly inflammation — not my usual stiffness— and once I started to give myself Physiotherapy treatment for inflammation it quickly settled and I have not had a stiff back since.
It was like I had been holding that tightness and pain in that triad of joints for all those years. Once I reclaimed and resolved those feelings it just let go, and when it started to move after thirty-seven years it protested with inflammation.
This is what Applied Kinesiology is based on. Emotions creating stiffness, pain or illness. I was a living example of resolved emotions resolving physical ailments.
For the last thirty-seven years I would need to stretch my back at least once every few weeks particularly after long flights or times in the car. It is now over a year and I have not had any stiffness in that area despite long times travelling and sitting — it is like a miracle.
I am so grateful towards my nineteen-year-old self who was so enamored and at the same time worked out that that relationship was not good for her.
To love someone and walk away is a very difficult and brave thing to do, that young hurt girl must have been very strong.
Sam and I are now friends and we catch up from time to time.
Ed and I first visited Lasseter’s cave on our way to “The Alice”.
We were driving from Tjkurla to Uluaru and stopped on a track that branched off the gun barrel highway by the Hull Rriver and took the short walk to the small cave. Upon entering the cave I felt that Lasseter’s pain was just a blip in the caves living memory, it had more to tell of wind, animals birthing and sheltering, bugs buzzing and the dry heat of summer. The cave felt wild and untamed.
Lasseter’s cave is a small indent by the side of the Hull River which is a remote watercourse in the middle of what some people would call “nowhere”.
Visiting Lasseter’s cave was a break from driving and Ed and I spent some time wandering around the cave and river bed before getting back into the Toyota and moving on to the next tea break or camping spot before we actually arrived at Kata Tjuta.
Lasseter was born in Victoria in 1880 and had an atypical life with many varied unrelated professions, yet he is remembered as an explorer which appears on further investigation to be the least of his abilities!
Lasseter has many names, he was born Lewis he then adopted two middle names – Harold Bell, and later called himself Harry. I am going to call him Lasseter the one constant name that he kept.
Initially Lasseter joined the Navy, and after he left he went to the USA, and married an American. He then came back to Australia and was a bit of an inventor patenting a suspension bridge over Sydney Harbour, a disc plough and the treatment for the storage of wheat.
At different times he was a market gardener, a farmer, journalist, and he explored other varied endeavours. He had a second marriage and some problems with money. At that time he advertised that he had discovered a reef of gold that he vaguely located at the edge of the Mac Donnall ranges.
At the time his claims were not taken very seriously as his character was described by people who knew his as “a man of jumbled moods ‘ or lacking ‘a credible story about anything in all his reminiscences’.
Another said that he was ‘a man of most eccentric nature’.
An old friend wrote that ‘he was more or less of a crank, very aggressive, very self-opinionated and full of large, hopeful visions’.
Despite all of this he is now in the annuls of Australian history with a cave named after him and his story became the legend of Lasseters Reef. It is a quirky story that has obsessed numerous urban four-wheel-drivers yet the golden reef has remained elusive.
It appears from “reading between the lines” Lasseter conned some people to finance an expedition to find the reef. His partner Fred Blakeley who was travelling with him eventually came to the conclusion that Lasseter was lying and had never been to that part of the desert before so after a quarrel, Fred left him with Paul Johns with some camels.
Paul then came to the same conclusion as Fred and left Lasseter with a couple of camels.
Lasseter then had to get back to civilisation on his own.
Perhaps he was not very good with camels because the camels bolted and he was left alone. Lasseter finally came to live in a small cave by the side of the Hull river bed in the middle of the desert.
Greed is a great motivator, it can become so much of a drive that it can blind the senses and become the source of great pain and even death.
Unfortunately for Lasseter this was his fate in the summer of 1931. Firstly he waited by the beautiful Hull River that had running water at the time. It is possible that Lasseter may have pondered the question of materialism versus having a life when sitting in the cave waiting for his death however we will never know how he felt or what he thought about that.
He lived in this cave for either 25 days or sixteen weeks depending upon the source of information however, even to live in this cave for a week, listening to the silence and the wind I imagine would be either a spiritual enlightenment or the worse pain that the mind could endure.
In his diary we find that Lasseter was blinded and had malnutrition thus getting weaker and weaker. He was helped by the local Aboriginal people of the time.
It was easy to imaging these people knowing this land as we know our urban landscapes the trees taking the place of sign-posts the rocks the place of buildings and the plants and animals the supermarkets that we now frequent. They helped him as much as they could, however from his diary it appears that his attitude was no different with them than it was with white people and he was difficult, suspicious and ungrateful for their help.
Eventually Lasseter decided to walk to the Olgas with a small amount of water and made just 55 kilometres before dying.
Lasseters cave is only a very small place, about the size of a three or four person tent it is not a spacious living arrangement. It is situated in a rock formation on the edge of a beautiful sandy riverbed where the gum trees grow randomly all over the middle, and edges with roots fanning out upriver and the trunks leaning just a little away down river. There is the debris of the last flow wrapped around their upriver sides. The clean yellow sand had ripples in it from the wind that can be imagined to be water if you squint your eyes and pretend that yellow is blue. The cave is the sort of place that I imagine dingos would shelter during a rainstorm or when they had puppies.
From this cave in the distance the Olgas (Kata Tjuta) can be seen, it must have been agonising for Lasseter to be able to see his destination only to realise that between him and the chance of life were over 100 miles of scorching desert. When he finally made his dash for the Western World it was too late and he died. His body and diary were found by a bushie called Bob Buck. There were no records about the reef in his diary.
Just that year a car load of indigenous people had been stranded on this road because of a break down and some children had died before they had been rescued. They too did not make it to Kata Tjuta and like Lasseter found their end between the cave and more water.
We did the traveller tourist thing in these iconic Aussie places and then had the long drive back to Perth back along the same road.
On our way back we decided to camp the night next to a large windmill very close bye to Lasster’s cave.
It was a windy dark evening when we arrived and we drove up a small two-furrowed track to the windmill. Through the darkness straight ahead from the windmill we could see a light, we watched it as we drove up the track for about 3 minutes, discussing what it could be.
It looked like a light from a small caravan window. It was square and a yellowish colour, a dull sort of light as though from a 12-volt battery. It had none of the flicker of a fire or a hurricane lamp. The road went to the left past the windmill and we followed the road all the while discussing what the light could be. We both felt a bit uneasy for we had been sleeping in the desert under the stars without the presence of other humans and we just enjoyed it that way.
We went about 50 meters along the left track to give the “caravan light people” (and ourselves) some privacy. This place was so remote and the night a little late so we camped in the middle of the track for the bush at each side was too dense.
Both Ed & I are bushies comfortable in swags under the stars and awakening to the wind in the trees and the harsh hot light of morning and the dust in our eyes.
That night we made our camp and decided to explore, for in the desert all sorts of strange people are around. The vast majority are kind and rough yet safe. There were others who are in the desert because they have something that they are ashamed of, something to run away from and these people are not always safe.
We felt that it was important to just have a wander by and check them out before we got into our swags.
We walked down the road to the windmill to get our bearings; the light wasn’t on but this didn’t worry us for we knew that the light had been straight ahead before we turned left at the windmill.
Undeterred we walked in the direction that we had seen the light, but found no road and no tracks and we wandered around in the bush for some time. There was a half moon and we could see but there was nothing that we could find. We decided that we had missed them because it was hard to see things at night we decided to check it out in the morning.
I slept fitfully that night; the wind was restless, keeping me from falling in to a deep sleep filled with the dreams of enlightenment.
Instead I had the dreams of the fearful, with one ear open and the other asleep only to change ears periodically so that the other half of my brain could get a rest.
In the morning we both awoke as usual Ed much later than I.
The wind was still with us teasing us with her puffs of dust and yet we were grateful that she kept the flies at bay.
Ed normally sleeps very late, even in the desert, yet this morning he awoke much earlier. We brewed our cuppa and after that we wandered back to explore our light, we were confident that we would find our “caravan”.
Shock was my experience for we looked and there was no road straight on from the windmill.
Wherever we looked we couldn’t find any car tracks let alone a source for the light. There was just bush no roads, no tracks except for ours on the way in, there was nothing but the bush. We walked into the bush a few kilometres but there was just more and more of the same scrubby heating up bush filled with flies and the dust of a new day.
To this day I haven’t solved the mystery of the light at Lasseters cave.
Mary Lou was an American from Montana she was a juxtaposition of a person, highly educated and competent at her work as a lecturer of Special Education.
At the same time she had the emotional life of an unruly teenager. Her latest foray into the land of marriage was with an alcoholic; this was a short-lived affair that had just finished. Her freshly departed husband had appropriated a good sum of her retirement savings when the marriage finished.
She was newly retired, I guess she must have thought that marriage would keep her off the streets, and when this didn’t happen she had what I thought was a creative solution to her situation. She applied to go to an aboriginal community to teach. This seemed to kill three birds with the one stone. She would be away from her needy, demanding, alcoholic ex-mate; she would top up her retirement fund and also test the techniques that she had been teaching the teachers for all those years. The position was secured and she had a contract to be the primary school teacher for one year at Tjkurla a remote community north of Giles on the Western Australian/Northern Territory borders.
Mary Lou was the mother of Ed my current partner. Ed and I had a tempestuous relationship, I reminded him of what he imagined was his mothers negative qualities a headstrong and wilful career woman.
He in turn reminded me of the worst qualities of my father with a combination of patriarchal beliefs mixed with a very healthy dose of anger. We were soul mates!
When I heard that his mother was being posted to Tjkurla I was delighted and organised for us both to go for a visit. I didn’t kid myself that the visit was to see Mary-Lou for at the time we were too alike to even begin to like each other. I wanted to experience a remote community, and spend time in my souls place – the desert. We hired a four-wheel drive tray Toyota and took off down the Great Northern Highway towards the desert with the dog – named “Ruger” – on the back. Yes, the dog had the name of a GUN, such is the importance of guns to that American culture.
Driving into the desert is a gradual experience, first the suburbs melting away until the house blocks get larger and larger as they become mini farms, with horses and huge vegetable and fruit gardens. Finally we get to the wheat and sheep farmland, with few houses just fields of dry grey grass and the colourful gum trees flowering by the side of the road.
Within four hours we had made it to Wubin a small town perched on the side of the desert, it has a general store, a post office two-road houses and the pub. There is a scattering of houses in the town and at the edge is a small primary school. This town is just this side of the rabbit proof fence and the next town on the Great Northern is 98 miles away. It is called Payne’s Find. I was raised in Wubin a quiet place where children are still free to roam on their own around the bush and town. This town was the last bit of civilization near a railway line from now until Alice Springs which was a weeks drive away through the centre of Australia.
Payne’s Find is not really a town, it is a petrol stop. There is a galvanised iron “pub” with a petrol pump and very little else. Occasionally through the years the gold battery opens and works or a new mine is opened and things happen. The desert constantly reclaims this land as soon as the activity stops again and the hope of prosperity fades yet again…
About 20 minutes driving out of Wubin the desert country starts. The soil initially changes from yellow sand plain where the plants are shrubbier. In the spring the flowers are like a garden from heaven, all the colours that could be imagined peaking from every surface. High above in the trees the flowers of Snuggle Pot and Cuddle Pie, in white yellow pink and scarlet red. The next stage down are Bottle brushes or Gravillias from pale cream, yellow, orange and through to a pillar box red, the small bushes have the verdacordias, fluffy flowers of cream, lolly pink, and the orange yellow of traffic lights. The Triptomines were tiny flowers the size of a pinhead and they vary in colour from white through to a crimson. Finally the ground is covered in wreaths of yellow and red.
Ed has little regard for this aspect of the trip, so we hurry on, stop for tea & meal breaks and when it is nightfall we camp, we do this for a couple of sleeps until we reach Laverton.
At Laverton the “serious desert” begins. The desert of the Aboriginal Territories, we “non indigenous” are only allowed there with their written permission. We have the permission to visit Mary-Lou and keep this document in the glove box of the Toyota. There is a feeling for me of crossing over to a different country one more vastly different and strange than a trip half way around the world to Europe.
This is a part of our country where the indigenous culture has more opportunity to live on their country. However, there is no such thing as Aboriginal culture as a mainstream, there are many different aboriginal cultures, beliefs and languages. Australia originally was a bit like Europe each part of the land another language and culture.
The desert is where traditional cultures can clash and the same time each culture is melding with the mainstream Australian culture through the government, food, schools, TV, radio and transport.
Some of it gets integrated and some becomes so bizarre that only viewing the results can make it seem real. Welcome to the outback of Australia!
The Gun Barrel Highway has two routes, one that starts at Carnegie station and the other that starts at Laverton; they both go through to Warburton. The Carnegie station route is an ungraded and unkempt track; this is not the route that we take this time. We take the large graded ochre red road from Laverton.
Driving in the desert has a surreal quality for scattered by the road at miniscule distances were the bladders of empty wine casks, all aluminium, space age and shining in the sun. They have been lobbed in to trees and have blown into the distance. To compliment this scene are the various wreckages of vehicles, from the rusted skeleton of ancient jalopies through to the more recent models of station wagons, and sedans. In places there were more than one wreck per kilometre. As we drive the wine cask bladders get less and less but the vehicle bodies remain the same, a material reminder of the millions of people who have travelled this road. As Ed and I travel our chatter and arguing get less and less and we sit quietly in our uncomfortable seats, sweating and just becoming numb to the environment. Zooming along in the desert in a tin box gives it a perspective that makes it seems boring, hot, and still with mile after mile of junk, hour after hour of the sameness.
At our tea stops we get a different perception, there is movement everywhere from the wind playing with the thin dry leaves that make the sound of finger tips rubbing over dry paper.
Then there are the multitudinous insects, clicking, buzzing and swishing, the eddying of the air picking up the dust and puffing it around. Then there is the feeling of the stinging suns rays on my skin as I move around, first they are burning the back on my neck and legs and then as I move around they sting my inner arm and face. The fire starts to spit & crackle with the water in the billy boiling, and of course there are the flies.
Finally we found the Tjkurla turn off and turned left after hundreds of miles of going straight, I felt elated by this simple turn.
The track to Tjkurla was recently graded and not far up the track was a newly abandoned car. It was a Holden station wagon; it still had bits of rope and other odds and ends in it. I it was so recently abandoned that I could feel the energies of the people who had let it be reclaimed by the land or maybe left it there while they thought of another way of getting it back to camp? It was parked on the road just to the left of middle. We stopped for a look, after all this was a bit of variety after the endless bush.
Driving on we finally made it to the actual community of Tjkurla; first the rubbish tip, and then the plastic bags blowing through the bush herald the community. In the distance we can see a huddle of container looking transportable houses. We find the school and thus Mary Lou’s place.
She has one of those crate houses that dot Australia where housing is expensive because of the distances.
It is like a shipping container with windows and a door. There is no veranda or even overhanging gutters, so the house walls are exposed to the elements from all directions. The school has a high fence around with plastic bags caught in the mesh, elsewhere the rubbish is blowing gently in the wind, stuck in the trees and lying on the ground.
The children of the community have hair that is bleached blond at the ends and are friendly, scruffy and have snotty noses and flies at the corners of their eyes and mouths.
They have all the sweetness of any child and give us gifts of empty plastic cool drink bottles with flowers in them and happily pose for photographs.
In the front of the teacher’s house is a humpy made from bits of metal sheeting and tarpaulins it appeared to be someone’s home. Dogs were roaming and my general impression of the place was that it held a placid sleepy energy.
The day after our arrival things were different, there was movement in the camp with cars roaring around, doors slamming and horns blaring. We were told that men’s business was afoot. It appeared to us that all of the community cars were in use and each was stuffed full of men. They had already taken the women and children out to the rubbish tip away from them and they were now getting ready for the business.
The cars need a paragraph of their own for each is such a unique example of mechanical engineering and a statement about the wonderful ingenuity of the owners. It appeared as though each car was individually customised for the desert conditions. Some had a door missing and others didn’t have any doors at all. Others were missing the boot and/or engine covers, giving the car a through flow air conditioning system. Bits of fencing wire could be seen holding the body together or a door on. The really customised ones had the roof smashed in from a roll over and then remodelled upwards again, leaving the rust red creases of the original damage. These new features made driving much more exciting.
We saw a car filled with at least eight men go roaring up the track and take a sharp turn. The drivers door and a couple of other doors were missing, so on the turn the driver fell out on to the track, he had to chase the car a little and jump back in to drive again.
After a morning of cars roaring around peace settled back on the settlement, the men were bush and the women and children wandered back home.
The supermarket in the settlement was a corrugated iron shed, or should I say “goods prison.”
The articles for sale were imprisoned in this ugly concrete and iron structure with bars, gates, dead locks and padlocks. It was open during the day and locked up at night. There was the usual stuff that humans the world over think that they need, Coke, sugar, lollies and sundry stuff to waste money on that don’t in any way contribute to your health or happiness. There was also a freezer for meat that included kangaroo tails with the hair still attached. I bought one and cooked it for dinner for my American hostess as I felt that it was my duty to introduce my American hostess to the wonders of kangaroo tail soup – an infrequent dish from my childhood.
While I was at the shop there was a regal full blood woman in a loose floral dress with her newly killed meat for dinner balanced on her head. She was browsing the freezer and shelves moving around the shop as though this was the most normal thing in the world to have a dead feral cat on ones head.
Mary Lou decided to take us to the local swimming hole, it was back to the main road where a small track comes off at an angle so is difficult to see when just driving past. This is the entrance to a water hole that is nestled in a range of hills. At the end of the track is an area for parking cars and just past is a small dried watercourse.
We walked up the watercourse and found a bit of a cliff that must be a waterfall during the rains. We climbed up the cliff and walked further upstream on the dried river bed. The start of this stream seemed to appear from out of a large cathedral type of cave, and as we ventured into the cave we saw that the bottom of the cave was a huge natural water reservoir, neither a small lake nor a large pond something altogether foreign to an urban dweller. It was an enormous crystal clear pristine desert water source. The roof of the cave swept upwards it seemed three or more stories high, the water was surrounded by the steep walls of the cave, there was a small opening that allowed the morning sun to penetrate and allowed us to go in. At the back of the cave there were markings and a dampness that showed that there was a waterfall that must have streamed down during a rain. Ed and I climbed up the waterfall until we were unable to go further due to the slippery mossy rocks.
After a swim we left Mary Lou and the dog and we both climbed to the top of the hills, it was hot and we were in bathers. I looked a sight in bathers and a fly net contraption on my head. The fly contraption was some army coloured mosquito netting made in to a tube shape that was covered on the top. It had elastic that came around my neck and the idea was to stop the flies getting in to my eyes and mouth. It was very effective however not the sort of thing I would wear in Paris.
We climbed to the top of the cave were we had been swimming and found the opening for the waterfall, further upstream the water had carved a watercourse in the rocks, that had the occasional deep hole that still held some water, we followed this upwards wanting to find the start of the stream.
Finally hot and thirsty we came to a deep pit in the rocks and way down in the shade was another large reservoir.
This was covered in spider’s webs and had an air of foreboding.
I couldn’t work out how the spiders webs were not broken by animals and birds as they came to drink the water.
Something about the place made the skin at the back of my neck prickle, and it didn’t matter that I was thirsty and hot. Nothing on this earth could have made me go down to that water. It spooked us both and we didn’t say a word and retraced our steps back to the happy swimming cave.
After some days with Mary Lu we then travelled on to Ularoo, however, that is another story.