Tuesday, May 30th 2017

Walking a hidden treasure The Larapinta Trail in Central Australia

By Tim Easton

In 2016 Tim Easton walked 224km in 15 days of the Larapinta Trail in West MacDonnell Ranges, Central Australia. Tim shared something of this wonderful adventure with us.

This is an extraordinarily ancient section of our planet and in many places the 800 million year old sea floor can be seen rising vertically in great slabs the size of dinner tables. The Arrernte people have lived here for twenty thousand years or more; at least that is the physical evidence, most likely they have lived here for a hundred thousand years or more. These people knew every tree, every bird, every animal and every plant that brought them sustenance and medicine for a sustainable life from one generation to the next. Their Dreamtime gave meaning to their life and the cosmos which they slept under every night and for the winds that blew from the east, west, south and north.

The Arrernte people knew their country in a way we white people can only imagine or in my case a fifteen day trek which found me in rugged and a very beautiful red central desert country that only a month before had rained which meant the wildflowers were in full bloom and I’m talking thousands of them. I must have taken over 500 images of the flowers and the landscape; such is the breadth of this wild desert country. I knew only a few of the plant names and nothing of their chemistry in terms of survival. I am currently trying to identify the plants from a “book” and the help of a very knowledgeable friend; for the Aboriginal people from birth they were learning about their country; every grain of it!

Then there were the obvious birds like the very large and very graceful Wedge Tailed Eagle that soared so close to me on the last day of my trek into Alice Sprigs. It was like this magnificent bird was telling me to return……and of course I have every intention of doing just that! One trip just opens the door to other more specific trips; Mt Giles and the Ormiston Pound; The Alice Valley, Heavitree Range from Counts Point and Gosse Bluff to name a few.

Another Wedge Tailed Eagle flew in very close to me on the edge of “Lost World” in Lamington NP some forty-two years ago when as a thirteen year old boy I sat and waited drifting in and out of shock knowing my sister who had just fallen from a fifty metre cliff most likely dead. To this day I have returned there on a yearly basis, with my father, on my own, with friends and more recently with my adult children; “Lost World” is a spiritual home for me.

I had no intention of breaking any records on this trek; I originally had allowed seventeen days which in several places has many tourists visiting who can drive in on bitumen roads and camp. The water holes are spectacular and the red, orange rock massifs rise fifty to one hundred metres in many places. I saw dingoes, rock wallabies, lots of dead fish from the icy cold water which I would not normally contemplate swimming however I did accidently fall into Hugh Gorge with an eighteen kilogram pack on trying to “boulder” around the water with my hiking boots on; they are clearly not built for rock climbing. My splash into the water was embarrassing to say the least and I could hear the “gods” laughing out loud at my stupidity as I swam – ever so fast – to the shoreline; thankfully my pack buoyed me till I struggled out of the icy grip! Invigorating though, after a big day of walking where the afternoon temperatures can rise to nearly thirty degrees and the nights mostly to zero. I am sure I saw chunks of ice floating in Hugh Gorge as I peddled to the sandy bank; the gods were throwing them in from above!

Walking through the valleys and over 1,300m high peaks, it was easy to imagine a small group of Arrernte men some perched on one leg with their spears, boomerangs and woomera ready for the hunt but wondering who this white man was with his large pack and no real connection with the land at least not in the way these people knew with so many thousands of generations of Dreamtime storytelling and a knowledge of every living thing on their land.

The women and children I could imagine in the wide open sandy river beds searching for roots, yams, legumes and witchetty grubs working together; the young and the old while the men ventured out to hunt wallabies, goanna and snake. I would wave to them hoping they would accept my visitation and somehow forgive me as a descendant of the terrible events that led to the removal of these people from their land just one hundred years ago. I recognise this removal as one of the worst acts of genocide of the oldest culture this planet has known but try telling that to the majority of comfortable white Australians in 2016. They see the Aborigines sitting in the Todd River in Alice Springs slurping back the wine on Centrelink benefits. Fortunately these Todd River camps are declining however it takes real understanding to know what the Aboriginal people have been subjected too in the past two hundred years, clearly under white rule.

I try to use the analogy of an alien species arriving from space, forcefully removing us from our comfortable homes, removing our children, killing those who dissent, forcing an alien religion upon us, feeding us poison flour, rounding us up, shooting us, driving us over cliffs and basically removing our will to live; at least in what we have known for several generations. Most comfortable white Australians usually glaze over at this point; it’s not what they learnt in Primary School text books where the primitive hunter/gatherer looks noble in grass huts and is being “educated” into a “better” life. From the white comfortable perspective these Aboriginal people “should and could..….just get on with assimilation”! I wish it was that easy especially when they have so much to teach us!

What these Primary School images don’t show is the depth of Aboriginal culture and I stand to be corrected that these people are the oldest culture on the planet and…. PERHAPS…and just perhaps we can learn from that knowledge in terms of our own survival. James Lovelock, an English scientist and academic who developed the Gaia theory knows our Earth would go on very happily if not for one thing: Homo sapiens; all 6.5 billion of us! But of course that would exclude the Aboriginal people of Australia, the North American Indians and many other traditional peoples of this Earth. These cultures didn’t impact on the Earth like the other 6.4999 billion of us that currently inhabit the planet. I am very concerned about this and wonder if in fact we do need major changes to the way most of us currently live?

I do think much healing meditation is a good way forward. I know for myself the healing journey of being part of a men’s movement here in south-east Queensland and finding the framework to unpack generations of Anglo Saxon “challenges” as opposed to Anglo Saxon “culture” has most certainly been healthy for me and if there is one thing I am dedicated to for the next twenty years or whenever it is my turn to “kick the bucket”; it is finding the way forward as one people on one planet with limited resources; the most essential of these being clean air, clean water and healthy food….sustainable shelter next; everything after that is questionable!

I trust you have enjoyed some of my thoughts from this recent adventure in some of the most beautiful country on this Earth….please remember the 800 million year old sea floor that can be seen rising vertically from the Earths’ crust. I meant to also say of the fifteen days I spent out there most nights I slept under the stars; there was only a sickle moon so the universe was above me in full bloom so to speak. For the Aboriginal people it was the Dreamtime stories; for us with all our technology we know a little bit about this universe; for me those nights where I drifted in and out of sleep were nothing less than majestic; the meteorites blazing across the sky entering and exiting our stratosphere just reminds me how small and how precious our green blue planet is…..or is that……“was”? God forbid! Go if you can but leave behind the bitumen, the talk, the mobile phone and listen to your own heartbeat. The Earth will hear you.