The Outback, Australia
I visited the red earth of Australia’s heart. This added something almost mystical to my visit to this continent and massive country. I felt the spinifex and waved the flies from my face and saw the heat rising in a haze from the asphalt. I listened to the deafening silence interrupted only by the call of a wedge-tipped eagle soaring overhead, and I tasted the red earth that parched my thirst. To sense these things was secondary, as the primary feeling was one that realised, in such a small sense, how ancient this land is. Man survived and had conquered the conditions. Man didn’t just survive, the ancestral indigenous population thrived understanding the fierceness of the natural world in which they lived and found home. For this they have my utmost respect. I often thought on my journey through the centre of Australia that if for some reason I had to leave the road and safety of the car that I would be dead within a day. I was reminded of ancient man’s connection to the earth, but realised that I was now separated from it.
My husband and I completed a drive from Adelaide, in South Australia, to Townsville high up on the eastern coast of this massive country. We visited many places on the way, including Devil’s Marbles in the Northern Territory. In total, it was a journey of over 3,200km through scorching conditions on searing hot roads in a 1980 Toyota Hiace camper van. Looking back on our Australian trip, the drive and destinations in the outback hold memories full of adventure and feelings of awe and trepidation. To drive through the massive emptiness and to see the landscape remain unchanged for hours in our windscreen and rear view mirror brought home the mammoth task that was our journey. To finally hit civilisation again brought a sense of the explorer returning home after scouting in new territory. But the territory is well-travelled by roadtrains and travellers alike.
We were well-prepared and followed shrewd advice from fellow travellers and Australian friends; we never drove at night, we stopped and filled up at every petrol station, we did not venture off the main road and we carried with us spare petrol and water – water for us and our van. The route is well-travelled and the camaraderie of fellow drivers who wave and offer knowing smiles brings a small sense of company in what is an epic journey. But we were still very much on our own surrounded by an awe-inspiring, gigantically empty place.
The Devil’s Marbles spring out of nowhere, as do most places in the red centre. 393km north of Alice Springs the Devil’s Marbles are not somewhere to which you just ‘pop.’ But the journey was rewarded with the grandeur and enigma of the place.
The Devil’s Marbles are gigantic stones and boulders scattered around 1,828 hectares in the Devil’s Marbles Conservation Reserve, ten kilometres from the rural service centre of Wauchope. The Marbles formed from a solid mass of granite in the earth’s crust over 1.64 billion years ago. As molten magma cooled and hardened to form the granite, the solid mass shrank, cracked and split the granite body into a series of blocks. Erosion and weathering uncovered this mass and shaped the Marbles into the wondrous shapes that we see today. Scientists believe that as erosion continues its unceasing work, in time the Marbles will become nothing more than pebbles.
Boulders, as red as the earth, split in two like ancient eggs from which some mythical creature must have hatched. According to the aborigines these are sacred stones, said to be eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. Some balance on top of each other, perfectly spherical and huge, others are on their own, resting like exhausted, fossilised dinosaurs.
We arrived at the Marbles at midday. The heat was suffocating, especially in our vehicle in which the air conditioning was the open windows. And often the air that blew in was hotter than the air inside.
Paul wanted to examine the site in preparation for his photo shoot at dusk. So we wandered around slowly, fanning the flies and heat from our faces. The peculiarity of shape and position can be mused upon for hours in total seclusion. We were alone, save for a handful of tourists that came and went while Paul and I were still captivated by the magic of the place.
The heat was intense and we were glad to cool off in the pool at our resort in Wauchope. We could have camped for free at the Marbles, but we wanted the bliss of a cool pool and a shower before revisiting the Marbles after the heat of the day had eased. So, at dusk, we returned. Paul had planned to take shots at key locations that he had spotted. But he loved the opportunity so much to photograph such a dramatic and ever-changing place that he ran around like a crazed lunatic, setting up one photo and then charging to the next, with a swarm of flies following him after his sweat! This caused much amusement for me plus a few other tourists. As dusk changed the skies the rocks transformed from a brilliant orange glow to a pale and sleepy hue, ready to be ignited only by the following dawn.
That night we saw what seemed like every star shine on the Northern Territory. The Magellan clouds and Milky Way were like magical dust ready to sprinkle themselves over this magical land. We arrived again in perfect isolation and seclusion to see the Marbles reignite at dawn and the million stars that shone on that magical land fade from sight.
The age and form of the Devil’s Marbles planted in such an ancient and mystical land signified to me the minute fraction of time that my life and this existence will consume, and that nature and the spirit of Australia’s red heart will live forever.