After a sound night’s sleep we were on the road early. First stop was the Mount Sonder lookout. The sun was rising and casting a lovely morning light over the vast expanse of trees and the face of the mountain in the distance. The colours constantly changed as the sun rose. Two groups of campers had morning fires going down by the creek bed. What a magic spot to wake up in.
From here, we continued west before the Mereenie Loop turned to the south. We stopped at a lookout high on the hill with magnificent views in all directions. The wind was bone-chillingly cold so our time out of the trusty Prado was quick. Gosse Bluff was visible in the distance and we thought we’d have a look.
Gosse Bluff is thought to be the eroded remnant of an impact crater and was named by Ernest Giles in 1872 after Australian explorer William Gosse’s brother Henry, who was a member of William’s expedition.
The site is known as Tnorala to the Western Arrernte Aboriginal people, and is a sacred place. There are some areas where you asked to proceed no further.
According to Aboriginal belief, Tnorala was formed in the creation time, when a group of women danced across the sky as the Milky Way. During this dance, a mother put her baby aside, resting in its wooden baby-carrier (a turna). The carrier toppled over the edge of the dancing area and crashed to earth where it was transformed into the circular rock walls of Tnorala.
The Aboriginal and scientific interpretation of the Bluff are similar in that both have a celestial origin. Around 142.5 million years ago an object from space, believed to be a comet about 600 metres across, crashed to earth, blasting a crater some 20km across. Today’s land surface is about 2km lower than the original impact surface and the bluff is about 5km in diameter, reduced over time by erosion.
Next stop on the Mereenie Loop was a T-junction. We turned left and headed east towards the historic settlement of Hermannsberg.
Along the road today we had seen increasingly large piles of animal manure. At first we took it for granted that it was from cattle that had wandered over the road during the night and early morning. In fact we saw a few cattle here and there. But the more poo we saw, the more we wondered if it was horses.
Not that we wanted to make a research project of the poo, but it really did look like great big mounds of round manure, just like a horse on reasonably dry feed. And then we passed a sign that gave it away.
We took the Prado off on a sidetrack that curled up through the trees. A few hundred metres away we could see a gathering of five wild horses. They watched us as we watched them.
The further we ventured towards Hermannsberg, the more groups of horses we saw off to the side of the road. They were always around a hundred metres or more from the road, so were hard to spot, but Ma seemed to have it down to a tee.
After passing several entries to Aboriginal reserves, we turned off to visit Albert Namatjira’s house. It was a tiny house on the bank of the Finke River. Here, he had lived with his wife and seven children in two tiny rooms.
Albert Namatjira (1902–59) was one Australia’s most notable artists. His work, watercolour landscapes of Central Australia, is represented in all Australian State art galleries.
Namatjira was born into the Arrernte community at the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission. He was the first Aboriginal artist to be commercially exhibited nationally and internationally. While in Alice we had enjoyed seeing some of his paintings at the Araluen Cultural Centre.
Next stop: Hermannsberg