I arose to the sounds of hundreds of galahs, as well as a few butcher birds and noisy minas. Dawn was beautiful, with a pink blush rising up from the end of the valley.
I hiked around for a couple of hours before breakfast, shooting photos—some probably for the third or fourth time. I got shots of Alec and Burt, as well as some of the other hands, and more photos of galahs and the red ranges. At some level, photography feels like a way to hold on to a place.
I had a big breakfast, figuring it could double as my lunch, then I gathered my gear and dragged it to the little bus that would carry me back to Alice Springs. I tried to stay cool and in control, but tears were running down my cheeks as I handed over my bags. I have really loved this place. It’s everything I dream of when I dream of the Red Center, the epitome of old outback Australia. And as long as it took me to get back here, it’s too soon to be leaving. I blurted out, “I don’t want to leave,” then climbed into the bus. I’m sure they must have wondered how I got so attached to the place in just a couple of days, but they could not know the personal history that made it so much more intense than it would have been if this were my first trip to Australia.
It was a beautiful drive back to Alice Springs, beneath a splendid buttermilk sky. When I got back to Toddy’s, I checked in, dumped my gear, and then headed into town. Boy, has the Alice changed. The feeling is still there, and I recognized much, but the Todd Street Mall is now an astonishing concentration of larger, more modern places, shopping plazas, offices, and motels (though interrupted, I was grateful to see, by Adelaide House and the John Flynn Memorial Church).
The Stuart Arms has been torn down, and a glass and steel shopping mall has replaced it. I did discover one good thing, however, and that is that on the second story of this new structure there is a nice museum of Northern Territory/arid regions natural history: rocks, fossils, mammals, birds, reptiles, plants, insects, and heaps of aboriginal artifacts, from old boomerangs to a lovely display of Albert Namatjira paintings.
Australians will have heard of Albert Nmatjira, and those who have read my book, Waltzing Australia, may remember the biography I included of the great artists, but for others who may not know the man or his work, Namatjira was a splendidly talented Aboriginal artist who better than just about anyone else captured the beauty and spirit of the Red Center in his watercolors. He became famous but was always torn between the European culture where he was a celebrity and the culture in which he was raised. He passed away in 1959, but he is still celebrated in Australia. In this video, in addition to giving background on Namatjira and showing some of his paintings, the creation of a play about his life is also discussed.
If you want to see more of Namatjira’s paintings, here’s a site that includes many of them.