Tag Archives: Ross River

Sunday, September 1

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.

Buttermilk Sky

Buttermilk Sky

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.

Albert Namatjira
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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, History, Lore, Travel, Video

August 31, part 2

I walked west for a while, looking for a path that would take me through one large rock formation in search of another. Green and gold vegetation highlighted the deep red of the land, and the incredibly blue sky made a vivid backdrop for the rugged landscape. Before too long, I found the wall of rock roughly sketched on the map, and I walked along it, in search of the narrow passage that cut through to the other side.

The passage opened out into a landscape that was essentially the same as what I’d left behind, but which was even quieter and more peaceful. I wandered happily for a couple of hours, enjoying the beauty of the place. However, my bad knee began to act up a little, so I thought it would be wise to head back before it began giving me any trouble.

Red rocks and blue sky

Red rocks and blue sky

When I once again reached the great ridge of rock through which I’d passed, I found myself faced with a rather daunting sight. While the front of the rock wall had offered one entrance, the back of it offered dozens of possibilities. Obviously, all but one of these must be dead ends, for the front to offer such a closed face. But which chasm would take me through to the other side?

Following footprints might seem like an obvious solution, but the soft soil here takes footprints and holds them until the next wind or rainstorm, which can be a long time in coming. As a result, there were numerous footprints from hikers over weeks and maybe months, clearly all faced with the same dilemma, as they went in every direction. I hoped that if I walked along the backside of the rock, I would be able to see daylight on the far end of one of the many channels. I was not panicked, by any means, as I still had half a canteen full of water, and having signed out at Ross River, I knew I’d be missed–and that they knew my direction. Still, I didn’t fancy having to be rescued, so I hoped I’d be able to make my way back on my own.

Most of the deep, narrow channels were in shadow, so I didn’t know if it was possible to see through to the other side. They all looked dark and unpromising. Then, on the ground before me, I saw a familiar word printed in the red dust. I had bought new shoes for this trip, a brand I hadn’t worn before, but it appeared now that they would save me. There, amid the many nondescript tread prints was the word Reebok. I looked at the bottom of my shoe, to confirm that it matched, and then, laughing, turned to follow the word back through the correct channel.

1 Comment

Filed under Australia, Geography, Nature, Travel

August 30, part 3

Old Homestead interior

Old Homestead interior

Around 9 o’clock, we gathered in the homestead lounge to hear Alec tell us tales of the settling of this area, and about some local Aboriginal customs. He had lots of Aboriginal artifacts: hunting and fighting sticks, shields, coolamons, spear and woomera, digging sticks, and didgeridoos. What made the evening even more fascinating was Alec himself. He’s half Scottish and half Aborigine. His great-grandfather was John Ross, who explored this area, and for whom Ross River is named. (Alec is Alec Ross.)

Alec has had quite an astonishing life. He was taken from his Aboriginal mother when he was age 2. (It was believed at the time that half-white children should be brought up as whites.) He was raised in a camp up north, until the Japanese started bombing it and everyone was evacuated. He left school at a fairly young age to become a droving cook (the cook on a cattle drive–Australian cowboys are generally known as drovers and the moving of cattle was droving). He’s a big man, well over 6 feet, and powerful, so to earn additional money, he began boxing, and he became the number one contender for the Australian heavyweight title. A half brother in Alice Springs read about him and contacted him, to let him know he had family in the area. He was 37 when he finally met his mother. Sadly, se died soon after.

Alec went on to build a good life. He has won awards as a gardener, and he has three sons who are top soccer players in Alice Springs. Now, he’s happy here at Ross River Homestead, teaching bush cooking and boomerang throwing, telling tales at night in the rustic lounge, and pretty much making sure things go well and everyone is getting the most out of their time here. Just guessing, but I can’t help but think that the strong sense of family among those who work here at Ross River would appeal to the little boy who grew alone.

Alec is not the only person here with family ties to the area. One of the stock girls, Natasha, is a granddaughter of the Greens, who first envisioned this place as a holiday accommodation back in the 1950s. It adds to the sense of history here, that the staff is so connected to the place. (And I’m grateful to the Greens for their vision. I love this place.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, History, Lore, Travel

August 30, part 2

Red rocks and ghost gums

Red rocks and ghost gums



I delighted in the red rocks and red earth, trees and grasses and kangaroos. I wandered near riverbeds that were lined by river red gums and, on the whole, dry, but not always, and waterholes were always a good place for birds and animals. Strolling between hills, I rejoiced to see the ghost gums dotting ragged hillsides, their white trunks standing out so distinctly against the red rocks and brilliant blue sky. Wildflowers dotted the red earth in many places. It was all so beautiful.

At one spot, I came across the remains of a small stream, with little left to show what its extent must have been in wetter weather other than the sculpted “waves” in the sand that showed the patterns of the water that passed through at some point. My eye was caught by a glimmer at the bottom of several of the little dips in the patterned sand, and I scooped a bit up and folded it into a bit of paper, so I could get it identified later. I had assumed perhaps a bit of pyrite, or “fool’s gold,” but Jeff assured me it was real gold. However, he explained that it was so fine and so spread out that one would need to vacuum up the entire desert to collect enough to make even a few dollars. Sigh. Still, it was fun to have, so I folded my tiny bit of red dust back into the piece of paper with which I’d retrieved it, and tucked it into the pocket of my suitcase. To me, the red dirt was more valuable than gold anyway.

As evening approached, I headed for the dining room of the wonderful, old, wood-beamed homestead building. The homestead was settled in the 1890s, and this building dates to that period. It has, of course, been updated a bit, with electric lights and running water, but it is otherwise still beautifully preserved and evocative of a different time. Still, there is talk of further updating the homestead, perhaps not this building but everything else, making it more of a resort, adding facilities that will delight the teens I heard moaning that there was “nothing to do here.” Pity one can’t make people understand how worthwhile it is to simply reconnect with nature and its beauty. Sigh.

Dennis, an Irish lad I met on the bus in from Alice Springs this morning, joined me for dinner, which added lively conversation to a pleasant meal. I had kangaroo as an entrée (worth noting for U.S. readers, in much of the world, including Australia, an entrée is, as the name truly suggests, a way of “entering” the meal—i.e., an appetizer—then what Americans call an entrée is called your main course, or just main). It was marinated in wine and ginger, so I couldn’t really tell it from nice beef—which probably helped. But I had to try it. For my main, I had grilled barramundi, the splendidly meat, white-fleshed fish to which I’d been introduced on my first trip downunder. It was fabulous. For dessert, one could hardly have anything more classically Australian than pavlova—also yummy.


Filed under Australia, Food, Geography, History, Nature, Travel

Ross River Fire

On my second trip to Australia, I stayed at a wonderful “resort” in the Red Center, in the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges. (The quotes around “resort” are because this is far from what that word might conjure in other locales — this place is a bit rustic, though in my case, rustic was what I was hoping for.) Ross River Resort offered me a cabin not too far from the original, historic homestead, and I spent three remarkable days, hiking around the fabulous rock formations, enjoying the bird life, learning about the area’s history–simply perfect. At least one bird photo (Galahs) that I’ve posted previously is from Ross River, as is the “Cabin ‘roo” I wrote about some time ago–with a photo of the large kangaroo that was waiting on my cabin doorstep when I returned from a hike one day–in case you want to see anything from the resort that was. It was a memorable location, and I’d always hoped to get back.

However, in January of this year, brush fires in the region swept through the area, consuming the cabins, camp grounds, and other facilities at Ross River. The original homestead appears to have survived, but the property is ruined, from the standpoint of continuing as a resort. I am hoping they rebuild, as it was such a splendid place to experience the solitude of the Outback — without having it be too much solitude. (That is, spend the days wandering alone in the wilderness, but have a few folks around the fire in the evening with whom one can recount the day’s adventures.)

The thing that makes it a bit more dramatic is that firefighters thought they’d saved the resort. The fire had been stopped. It had rained. But then the wind picked up, and suddenly, the fire was roaring again.

For more details on the fire, here’s an article from the Australia Broadcasting Company: Outback Resort Devastated By Fire.

Really sorry to lose this place. Hope they stage a comeback.


Filed under Australia, Travel

Cabin ‘roo at Ross River

For reasons I do not fully understand, I connected with the outback, particularly in the Red Centre, at a deep level. As a result, on my first trip back, I made sure I spent time in the Centre. I spent a few days in Alice Springs and then headed out to Ross River Homestead, where I rented a cabin a bit more “away from it all.” I had underestimated my reaction on returning to this area, and had not planned nearly enough time. After three days, I had to leave Ross River, and I’m sure they thought it odd that tears were running down my face as they drove me back to Alice Springs. But it was very hard to leave, having had to work so hard to get back.

If you saw the movie Quigley Down Under, you’ve seen this area; this is the site they picked for recreating the outback cattle station (for non-Aussies, station=ranch). It’s located along the eastern stretch of the MacDonnell Range, a splendid, ancient, eroded range of red mountains that looks like the bones of the earth sticking through its red skin.

I had a splendid time at Ross River Homestead (one of the oldest homestead in the Northern Territory). I spent my days hiking among rock formations and along dried river beds, and my evenings listening to tales from local Aboriginal story tellers or learning about the area’s history.

The area around Ross River is made more wonderful by the wildlife. There is an astonishing variety of bird life, as the southern and northern bird habitats overlap here. There are also plenty of kangaroos. Having become accustomed to the presence of humans, they are often surprisingly close at hand. (The big ones are, anyway—they know they can take care of themselves—smaller ‘roos were still a bit shy.) Apparently, the paving stones in front of the cabins make a nice place to catch the sun—my guess is because it is a bit cooler than the surrounding red dirt. As a result, it was not uncommon to return to my cabin and find I had company.


Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Geography, Nature, Photography, Travel