From Alice Springs our tour took us to Ayers Rock and the Olgas, mainly through great stretches of sandy desert country, with an occasionally outback station miles from anywhere.
We reached Ayers Rock in the late afternoon and went to the Rock by bus to see the sunset. The changes of this monolith at sunrise and sunset must be seen to believed, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the fantastic sight. (Ayers Rock which is now known as Uluru and managed by the indigenous people of the area):
People riding camels near Ayers Rock:
To climb the Rock one needed to be very agile and so many of our people decided, as I did, to fly over the whole area and see the Rock and the Olgas. Ayers Rock is certainly enormous and contains many caves with aboriginal paintings, but to me the Olgas are equally worth seeing and one wonders what was their origin. (The Olgas):
The area is carefully guarded, and people are only permitted into the caves in groups with a guide to prevent vandalism These are sacred places to the native people and are now so recognised. They are a part of the Northern Territory, which is now a sef-governing state.
There is one road only to Ayers Rock so we returned to Alice Springs. Before starting up the "Track" (Stuart Highway) to Katherine and Darwin, I had a bad fall. The floor of a restaurant where we stopped for lunch was slippery, and my metal chair had no rubber caps on the legs. The disability I was left with following the accident caused the chair to move as I went to sit on it and I was thrown completely over. Friends with whom I usually had meals picked me up and there appeared to be damage beyond some shock and a severe shaking. (This is the Stuart Highway that runs north through the centre of Australia):
As we left Alice Springs we went to the camel headquarters, and some of our more adventurous passengers took part in camel races, I remember having ridden a camel and an elephant at the zoo in England when I was a small girl and, even had I been able I would not have been anxious to try again. Several of the tourists only sat on a camel to have their photo taken.
As we went up Stuart Highway it was amazing to see oases with water and shady trees in the midst of semi-desert country. We passed a number of bores and alighted to see the John Flynn Memorial, the Stuart Memorial, Tennant Creek, Newcastle Waters and Daly Waters. (John Flynn Memorial):
We spent the night in Katherine and then went down to the Katherine Gorge. The road down to the Gorge is quite steep and I was glad to be helped down by the car driver and assisted into the boat. The Gorge is in two parts, and one has to get out of the boat and walk over some very rocky ground into the second part, but is is all very beautiful and so strange to find in this dry country.
When we left Katherine to go to Darwin we saw a number of small airfields close to the track and they appeared to be quite serviceable as they were not overgrown. My son told me that they were used by the air force during the WW2, and one wondered whether they were now used by station owners or "unofficial" visitors from overseas. It would appear to be easy for drug runners to drop into these isolated spots without anybody being aware of their arrival.
The country abounds with hills but there is the everlasting sand. When we reached Rum Jungle we felt we were once again nearing civilisation and Darwin at the "Top End".
As we approached Darwin there were many signs of *Cyclone Tracy, although there had been a considerable amount of rebuilding. Hundreds of caravans, which had been erected hastily for the stranded residents until their homes could be repaired or rebuilt, were for sale. We were told that they were not strong enough for normal travel, and large numbers have been sent to Queensland where they can be useful.
Arnhem Land with its beautiful Escarpment is a nomadic place. which seems to be occupied only by aborigines and buffaloes, and one realises the presence of the natives on the west coast may help keep unwelcome visitors away. (I am not quite sure what mum by that statement).
One of the first things I noticed was a very large red cross at the side of the road covered with plastic and surmised that it probably marked the spot where uranium had been found. It could have been seen easily from the air and we were a curious about it. (I wonder if they ever found out why that red cross was there?)
We stopped for a picnic lunch beside a delightful stream were there were lots of shady trees, but we were not allowed to cross the stream as the other side was an aboriginal reserve where we could see them moving about.
We had a look at Gove, so much talked about and realised that it was easily accessible by water and road, and that there were many good modern buildings erected there. We wondered if this would be the uranium port. (It would seem more information could have been forthcoming about this area but maybe it was not part of the tour description).
On the way back to Darwin we stopped for a light picnic meal, the meat being marinaded buffalo which was barbecued and served with salad and rolls. The meat certainly had a different taste but was very tough and I was not impressed."
*Tropical Cyclone Tracy is arguably the most significant tropical cyclone in Australia's history accounting for the loss of 65 lives the destruction of most of Darwin and profoundly affecting the Australian perspective to the tropical cyclone threat.
By world standards, Tracy was a small but intensive tropical yclone at landfall, the radius of gale force winds being only about 50km The anemometer at Darwin Airport recorded a gust of 217km/hr before the instrument was destroyed.
Tracy was first detected as a depression in the Arafura Seas on 20 December, 1974. It moved slowly southwest and intensified, passing close to Bathurst Island on the 23rd and 24th. Then it turned sharply to the east southeast, and headed straight at Darwin, striking the city early on Christmas Day. Warnings were isued, but perhaps because it Was Christmas Eve, and perhaps no severe cyclone had affected Darwin in many years - many residents were caught unprepared. Even had there been perfect compliance, the combination of extremely powerful winds, and the loose design of many buildings at that time, was such that wholesale destruction was probably inevitable anyway. Forty-nine people were killed in the cit and a further sixteen perished at sea. The entire fabric of the life in Darwin was catastrophically disrupted, with the majority of buildings being totally destroyed or badly damaged, and very few escaping unscathed. The local damage bill ran into hundreds of millions of dollars. (Imagine what the cost would be today!!)
As usual in such disasters, many communication links failed, but enough survived to let the world know of the catastrophe, and relief measures were soon under way. An airlift involving oth civilian and military aircraft was swiftly organised, while many residents chose to drive out. Within several weeks, three-quarters of Darwin's population had left.
As a result of Tracy, much more attention was given to building codes and other social aspects of disaster planning. Darwin was rebuilt and nor thrives as one of our most important gateways to Asia.
This is part of Darwin after Cyclone Tracy in 1974:
This is Darwin now: