Heading Bush – Day 2

On day two of our tour I woke up to the sun rising over my sleeping bag. Gus was fixing us up some hot water for coffee and tea, and had set out cereal and fruit out for our breakfast. Today was going to be a pretty big day; we would be climbing Ikara – the Aboriginal name for the Wilpena mountain – and Gus told us that it was going to be quite a hard hike. That was the understatement of the year!

For day two I got shotgun in the van along with Sarah R. Here is a picture of my view if I turned around in the truck. I have no idea what they are seeing and pointing out, but it looks like it must have been pretty amazing!

It was a great day to be in front! We saw all kinds of wildlife today. There were kangaroos bouncing, wallabies… bouncing… and a family of emus! I wasn’t able to get a great picture of the emus because they were far away and on the other side of the car from me. But here is something for you:

Now I want you all to be aware of what I was up against with this next hike. Here is a picture of the mountain range we were about to climb:

And here we are, contemplating the climb:

This climb was HARD. It was hard, and it was HOT, and those two things did not mix very well. Cradle Mountain (in Tasmania) was a harder overall climb, but this one was still harder on me. I think it was the heat, the climb, the fact that I had just gotten over a chest cold (and I still had the cough from it) AND the headache that was now starting to come back. I wouldn’t let myself give up though -and the promises of 360 degrees of beautiful views when we got to the top kept me going. I had to keep stopping because it started to get hard for me to breathe. I’ve never had asthma before, but with the way I was wheezing I could definitely understand how it would feel. I was also kind of afraid that I was going to have an asthma attack (I guess there’s a first time for everything) because it was really hard for me to breathe.

Here I am at a mid range point, resting and staring off into the distance.

And here is just a nice picture of what we were climbing. That’s a cool tree, right?

After a long, hard struggle and a lot of breaks (everyone ended up pretty far ahead of me) I did get to the top. It was worth the pain. The view was breathtaking. Here we are looking proud of ourselves for making it to the top.

And this is what we could see from way up there on asthma mountain, I mean Ikara.

This mountain is important to the dreamtime stories of the Aboriginal people of the Flinders Ranges. The picture below illustrates one of their legends. Many years ago two giant snakes sat coiled around the mountains. They were very hungry so they ate hundreds of people who were in the mountains doing an initiation ceremony. The snakes became very full after eating so many people that they decided to die there (happily I assume). Now you can still see the head and bodies of the snakes across the mountains. The picture below is one of the heads.

That is just one of many of the stories for the mountains, though I’m not positive this was a story we were told while we were on the mountain. I was still recuperating from my near fatal attempt at getting to the top of the mountain and didn’t take proper notes. I did read this particular story in the Lonely Planet: Australia manual and I really liked it.

While we were up on the mountain, resting our weary legs and eating fruit and cookies (or biscuits to all you English/Australian readers) somehow the subject of Steve Irwin came up, and Gus told us about when he met him. He had run into Steve while he was filming in a remote area. He said that Steve was trying to look normal in jeans and a cap, but it was hard to look normal when you are being followed by a small film crew and your entire family! Gus did say that Steve was an incredibly nice guy, which is just as I always imagined.

After we had all rested enough we started our trek down the mountain. The way back was much easier on my lungs, but harder on my knees – and it was much harder to keep my footing. At least this time I had hiking shoes and not just death trap Yoga Slides or Birks!

When we got to the bottom, we were hot, sweaty, and hungry. We did have a nice surprise waiting for us though. Some strings were pulled and we had the chance to take a dip in a pool of a little resort. This… was… heaven!

When we finished swimming and lunch, we got right back on the road. I took some pictures of the pretty scenery from the area that we were in. I love those trees – it is foliage like this which makes me feel like I’m in Australia:

Along the way we saw plenty more kangaroos – including the red ones! If anyone is wondering how kangaroos have the ability keep their little joeys alive during heavy drought periods, when there is barely enough for the mother to drink, I now have the answer! If they have a little joey fetus in their pouch and they realize it wouldn’t be able to survive the current drought conditions, they can actually stop it from growing so it can put off being born until the conditions are better. Isn’t nature amazing?

We saw another group of emus! This time I got a much better picture:

Here is some more pretty scenery of the road ahead. I love how this picture turned out. It speaks to the vast emptiness of the outback.

After one another quick stop to picking up firewood (the easiest firewood we’d ever get – we found old railroad tracks which were chopped up into nice manageable sticks) we got to our camp for the night. It was a little village called Iga Warta, an Aboriginal community. It looked like just like a little farm. There were horses were wandering about and turkeys and chickens in pens with a few wandering around loose. Some of the turkeys were completely white, which I had never seen before.

We were in for quite a treat that night! We would be having story time over the campfire with some of the Aboriginal people who lived in the village. They would be telling us a bit about themselves and their lifestyles, and a bit about the Aboriginal culture. And before that, we had another treat – showers! We wouldn’t have the opportunity for those very often on this tour, so every one was fully savored. This was possibly the best shower I had taken in a while despite it being short and a little cold – but I was clean so I didn’t care.

We ate dinner around the campfire and waited for our soon-to-be new friend Terry to arrive. Terry was the Aboriginal man who would be leading that night’s events. The other Heading Bush group (the one we had met before the tour began) was here as well, so you may see people you don’t recognize in the pictures.

When we met Terry, I thought he seemed to be a little timid and shy. He was very quiet, but it’s also possible he was just a bit tired. You can see him in the black shirt in the picture below:

After singing us a welcome song with his guitar, Terry began the night by telling us about the importance of the campfire. He said that it was to be thought of as a place for cooking, so we should never throw anything like cigarette butts and beer cans in the fire. In their culture, that would be like if we threw cigarette butts and beer cans in our ovens. He continued by saying that the fire is significant because it is used as a place of meeting (such as what we were doing) and it could also be used as a place of meditation. They could see spirits of their ancestors through the fire and it could be used to keep away unwanted spirits. It was also used at weddings. – the smoke from the fire would let the unwanted past of the newlyweds go up in smoke, so when they went into their union together they don’t have to take the burden of the past into their relationship.  And lastly, he said that in the olden days, after a group of Aboriginals had stayed in one spot for a long time, they would leave it and set the entire area on fire, which would help regenerate everything that they had used up and restore the landscape for the next people who would live in that land.

He then told us the dreamtime story that explains why there are so many different languages. I found this one especially interesting because I do know the Christian version of how this happened and I always enjoy hearing different versions of the same basic story.

There was once a man who was a great spiritual leader. He had taught everyone how to live in harmony with the land and to love one another. He began noticing that their homeland was starting to get crowded with many people, so many that the land could not handle it. The man decided that he was going to will himself to die. He told his people that when he died, he wanted them to eat his various organs, especially his tongue. The people didn’t want to do it but because he was their leader and they knew he had reasons for everything he did, they obeyed. They found that as soon as they ate his tongue, they could no longer speak with each other, they spoke in different languages. Because of this they ended up spreading out into the different parts of the world, and different cultures were born.

After a few more stories, Terry began talking about how we all need to love one another, everyone in the world would be so much better off if they could forget their prejudices and hatred and just feel love and harmony with the land. He then went around the campfire and made us each sing the line: “All we need is love. to live in peace and harmony!” after which we all got up and had a nice hug. We bonded even more that night!

Next, he sang a song that was another Aboriginal Dreamtime story. He sang it first in his language, then he sang it in English. This was a fun song about how the robins breast became red. In the story, there was a robin couple. The man bird was out eating while the woman bird was building a shelter to protect them from the impending rain. She kept calling out for the man bird to help her, but he just responded with ‘Later woman, I’m eating!’. When it started to rain she flew over to her husband and beat him until he bled which created the robin’s red breast. The moral of this story is: always listen to women.

I could go on and on about everything that he talked about, but that would make this post extremely long. So instead I’ll just end with this video of another song we learned. It was a cute song with hand motions for each part of the song. This was our practice run, I did join in on the real one!

And here is a picture of us dancing. The spots aren’t the spirits of their ancestors, it was just very dusty and we were kicking up the dust by our dancing.

Finally, after we had our fill of singing and the dancing, we each had a bit of bread that Terry had been cooking on the fire while we sang and talked and listened to stories. We ate the bread with quandong jam (the quandong is a fruit found in the area) and cream. WOW it was delicious! The best bread that I have had in a long time (have I mentioned that Australian bread is terrible?) and the jam was fantastic. I wonder if you can find quandongs in the states?


And I’ll leave you with a picture of three of the girls chilling. The one on the far left is Helen, a girl in the other Heading Bush group, and in the middle is Christine and on the right is Sarah R.

You will be happy to know that ants were not a problem that night! The singing around the campfire probably kept them away.