Part 2. Exploring Arkaroola and Wilpena Pound. Oct.1987
We have now completed our five day journey in our sturdy blue bus across the country from Sydney to the Flinders Rangers in South Australia! – my friend Georgie, her son Simon and I joined up with a group of holidaying school teachers, and here we are at last, happily settled in at the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary caravan park.
After a good night’s rest and a camp-fire breakfast I was ready to take on board the magnificence of this vast and richly varied landscape at the northern end of the Flinders that rose up around us, encircling the Village. The old Arkaroola Station which covers much of what they called the Mt. Painter Block or in-lier has become a splendid wilderness sanctuary thanks to the extraordinary efforts of one enterprising and dedicated couple, the Spriggs family, who purchased it in the 60s and continue to maintain and expand it..
I soon came to realize that I couldn’t have made a better choice than Arkaroola to familiarize myself with the richness and diversity of the mineral world as it exists naturally within the landscape, and its role in maintaining planetary stability on many levels.
Sir Douglas Mawson described it as ‘one great open-air museum of geological history.’!
Its turbulent rocky skyline reflected a story of an 800 million year old metamorphosis from high volcanic mountains weathered down into more rounded waves of hills and valleys, steep walled red-rock gorges lined with mysterious caves and sharp ledges, a wealth of winding creeks, deep water-holes, gullies and gentle springs! (The only known
radio- active hot springs anywhere are here at Paralana).
There is even evidence of seabed rock weathering in the creeks and waterholes, but not so surprising when one realizes that salty Lake Eyre – 17 meters below sea-level – the lowest point on the Australian continent, is not that far north-west of the Flinders, and then there’s Lake Frome, the 4th largest lake in Australia, well in sight of Arkaroola to the east, which is also a salt lake!
We began our exploration by familiarizing ourselves with the area closest to our camping spot with some short walks and then ventured on a comfortable climb up Acacia .Road to the top of a ridge where we could look back over the home base in the valley and get a perspective of the village and then out over the ridge line where we were able to make out the row of pegmatites or plugs of feldspar/quartz that ran along below the top ridge that encircled most of the southern area.
I could imagine what a powerful song line this procession of ‘standing stones’ created. There were the three Pinnacles, the Main Pinnacle the small Pinnacle and another, as well as the Needles, Sitting Bull Rock, Tourmaline Hill and many other smaller volcanic plugs.
Our next excursion meant driving higher up to get a closer look, following a sign to Nooldoo Nooldoona, then turning off towards Main Pinnacle till we came to Wild Dog Waterhole, crossing Wild Dog Creek by foot and walking along further down the creek, till we came to the Nooloo Nooldoona Water Hole.
There was a massive jagged rock wall behind the creek – sheered off boulders packed vertically creating a massive clay-coloured wall of sharp lozenge shaped rocks towering above the still, dark water-hole.
There were caves and craggy over hangs to explore, salt bushes and prickly porcupine grass and loose rocks to dodge. There was great variety in the shapes and colour of the rocks amidst the prevalent ochres – layers of varying coloured slates and sandstone, and flashes of silicates within the cavity walls.
Every now and then we would catch a glimpse of a shy euro scampering away or an echidna making for a safe spot to hide.
Everyone was hoping to be the first to see a yellow foot wallaby but apparently there were not too many of them around anymore.
We came across Wombat cave which was also on the way to the Pinnacles – a narrow cave that apparently wallabies and wombats felt safe sharing together.
Scrambling further along the Mawson Valley on the track to the Pinnacles, Big Sitting Bull came into sight and later the Smaller Pinnacle appeared between some native pines.
I was keen to learn something of Arkaroola’s early geological history. It was a familiar one during the 1800s – the discovery of a very rich variety of minerals throughout the Arkaroola/Mt. Painter wilderness including copper, gold and uranium. Quantities of haematite were mined below the ridge near the uranium ore deposits, and discoveries of many other semi-precious stones and rocks of industrial significance throughout the area attracted lots of smaller mining ventures.
Ex-Oil Ltd. was the company that carved out the extensive road work which wound through the whole area in the late 60s to facilitate mining exploration and development, especially the uranium deposits – a marathon effort which still needs regular restoration as parts of it are often washed out, and is now in constant use especially for the famous ridge-top tours .
Prospectors working along Radium Creek found uranium in1898 around the Mt. Gee and Mt. Painter area. There was further exploration during the second world war, and some development in the late 60s. This particularly interested me because, like many young parents raising a family at that time, I became very concerned about the prospect of Australia mining and selling uranium ore to be used in nuclear weapons.
During 1977 when the Fox Commission was deliberating on allowing Australia’s uranium deposits to be mined in the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, I was prompted to take on the co-ordination of the Sydney branch of MAUM – the Movement against Uranium Mining and I worked full-time all that year in a voluntary capacity helping to raise public awareness re the threat of nuclear war. Our combined efforts throughout Australia contributed considerably to the government’s decision to ‘keep Uranium in the Ground’ !
I was unaware of similar struggles at that time to protect the deposits in the Flinders area which continued on for the next thirty years, and it was great to learn eventually that the strong opposition to uranium mining here in this beautiful area was ultimately successful also, and was finally guaranteed by the passing of the Arkaroola Wilderness Protection Act in 2012.
Dr .Gillian Marsh, an Adnyathanha woman, spoke of the sacred significance of Mt. Gee, explaining ” that it lies in the path of Akurra, the Great Dreaming Serpent who drank Manda (Lake Frome) dry and travelled back to Yakka Water-hole where his spirit rests, and warned that if his back is broken their heritage will be lost forever!”
I remembered too that we were made aware by the Aboriginal people in eastern Arnhem Land that the proposed uranium mines there lay in the path of the Green Ant Dreaming, and disturbing that Sacred Place would also guarantee disaster!
By the next day it was time for the really big adventure that everyone talked about – the four-wheel drive Ridge Top adventure. Rough, spectacular and not to be missed, they said.
Fear of motion sickness was not enough to deter me, so we booked, paid the fee and arrived in time to join the small convoy, and to ask if Georgie and I could sit in the front cabin alongside our driver.
Everyone else fitted into the canvas-roofed tray-top behind and had a good view in all directions.
Our driver/guide began by setting the scene with details about how the Sanctuary came into existence and also enlarged on the legend of how Arkoorla had been created, and why the Great Dreaming Serpent Arkaroo could always be found near water. He spoke of the long journey Arkaroo made right across from the Gammon Ranges through Arkaroola to the east and on to Lake Frome to quench his thirst, and he drank it dry, leaving behind a vast dry salt-bed. On the way home his swollen body carved out the river and gorges, leaving water-holes wherever he set up camp.
With everyone settled in, we set off, weaving in and out, up and down, around hills and through valleys, jolting over bumpy rocks and dodging pot holes and wheel ruts, splashing through shallow creeks and taking in lots more information as we drove through the splendid scenery that opened up before us at every turn.
Time flew by and towards the end of the tour we began to descend into a wide valley, and as soon as that happened I began to feel a strange excitement as if I already knew this place well.
We were sitting in the front of the vehicle, Georgie in the middle between the driver and me.
Suddenly I was feeling an urge to add my own tid-bits to our guide’s information and began to speak in a rather clipped authoritative but unfamiliar voice about our surroundings, pointing out various features of the landscape.
Fortunately for us both Georgie was astute enough to recognize that I was channelling and realised that a local spirit was speaking through me – (she had often been a part of our Earth Healing circles at my home back in Bellingen) and so she played along, prompting me with questions, in spite of this exchange being within the ear-shot of our official guide who ignored it and carried on sharing his official information regardless, though appearing a bit non-plussed at these extra contributions!
Our spirit friend, who had decided unbidden to temporarily share my space, happily disclosed that he was a Medicine man, had five women – no less, and when asked about children, said that there were 20 of them.
When asked for identification, I spoke for him, saying confidently that my name was Jinaroo and that my tribe was called Pindara . I pointed out the women’s sites, the men’s sites and the learning areas of the piccaninies. I became more expansive when asked about the wild animals in the area, saying that they were our friends, the roos teach us of the seasons and where to find food as the weather changes and the winds sweep away the seeds and deposit them in crevices.
I said that we eat parrots and other wild birds, reptiles and roots and many flowers and leaves. We observe the changes in the seasons with ceremonies and great Corroboree. We teach the great stories of the beginning of our people who came with the star-ships. Our totem is Eagle and our teachers and protectors are Great Serpent Dreaming Arkaroo and Minna Minna and Great Mother Turtle.
We live in the caves and store food there for the lean seasons — men’s caves, women’s caves, boys and girls caves.”
A couple of times the driver slowed the vehicle right down, pointing to large chunks of broken quartz crystals along the side of the track. He told us they had been roughly prized from the surface of Mount Gee which he indicated was visible nearby between some granite stacks, an extraordinary mountain composed mainly of quartz crystal threaded with veins of haematite and layers of schist; he warned us that it was now forbidden to take any of these stones away with us.
By now Jinaroo was becoming angry and distressed by the sight of the damaged crystal clusters – he helped us understand that Mount Gee was the very heart of the tribe’s territory — the great Sacred Crystal–never to be disturbed!
Georgie asked him about the radium deposits where uranium had been found. And we learn that it was a source of power, not understood by white man– the power to connect and transform the body with the aid of the Great Crystal by ingesting it as a fine powder, but only when the body wished to travel to other places beyond the Dreaming.
As we approached the far side of the valley I was experiencing a feeling of intense excitement as we approached a wall of tall boulders standing in line.
These great rock guardians, Jinaroo told us, were the spirits of the elders of his tribe, much venerated – this was the sacred place where they come to die.
But as the vehicle continued to move towards the wall the excitement I was gripped by turned to extreme distress and Georgie had to try and restrain me from trying to throw myself out of the vehicle. I wanted to cry out ‘ Doesn’t anyone realize that it’s forbidden to approach too closely to this very sacred place?’ Certainly our driver didn’t! it was known these days to white man simply as Split Rock Lookout!
And so the vehicle charged ahead up past the guardians and over the wall, and through the pass, winding crazily onward and upward ever higher, heading towards Siller’s Lookout – the final summit.
As soon as we had driven past the row of boulders, climbing up the slope and over the valley rim again I experienced a feeling of immense relief and unwound as I realised that I was back to my normal self again. My spirit friend had let go – we were obviously no longer within what had been his tribal territory and where the imprint of his life experiences remained held within the rocky landscape !
It was exhilarating to feel completely present as we made the final hair-raising climb to the top, pulled up onto the one narrow parking space available on the very edge of a steep cliff with sheer drops either side and were treated to a breathtaking 360 degree vista around the vast countryside as far out as Lake Frome.
Our final port of call on the way home was at the base of Mt. Gee herself where the rangers had collected sample rocks demonstrating the rich variety of over 40 minerals to be found throughout the area. I was in awe of being in the presence of this powerful crystalline mountain – such a beautiful way to conclude the day!
I was amazed to realize that this wonderful excursion had taken all of four hours – time had somehow stood still. What an extraordinary experience it had been!
That evening I found a quiet space, pulled out my notebook and recorded all the details that I could remember, tried reflecting on the mystery of it all and finally asked for further inner understanding of what we had experienced that day.
This was the telepathic answer that I received –
” You have returned here to learn of your past and to return to the spirit of your dreaming and to learn to see as we saw, and to observe the nature forces with real care and the love of the great Mother forces.
You are no longer free to be a half seer. It is time for you to be a seer and a prophet for your people. You will know what to bring from this place as a totem of your people.
We shall guide you and allow you to be shown places which have great power, so assisting you in your search for a connection to your past.
You and your friend Georgie and your new companion Dennis will be drawn to a place where the druidic forces are strong. You will be asked to respect their presence and to ask for their permission to enter. This cave is not to be shown to others who would not respect its purpose.
In order to see, to open the eye of the Eagle/Serpent, you need the power stone which you will be shown and which you can use with safety.
Go now and prepare for the coming day. Be aware of the energy of others around you and let each word be heard as a message to you of your relationship with them at other times.
Be alert for the signs of the stones and birds and seedlings. Approach the cave and water-hole without prejudice so as to learn their secrets through the heart, for it is in knowing and seeing through the heart that the real power lies.
May the force be with you, sweet maiden, that your quest be fulfilled. and may you have the courage to travel light and swift as a deer and rest without fear in quiet places.”
Next day several in the group were anxious to move on further south instead of making one last excursion along the creek beds further west of the village, but they finally reluctantly agreed, though we were not able to explain quite why going there was important to us, and they insisted in limiting the amount of time we could spend, first reaching the area by bus then exploring on foot along the creek beds heading south to the caves.
Because of this added pressure – time-wise and emotionally – I jumped hastily from the bus when we got to the creek entrance, but then so did everyone else! The project felt doomed already and in my haste and confusion I took a turn up the left arm of the creek instead of the right and failed to reach the cave – and then time was up. The call went out to board the bus.
I later realized that it was meant to happen this way. After all, one of the instructions given to me was to protect the privacy of this special place – so we reluctantly let go and trusted that there would be another opportunity at a future time if this was to be.
Once we were all on board again we waved goodbye to Arkaroola and headed south for a four hour trip down the eastern side of the ranges passing cypress pine and Mallee eucalyptus forests, with a quick stop-over at Blinman then on to Wilpena Pound, which I knew by now the Aboriginal people called Ikara – a meeting place. Appropriate for me as it turned out!
Much of it was a rocky dirt road but I didn’t mind – much of my sense of anti-climax and disappointment had evaporated and I felt free to make the most of whatever lay ahead.
Our little group were happy together at the back of the bus despite the jolting until a big bump sent our heads ceiling wise and Georgie suffered a damaging jolt to her neck, causing her to remember a life-time as a young tribal man punished for having killed a snake by having his spine broken – serpents seem to run right through this story!! After we stopped for a brief break Georgie returned to the bus holding an animal vertebra she found lying at the foot of an old eucalypt tree – a sign, she felt, of healing and completion of a series of spinal problems this time round whose origin she has now come to understand.
Once we finally arrived at Wilpena Pound and touched terra firma again it was a relief to start walking together toward the entrance.
Here, I was in for another surprise. Jinaroo was back again, but with a difference – now he was approaching the end of his life!
This time I knew by the way my body felt that a considerable period of time had past – he was no longer the strong viral elder we had met earlier. Now I was experiencing how it felt to be a frail, very tired old man nearing the end of his days. Even my face felt sunken in and my mouth gummy!
And this time no spoken words – just information received through a strong inner knowing! I learnt that the aim of this long arduous pilgrimage by foot from his homeland was to attend a gathering of clans and his attendance was motivated by a last ditch effort to bring about peace between rival tribes.
I was to learn later details of the Adnynathanha legend of the creation of Ikara – that it was an important meeting place for inter tribal deliberations, celebrations, match-making and other initiations. The story goes that two Arkaroo dreaming serpents came down from the north pursuing Yurlu the Kingfisher on his way to a celebration, encircling a large number of people who had gathered there and gorging on them, till they became too full to move and so willed themselves to die, their bodies creating an elliptical circle of peaks around a central crater-like amphitheatre. – the head of the female serpent formed St. Mary’s Peak and the male head – Beatrice Hill!
As I entered the narrow gorge, walking purposely along an avenue of red river gums with the high rock walls rising on either side, it felt like being at the centre of scene in one of those western movies – High Noon perhaps! My head was held high, my shoulders drawn back as much as I could manage, always looking straight ahead, acutely aware of men peering down from the ridge on either side of the gorge. The old chieftain was being secretly scrutinized from above prior to the big meeting!
Then, as we neared the campsite, I felt his presence leave me again for the last time just as quickly as he had come.
Later I was to learn details of the Adnynathanha legend of the creation of Ikara – that it was an important meeting place for inter tribal deliberations, celebrations, match-making and other initiations. The story goes that two Arkaroo dreaming serpents came down from the north pursuing Yurlu the Kingfisher on his way to a celebration, encircling a large number of people who had gathered there and gorging on them, till they became far too full to move and so willed themselves to die, their bodies creating an elliptical circle of peaks around a central crater-like amphitheatre – the head of the female serpent forming St. Mary’s Peak and the male head – Beatrice Hill!
That night, when all was still and everyone slept, I tuned in and learnt that Jinaroo’s efforts for peace had failed, so freeing him to set out on an honourable return home. Not surprisingly, his body had already done enough and he had died along the way.
I felt sure that while his body was being escorted home by his people, his spirit had already joined those of his beloved ancestral elders back at Split Rock Lookout.
I wondered when, in our current linear time, all of this had taken place, and had a sense of it being about four centuries back. Who’s to tell !?
Already, during the trip together, there had been indications of us all being drawn together as a group to a place and time that provided each other with the triggers to unique opportunities to resolve and heal old relationships and challenges, including those from other life-times!
Knowing more now as to how Jinaroo had reached the end of his life had been a gift, and had also left me with a sense of peace and completion in relation to our current journey. I knew that once we had explored the Pound, it would be time to break with the group and return home by another route. My friend Susanna had left for Adelaide since my visit to her at Copley and had invited me to head south to the urban heart of South Australia.
Georgie too had further insights of her connection in the past to me and the group while we explored Wilpena……… and had made her peace with the Great Dreaming Serpent. I had already sensed that she’d had an earlier role as one of the mothers of Jinaroo’s children, born out, I thought, by our harmonious friendship in this lifetime, and the co-operative and fun-loving way in which we had been able to make the most of this Flinders adventure together.
Exploring Wilpena proved to be a very satisfying way of concluding the journey. There were gentle trails to explore that began under the eastern walls and wandered up towards the old Hills Homestead and ample time to take in the beauty of wild flowers and the rich profusion of wild-life. There had been farming experiments in the past foiled by flooding, and then attempts at grazing which were equally unsuccessful, so the natural wildlife finally had free rein.
Here too, the euros scampered around, echidnas scrambled through the spinifex while my favourites, the wedge-tailed eagles soared around above our heads – lots of crows around as well, noisily adding to the chorus of many other birds. It was fun to watch families of emus who expected to have right of way along the paths. I learnt that if an emu had a trail of chicks in tow that it was a male – the boys do the mother/fathering once the babies hatch!
We finished the day triumphantly by taking to the steeper trail up to the Wangara Lookout and marvel at the immense ‘snake-print’ of the stunning amphitheatre! – in size it is 17km x 8km!, but in power – immeasurable!
Great Sacred sites such as Ikara play a critical role as the main ‘acupuncture points’ in the our earth’s body, so helping to maintain the energetic health and stability of the planet.
The First Nation people understand this, hence the warnings in their Dreaming stories which speak of the need to protect the Song lines and sacred places.
Understanding something of Sacred Geometry and the energetic Grid System surrounding the planet has also helped me to appreciate the Aboriginal wisdom that complements this knowledge, and I was excited to learn later on that Grid Point 44 – one of the major energy points of the entire Planetary Web, and the only one falling within the body of the Australian continent, encompasses and activates the Flinders area, with its centre point not far from Wilpena Pound.
Finally the time had arrived to pack up, share a last meal together and say our last goodbyes. So many memories to treasure and new friendships nurtured and much to be grateful for.
I made the six hour journey by bus to Adelaide for a brief visit, then air-hopped east to Melbourne, then Sydney, a brief stop-over with friends in Newcastle and finally back home to Bellingen nearly three weeks later.
Georgie’s independent reflections on our Flinders adventure, promptly put together soon after I told her that I intended writing about it, so enriching the story!
December 26th 2016.
When we arrived at Arkaroola we set up camp in the caravan park under a high ridge, and in no time my son Simon had climbed up and scaled the ridge by himself – a momentous choice, as it was a long way up while I watched with a mix of pride and concern. This was quite a rite of passage for him.
He disappeared for some time, then magically reappeared and stood triumphant with arms uplifted. I waved back, exultant. He had made it!
Great pride for me, as he had been rather bullied during the journey by some of the teachers, who had envisaged a trip without kids!
Probably our greatest adventure there was the well-known ridge top four-wheel-drive experience which ranged right around the ridge top and wove its way
along very rough tracks up and down over smaller hills, through creek beds and right across the valley where Elizabeth began ‘channelling’ an Aboriginal elder — a medicine man – who began sharing information about the use of various flowers and plants as we passed along the way, and other bits of information as well. I think I was taking notes, in shorthand.
We must have certainly presented an unconventional duo, on that tour!
One advice I recall was Elizabeth’s voice, delivered in that strange intonation as an Old Man of Knowledge, pointing to a red coloured flower – ”it is to be used for the heart”.
As we kept bumping along the track we kept seeing massive chunks of broken quartz crystal lying nonchalantly beside the road and Elizabeth just about jumping out the window
to get to those crystals.
Lately I had been rightly concerned at the rapid rise in the popular use of crystals for healing and felt they were being extracted from the earth at an unsustainable rate, though Elizabeth was now relaying that the crystals were consciously revealing themselves to us at this time for humans to know their power and healing properties and that they should be used accordingly.
We continued up the mountain to a wonderful Lookout where the road came to a stop. There atop the mountain was a configuration of massive boulders known as ‘the Arm Chair’.
It felt very powerful so would no doubt have formed part of a Dreaming.
There were two massive boulders forming the sides of the chair, another one at the back and a huge slab on top, with several rounded smaller boulders in front of the Armchair below the overhanging top stone. — it reminded me of a ‘Barrow’ – an ancient burial chamber in the UK.
Elizabeth asked ” What do you see here?” and what I saw was the bum-end of a turtle laying her eggs. Perhaps there was Turtle Dreaming here from the time when it was all under the great Southern Ocean. And then confirmation came – ” It is indeed the Great Mother Turtle”.
And Jinaroo had already told us that Great Mother Turtle was one of his people’s teachers and protectors!!
From that time onwards, this has been my Dreaming – my Totem. I resonate with the mother turtle who works so hard giving birth to the next generation, journeying up the beach from the safe ocean to dig her hole for the night-long labour of laying and covering her eggs repeatedly, ensuring the next generation, trusting her babies to take their own journey as she too returns to the ocean, always returning to the same place to repeat the same cycle again.
I see myself quite like this, as a parent and a grandparent, inspired and motivated by her selfless consistency and devotion, at the same time as honouring her own path….
At the end of the ridge tour we stopped at Mount Gee where the Rangers had set out a pile of the local semi-precious rocks and crystals for us to one wonder at.
We tuned into them and quietly followed inner directions to rearrange them to where the stones themselves wanted to lie – and that felt very good!!
We also visited Wilpena Pound, and on one occasion when we were enjoying walking along windy tracks amongst the wild flowers we were guided to pick certain flowers to make flower essences. Being constantly on the move during the day, we chose to make the essences using the light of the moon rather than sunlight to infuse the pure water with the energy of each particular flower. What a joy that was!
Our companions may have thought we were very weird indeed. However, there had been considerable disharmony between and among them all so we knew that our role was to work for the safety of the whole venture.
That is a powerful country through which we journeyed, and people need consistent awareness to be in those sacred places, seeking protection, and being mindful of the Spirits of each Place.
A last look back at the mountains from Georgie’s camera as we headed home.