30 August 2013
I’ve seen my last banana! It came with me from Longreach and now it is sadly eaten. I head down to the small general store, attached to the garage, walking the wide, wide empty streets to get there, under a sweating blue sky. A breeze is beginning to pick up and the sand and dust is flicking into my cheeks and eyes.
There is no shortage of frozen meat for sale at the store, packed and stacked happily together, but the couple of vegetables are looking rather lost and lonely. I snap them up.
Heading from here across the gaping green oval, pinned as it is beneath burning blue, I pop into the Wirrarri visitor centre. Wirrarri is the Wangkangurru name for Birdsville. I wonder why this name was not on the sign as I entered town? It is the first I have seen or heard of it.
This morning I am meeting with Jim at Don’s office. I pick up a couple of pies from the bakery next door, choosing from the famous kangaroo and camel selection, then find relief in the cool conditioned air of Don’s office.
Jim hobbles in, his tall beat-up felt Akubra, with its yellow and red twine wrapped around the base of the crown, like a signature marking his entry. We have a lovely long chat. I have many beautiful recordings of Jim to share.
In the late afternoon I jump in the 4WD with Don and he drives me out to Npapa-npandaka (Big Red), the largest sand dune in Munga-Thirri (Simpson Desert). Munga-Thirri is the largest sand dune desert in the world.
We speed over the corrugations in the compacted dust, gibber cobbling the flats to right and left. I notice how the angle of the sun affects the colour of the gibber. To our right it is a deep shimmering russet, but to our left it appears almost black as we head west into the sun.
Don suddenly pulls over onto the gibber and drives me across country in a landscape that for the untrained eye appears to be merely a repetition of itself. But he is navigating me to a special place; two circles of stones sit side by side on the plain, where red pebbles have been carefully arranged on the ground centuries ago. They could be for Corroboree, or for message sticks. It is hard to know for sure all these years later, with the history largely banned from the telling.
When we arrive at Npapa-npandaka, I simply want to run. It is as though the wind that has picked up the sand and laid it grain by grain on top of itself, to reach a magnificent 40 meters in height, is picking me up with it and swirling me round in the beauty of the place.
A large lake sits, becalmed, at the bottom of the dune. Spindly old trees rise from milky-blue; the lake which we skirted to reach the climb up the dune.
From the top I can see how the dunes sweep out to the desert, stretching ahead in parallel, north to south ridges, the scrubby vegetation between each dune holding them in place. Npapa-npandaka ripples in perfectly delicate patterns across its huge bulk, every now and then a spinifex plant stamping a full stop in the regularity of the wind’s latest design. At the top, the ridge is razor sharp, a soft shadow of sand blowing consistently across the edge.
I am delighted by the heat radiating upwards, the soft grainy texture, the sweet wild smells, and most of all by the colour, shifting and sighing with the lowering of the sun in the sky until the sand finally sets alight in a blazing red.
(I have put some links to sites about Munga-Thirri and the gibber on the Australian Digital Resources page of the blog)