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Retrace 1996: Mount Liebig
Friday 20th September 1996 - 9 pm
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We are camped in a dry creek bed at the foot of Mount Liebig. There is much to write about but I am cold and tired.

Last night the dingoes howled incessantly. We woke to great beauty and the sound of a butcher bird and hundred of finches. The children spent the morning swimming while I packed up. We left about 11:30 am after Susan and I took a short walk up the hill in the spinifex where we came across the Larapinta Trail.

First stop was Serpentine Gorge not far up the road where we walked up through a high gorge examining the rocks and looking for water which seemed to have dried up.

Susan at the ochre pits

We pressed on to the Ochre pits and had lunch. Jack covered himself with yellow ochre. At Glen Helen we filled up with water and petrol (96c / litre) and set off for Mount Liebig. The road was pretty good really. Our plan was to work our way back from Mount Liebig as close to the camel route as possible. Our permit runs out on Sunday.

Mount Sonder

Past the MacDonells, the ranges appeared on the right, first Mount Sonder and then Mount Razorback etc. Haasts Bluff loomed up almost with menace. At its foot the road suddenly came to a T marked by a sign that someone had run into.

Haasts Bluff turnoff

To the left was the Haasts Bluff Community, to the right Papunya. Papunya could easily be mistaken for a tip. Wrecked cars and garbage everywhere. Houses seemed to be in ruins or abandoned, a few emaciated dogs barked. The wind blew plastic bags across the track. The place had a feel of utter desolation. It seemed impossible that this was the place where so much vibrant painting had been done. Was it still being done? Did people really live here? The track suddenly stopped and we were forced to loop past a group of dilapidated houses with kids outside. They did not look well and we were obviously intruding. Things were getting steadily worse.

Following the northern side of the range which ended in Mount Liebig we were expecting the settlement at Mount Liebig to be like Papunya but it was a little better. Most of the houses were intact.

When we arrived at the settlement we thought we should say who we were and what we were doing etc. At the first house Aboriginal woman was tending a child. As I approached she walked away and into the house. I did not think I should follow. Behind another house was a cement mixer and I could see an Aboriginal man walking towards it. I walked towards him only to realise he was about to walk right past me. I told him who I was and why I was there and asked him who I should see. He pointed to a neat house with a solar hot water heater and a high barbed wire fence around it and said, "administrator". A woman, with long grey hair, came out and I recognised her accent as the woman I had spoken to on the phone.

Her name was Anne and she was quite welcoming and friendly. She invited us in and I explained what it was we were hoping to do. It appeared her husband, the administrator was away. I had a vague feeling that she didn't really know much. She had been there three years. She said that there was a gap in ranges but that it was sacred ground and forbidden to us unless we could get special permission from the owner who was in Alice Springs. She was peeved that no one had thought to ask him when we applied for a permit. She generously offered to show us the way the tomorrow.

It is my intention to climb Mount Liebig early tomorrow and see if I can see Mount Peculiar which is the mountain I suspect dad climbed in 1933. I read out the 'Mount Liebig' and 'walk' sections of the journal to the children tonight. Perhaps it will leave some impression.

When I asked Anne if there was any Aboriginal who might be interested in the photographs etc. she said definitely not. They had to remove all traces of the dead very quickly and if anyone died in house it became a 'sorry house' and no one would live in it. They either had to pull it down or rebuild it in a major way.

We asked if there was anywhere we could camp away from the settlement. She seemed to think that the base of Mount Liebig was fine and pointed to a track through a huge pile of wrecked cars. So off we set winding our way through the broken glass and loose pieces of corrugated iron. Not far beyond the cars we came to a young man sitting spread eagled in a hole vaguely trying to conceal a jug. A hundred metres away was a group of girls sitting in some shade. No one seemed to take too much notice and we waved as moments later we found ourselves sinking into a sand river bed bogged. Much to the amusement of everyone we dug our selves out only to become bogged again. The girls came over to help, one of them was an albino. Before long everyone was digging away, even the spread eagled boy. It seemed that he had been sniffing petrol. Probably they all had.

Eventually we freed ourselves and with great shouts took off to another river bed which we managed to cross without incident but after which is became very rocky. We drove down a few tracks and in the end came back to the river bed to avoid the rocks.

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