return to main index
Retrace 1996: Palm Valley
Monday 23rd September 1996 10:30 am
previous in sequence

We are in the Palm Valley camping ground and have just returned from a talk by the park ranger about palms and a few other topics of interest. He had a large billy which he swung over a fire neatly contained in a metal box with sloping sides. So we all (Susan, Bonnie, Jack and I - and the other 20 campers) sat in an approved circle and were able to drink tea in an approved manner as well as listen. This was a structured National Park Experience and I guess we were all trying to make the best of it. I don't like these ranger types although I understand them.

Evidence of life - Palm Valley

It has been an interesting day. Susan and I bathed in the big hole at dawn amongst the finches with the cliffs glowing red as the sun rose. The flies started early. On the way back to the camp I almost walked into a very attractive blonde German girl having a poo right next us (unattractive). I was glad we were moving on, she could have at least dug a hole. By the time we were packed the flies were dreadful. It was a particularly hot day.

We drove east to the Hermannsburg turn off and ended up so close to Alice Springs that it seemed silly not to go in and replenish our supplies. The decision made the children brightened up immediately. We spent a couple of hours restocking and having milk shakes etc getting away about midday.

On the way out along the Hermannsburg road we decided to have a look at Wallace Rockhole. It was a model community with an entrance bedecked with Tidy Town awards and the edges of the main street marked by white painted stones. It was very tidy. We called in to the store for some drinks but unfortunately they were out of drinks as the truck was due so the children had iceblocks. I wandered around and discovered a craft shop with a few poker work artifacts and some paintings. There were some Spencer and Gillen photographs on the wall and I struck up a conversation with Craig Ross who said (I think) that his grandfather was Old Moses at Hermannsburg. He was very approachable and quite expansive. He was interested in the photographs so I showed him a few while protesting that I had no wish to offend anyone by showing pictures of the dead. In Craig's opinion this only only applied for a year. he said he had learnt most about his culture from his grandparents generation and that they would be very interested in the photographs. We talked for quite a while about all sorts of things. He told us how Ida and Gordon Abbot had set the community up and through strength of character had held it together. It was, in fact, on the old road to Hermannsburg.

Craig was a curious mixture of romantic and pragmatist in that he obviously took pride in knowing Aboriginal ways/law but at the same time said it was only the white blood in him that had allowed him and his family to achieve self respect through hard work and owning property. It was very important to him that he could go anywhere and be respected. He said one of his forbears had been a Welshman passing through.

The taking of children had had an enormous impact and was a key event in his family history. He told us a long story about how his father had mustered wild cattle for a white man and had just brought them in when he saw a line up of young women and children about to be taken away by the welfare. In the middle was his wife. He rescued her. He said the instruction he had received from his grandparents was particularly difficult because they (the children) were only told things once and there was terrible trouble if they forgot anything.

I asked him about the Red Ochre men and he said they were a cheeky group - an elite group who travelled across the country at certain times of year. Everyone was afraid of them because they caused so much trouble. No one at Wallace Rockhole would even drive on the road when they were about for fear of meeting them. I promised to send him some copies of the photographs and to phone him. He warned us that Hermannsburg was quite a different place and filthy.

The Lutheran church at Hermannsburg

Actually it was a very sad sort of place with lots of graffiti and garbage blowing about more spread out and settled than other places we had seen and unpleasant. In the middle was a 'Heritage Precinct' managed by Bob Harrower and his wife. She was a strange woman who made apple strudel and ran the tea rooms for tourists. Bob was very interested in the journal and went and got some books about Hermannsburg written by a Rev Scherer 'The Hermannsburg Chronicles'. Mention was made of Davies and the party. There were quite a few photographs on the walls . I was able to recognise people and correct the spelling of some names.

Wall of the church detail

There were also quite a number of Namatjira prints and the children made some very perceptive comments about them to do with the almost universal placement of trees and their formulaic structure. Jack even went so far as to buy me one for my birthday with a card of Namatjira himself. The print he bought is of Mount Sonder and the old tree in the foreground, once dead has sprung in to life - very apt, bless him.

Bob seemed to be in the middle of some intrigue concerning the management and spent some time on the phone saying that her refused to do this and that. The buildings around the compound were all locked up in protest so we didn't really get to see much of the inside of the buildings. We did look around a bit and peered through the church windows. There was certainly no feeling of presence anywhere.

The road out to palm valley was quite close to Hermannsburg and fairly rutted. The country was quite unlike the MacDonells. Here the rock forms spectacular shapes and is like sandstone. The track led us to an obligatory camping ground which was almost empty until later in the evening when quite a few Germans arrived in Four Wheel drive camper vans. In spite of this it was quite a pleasant spot and even had some solar showers. Just as we were packing up after dinner a dingo arrived and came right up to Bonnie and Jack looking for food. They fed it some bread, much to the rangers disgust when he came along to announce his fireside talk. he said he would have to shoot it because it would be a nuisance and might bite someone.

Close up of horizontal rock Palm Valley

Someone said they saw a spectacular meteoric shower tonight. I missed it. It is still and quiet now.

next in sequence