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Retrace 1996: Yulara (Ayers Rock)
Friday 27th September 1996
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The wind howls across this rocky expanse and whistles in the few low trees around us. This is the most spectacular camp of all so far on this journey, under the most difficult conditions and the highlight of an otherwise unremarkable day.

It had rained during the night, just as the woman from Kings Creek Station had predicted, and exactly on cue as I had passed her bush wisdom on to a young Irishman called Dave who had pitched his tent next to us and who was heading for the Larapinta trail and Standley Chasm. At 2.30 am Susan and I were woken by thunder and droplets of rain on our fly-less tent. We had a bit of a scramble to put everything under cover and flung the tarpaulin over as much of the tent as we could. We remained remarkably dry..

While drying out in the morning I met a nice American couple who lived in Melbourne and were geologists. They promised to look up The Flight of Ducks and send me an email with their thoughts - but they won't. We left about 8.30 am and I bade farewell to my hat which was probably still on the west face of the rock. 2 kms before Curtin Springs I felt something strange in the engine of the car. We lost power and gradually coasted in to Curtin Springs Station where I opened the bonnet and discovered a small hole in the radiator hose. A tall wiry station owner rummaged through his spare parts out the back and we eventually found one that when shortened a little would do the job. He told me that cattle prices were so bad and the drought so long that things were very bad. The place was very much a family operation involving about 13 people. The various sons took it in turns to go to Adelaide. Each of them must have had a Landcruiser because there were 7 of them all in a row in a long shed. They ranged from a very flash one with lots of elaborate lights down to a heap like mine. We paid out $25 which I thought quite fair considering but still, I regretted that I had not been more thoughtful about spares. In fact, we were incredibly lucky it had not happened in more remote country. Fortune smiling..

The rest of the day was just driving with the occasional stop for fuel and the odd drink. The children were wonderful. The country gradually changed from red dunes and spinifex to vast empty gibber plains. We called in to Coober Pedy again and this time had drinks in a dugout run by an American woman called Heulan...? She had come as a teacher 25 years before but was not particularly forthcoming about her story. Susan felt like eating meat, so she bought some lamb chops while I filled up with water. By the time we left it was getting late and storm clouds were threatening, yet, in spite of this, we were optimistic about finding a camp..

Our main problem was that there were simply no trees and the ground was just rock (small sharp rocks). After about half an hour we spotted some trees to the east and found a small track leading through some broken country beyond a highway rest stop. We followed it for about 3 kms and then left the track and followed a dry water course where there was less stone. It reminded me of the storm scene in Dersu Usala. The wind threatened to blow everything away. We used the car for protection and Jack managed to get a fire going in the lee of the creek bed while the girls put up their tent and I pumped up the air mattresses..

There was something primal in the scene as it unfolded. It was something we all responded to in our various ways. Directly above, was clear sky with stars. All around the horizon was a solid mass of black cloud criss crossed with lightening strikes. Apart from the wind it was like being in the eye of some enormous cataclysm. In the last glimmers of light Emily walked away from the camp while Bonnie searched for opals amongst the stones which covered the plain. Jack dug a huge hole in the creek bank.

To cap it all off, a full moon gradually rose above the black circle of clouds into the clear sky above. Memorable.

After a feast of grilled chops and salad we only just had time to finish setting up before drops of rain came with the clouds and it began to pour. Because our tent had no fly, Susan and I slept in dry but cramped conditions in the car while the 3 children snuggled in Bonnie‘s tent. In rained on and off all night. My only worry was that the country would turn to mud and we would find ourselves unable to get back to the road.

As it turned out there was a lot of mud but after a breakfast of cheese jaffles we managed to pick our way across the stones quite easily.

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