I always seem to miss something that may be important when visiting a place.
Last year when we were at Alalya Waterhole, also known as Thomas Reservoir, we walked in from our camp for a distance of about two kilometres. I was quite tired after such a walk with my prosthetic knees and did not do half the things I had hoped to do whilst in and around the waterhole. I studied the gorge on the walk in and reckoned that I could drive in there if a next visit was on the cards.
Now, in 2013, my opportunity came again as we left the Tarn of Auber. The distance to Alalya was around 70km from our last camp and over many sand dunes and through stands of Mulga, Gidgea, Desert Poplars, Desert Oaks, shrubs and grasses. Some of the flora remnants, when dried for many years and baked in the relentless desert sun, become rock hard and sharp, and spare no thought for the soft rubber compound of a passing tyre.
This year I towed my trailer to Alice Springs with my MRF Cross-ply nylon tyres on board so that I could have some defence against the flora as I made my way through the foliage. The MRF (Madras Rubber Factory) tyres are fitted with tubes to split rims, are 16 ply having 10ply tread and 6 ply sidewalls and serve much better in the fight against multiple punctures. The downside of using these tyres is their narrowness and their poor ability to flotation over soft sand. They are known colloquially as ‘Cheese-cutters’. Running these tyres at lower air pressures is a must but you have to experiment with what amount of pressure you need to keep your vehicle moving at a safe and economical speed through the bush. I ran them at 22psi and suffered no punctures.
MRF Super Lug Tyres…..almost invincible
I had decided to drive along the freshly graded seismic line hoping that it would take us to the Deering Creek Track and perhaps, beyond. We were indeed blessed, as all the bad bits where dry foliage had staked my tyres last year, had been cleared by heavy machinery, all the way to our designated track and we made good time.
It took a while to locate the seismic track we had used last year as the graded part ended at the Deering Creek Track. Once located, I could not see any evidence of our tracks we had made on our previous visit. The seismic line however is quite clear as it cuts a swathe through the vegetation and that after being pushed through by a bulldozer some 32 years prior! But the track is overgrown by small trees, bushes and shrubs.
About half way to our turn-off point to Alalya another seismic line comes in from the south. Here I saw vehicle tracks coming in. It looked like the tracks were made quite recently. I subsequently found out that acquaintances of mine had been in that area a few weeks prior. It appears that they had a Quad bike in tow as the narrow tracks were visible in places as they used it to scout for the best track to take.
The last four kilometres to the small gorge is proper cross country and driving blind most of the time and one has to take care not to get the vehicle snagged up in some hidden hole in the grass or fallen tree. Once there I drove with great care over some large rocks and through small washouts. Then I did not see a large rock sticking out of the ground although my passenger tried to warn me. The front differential touched the rock and pulled it out of the ground and the 4×4 lifted off, or so it seemed, and eventually the rock rolled out the other side. Initially damage seemed little but a while after I noticed that the exhaust had been bent and pushed up against the chassis rail. It defied being worked on and stayed like that until I reached home again three weeks later. I believe that we may be the first people to drive in and camp in this small valley.
Thump! I hit a submerged rock! It dislodged and then rolled underneath the chassis lifting the Datto off the ground before exiting near the left rear wheel. I could not se any damage at first but on late inspection I found that the exhaust pipe and mufflers had been pressed up an were touching the chassis (it was not all that serious and my mechanic at home was able to repair the damage with ease)
To our great dismay we found Alalya Waterhole totally dry. We estimated that its capacity was around 50 million litres and that it had lost that water within the thirteen months since we had been there last. A Camel had perished of thirst right at the base of the pool. We had been looking forward to using the water for washing our clothes and keeping ourselves clean. But it was not to be this time around.
We set up camp about one hundred metres from the waterhole and as we were intending to stay two days, I erected my screen tent. After collecting enough fire wood for the night and getting our camp organised we were soon scouring the surrounding valley walls for rock art amongst the tumbled rocks. Some good finds were being reported and I intended to walk to all the places of interest the following day having renewed my acquaintance with some of the petroglyphs (rock carvings) which I had found last year. There always seems to be something appearing that you may have missed last time. On both sides of the small valley the strata rocks are angle up from the waterhole so that walking to the top of the range is relatively easy. At Alalya we have found no Pictographs, only Petroglyphs. This is in contrast with The Tarn of Auber some 70km to the east where only Pictographs exist. It would seem that the visitation by humans at Alalya may have occurred at an earlier period in time. Whatever the history of the place is, there are no rock paintings visible. It may be that those who came later shunned the area due to cultural reasons and as a place of habitation and only used it for sustenance when the rains had fallen.
After we had cooked our evening meal and had settled down around the fire for a chat about the day’s events we thought that we heard the short bark of a dog. Shining the big beam torch into the dark brought up nothing but very soon after a Dingo started howling at the top of the ridge behind us. Although Dingoes are not considered dangerous they can be if they are hungry enough and in a pack. Their mournful howl can send shivers down your spine in the darkness of the night. The howling intervals increased as other Dingoes in the area responded to the first caller. Soon the cacophony became overbearing and not knowing the numbers of Dingoes I brought my rifle out just in case. One Dingo was lurking at the top of the ridge as we shone the torch and found the reflection of its eye and then moved down to within about one hundred metres of our camp. Not wanting to hurt the animal I fired a shot over the top of it and with this it sped away from us….for the time being. A short while later it was up on the ridge again, voicing its displeasure at us or calling its mates. Periodically through the night it voiced its concern by giving that mournful howl. We turned in around 11pm and by 1am the Dingo had plucked up enough courage to come closer to the camp. It growled behind my tent at one stage and I worried about Bill who was sleeping out in the open (he erected his tent the next night). I was up three times during the early hours of the morning waving the torchlight at the dog. Around 5am the Moon came up and the Dingo settled down and probably caught some shut-eye as well.
During our wanderings over the rocks the next day Jeremy could hear faint noises under a rock-ledge. He managed to get some rare video footage of three Dingo puppies in their lair not forty metres from where we were encamped. No wonder the Mother-Dog was upset! The following night however, the Dingoes were not heard. Either the mother dog had moved her pups or had accepted us as temporary intruders into her space.
Our day was taken up discovering the ancient ‘faces’ and totemic drawings as marked on the rocks all that time ago. On the lower rocks the faces are more irregular depicting to what I see as links between waterholes and not faces but higher up on the rocks real faces appear in ‘Al Johnson’ style. One can only but guess as to the reason for their origin. In the afternoon Jeremy went for a long walk and came back later with the news that he had not found any more overhangs but that there was a grave behind the top of the East Ridge. We all went for a walk with me actually climbing up and scrambling over rocks with some difficulty. The grave is neatly marked with a cross and rocks around the perimeter. Stones have been laid on the grave and painted white. A rubbing stone is visible as a headstone. At one stage there were four fence-posts denoting the corners of the grave but two of them have been burnt to their foot-ends by bushfires. We can only think that an elder of the Ikuntji Clan is buried there. We had enquired from the Traditional Owner about sacred sites in the area but were told that there were none.
When looking for rock art and especially petroglyphs I am always puzzled by art work which is high up on a cliff face. At Alalya there are some petroglyphs that are at least four metres from the ground and one metre from the skyline with no rock-ledges in between to hold a sculptor or artist in balance, to perform their work. One may think of many scenarios such as rock falls or land subsidence but no one answer is forthcoming.
Another phenomenon about ancient art is that one seldom finds galleries of either pictographs or petroglyphs no more than 200 metres from waterholes. Yes, there are incidents where such art is found away from a water-source but multiples of art are usually found close to water. Rubbing stones, seeds grinders. Decorative rock art pieces and spear sharpening grooves are all found within 200 metres of Alalya. As we stood there amongst all these ancient artefacts we conjured up a scene depicting the peoples and their daily lives in transit, using this valuable place for their rest and recreation. There are no shelters of substance at Alalya so we guessed that it was used on the way past to better hunting grounds.
All too soon our time was up at Alalya and we bid this ancient place with its mysteries and its Dingo guardians farewell, and drove off again, out through the passage between the hills.
It had been a rewarding experience