What is it about deserts and the red centre which appeals to our collective imagination? In Australia we think of Uluru as our spiritual centre, our pilgrimage site which draws us magnetically to the heart of Australia. Yet I’ve discovered more about the desert and its rocks while on my artists residency in Curtin Springs.
This week I went for an afternoon to Yulara for a bit of shopping. It’s the closest shopping centre to Curtin Springs, about an hour away and is where all the accommodation is for Uluru. The plaza was filled with people, plenty of international backpackers but also many older Australians on route across Australia. The shops were filled with the usual tourist merchandising which left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed and so glad we came to Uluru twenty years ago when the children were small on our own outback adventure.
So yesterday it was a relief to go out into the desert on my last day here at Curtin Springs and discover the ‘other’ large rock – Mt Connor. As this is on Curtin Springs pastoral leasehold, it is a privilege to be able to visit this ancient mountain surrounded by the most amazing rock formations around its rim. The only sound is the gravelly rocks crunching underneath our feet as we walked around some of its dry creek beds and the wind blowing. Awe inspiring and majestic.
In the tradition of the outback there was storytelling on our journey. We stopped at Paddy’s bore to view the remains of old cattle yards and heard the tale of Paddy, who hailed from Cooper Pedy. He was a sheep farmer who built his first hut underground until he advertised for a wife, collected her from The Ghan train and deposited her in the middle of the desert (he had to build her a stone house later). What a view from the window – spinifex and mulga, salt lakes and rocks, and Mt Connor a constant presence in the landscape.
I think of this ancient land as the beating heart of all that is Australian, indigenous and settlers, migrants and refugees. Even though we huddle around our coastline, it is to the desert we come for spiritual replenishment, to connect with the power that emanates from nature. I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity to be here, to spend time in the landscape and to make art.