Australia – The Land Down Unda

From the archives: Our trip to Australia – Green Island, the Great Barrier Reef, and Uluru (the rock formerly known as Ayers Rock)

Landing in Cairns (the strayans pronounce it “cans”) we were greeted on the jetway by a moist, humid wall of air.  A tourist destination by itself this was not our first stop.  The cabbie decided to drive on the wrong side of the road as we made our way from the airport to the ferry.  While the cab ride may have been wild, the catamaran ride was smooth and soon Green Island came into view.

Green Island is 27km off the shore of Cairns smack dab in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef.  The island is about 2km in circumerence and is home to the largest living saltwater crocodile in the world but you’ll find out more on him later. We were here to dive and the reef under the pier did not disappoint.

The potato fish is the ocean equivalent of a golden retriever, he reminded me of Doug from UP, “I have just met you but I love you, are you my master now?”.  Schools of Giant Trevally took shelter between the pylons while we swam. Below you can see my sister Echo make her way through the waves.

We did some open ocean dives where the reef was shallow enough to allow for a staging platform.  The visibility was ok but unfortunately in the last decade the Great Barrier Reef has been deteriorating.  Antler and brain coral were still to be found in deeper more undisturbed parts. This is one of the reasons that many parts of the reef are now off limits.

The island is also an animal sanctuary/park. The entrance is a boat that looks like it could have been a part of Pirates of the Caribbean, Australian edition.

 

I had to stop at the gift shop and try out some oven mitts.

 

 

Cassius is the largest and oldest crocodile in captivity.  At the time of the picture being taken he was 115 years old.  Here his handler was giving him a snack.

They are ornery because they got all them teeth but no toothbrush.

With the week coming to a close we got to the chopper and made for mainland.

As we waved goodbye to Green Island we thought about our next destination Alice Springs which is just a stones throw from Uluru..

By the way stones throw in ‘Stralia means a 495 km/6 hour drive.  We opted to fly from Alice Springs to Uluru.  The town and geological feature used to be called Ayers Rock. This wasn’t very politically correct and after the Australian government gave control of the land back to the Aborigines they leased it back – but don’t worry the Aborigines still own the land, I think.  They renamed it what it had been called since the dawn of man – Uluru.

The center of Australia might be the most desolate and hottest place on Earth.  I don’t know why the ancestors of the aboriginal people decided to trek AWAY from the coast and head here where the only source of water is this very rock.  Water is stored in wettish months in pools and cisterns on the rock.  In dry months the water trickles down to little relief.  This is where I was introduced to tjukurpa.

Tjukurpa (pronounced chookapah) is the law, story of creation, religion, culture, survival handbook, way of life and all-spice of the aboriginals.  It cannot be written down and must be passed on by oral tradition and artwork.  Examples of tjukurpa: you can’t climb Uluru, can’t eat Emu meat with salt, can’t have pictures of people who are dead, etc.  The Angangu (as the aboriginals call themselves) see themselves as caretakers of the land.  They practice bush burning to rid areas of spinefex grass (its a weed with a very high silica (sand/glass) content, only kangaroos eat it) and control wildfires as well as wildlife herd patterns.  I don’t remember much else and most of what I know is paraphrased as nothing is written down so good luck Googling.

We visited the sites by the best means of desert travel: camels.  First introduced by the British in 1839 they were used for an easier means of travel in the desert.  The British of course being no stranger to desert expeditions and imperialism by this time.

Interesting fact: latest dated aboriginal wall painting, dates to 1839.  It can be found on an under hanging face of Uluru in the shape of a camel hoof.  Someone saw a camel for the first time and decided to document it for his friends.  The other rock art is radiocarbon dated to a very long time ago. Like over 10,000 years.

Here I am with my replacement Bullwinkle, a camel.

What life there is in the desert clings tenaciously to it.

By sunset we arrived at Uluru to watch the sun set.  By day the sun above doesn’t cast many shadows and washes out the colors of the sandstone.  The setting sun shows the features in the rock that go with the story of the creation of the rock and the world.  The heart of the rock.  The path of the great serpent that leads to the water hole.

One thing is for sure here in the sacred red center.  Do not take anything home as a souvenir.  In the cultural visitors center there is a thick tome documenting as far back as whites have made contact with the aboriginals the curses that fall upon those who take even a small rock away from its resting place here.  I washed my boot soles just in case the dust counted towards ancient curses.

If you get a chance to visit this ex-British penal colony please jump on the opportunity.  The people are genuine if not strange, the flora is nothing to write home about, and the fauna all have the ability to bite, sting, or maim you.  Enjoy.

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