The tracks in the Australian Outback intersect innumerably in the time-space. In the Outback one never has the feeling of being truly alone. Where we now see stretches of red sand, rocky plateaus or prairies of spinifex grass new human and animal footprints suddenly appear and disappear, blending with countless others lost in the sands of time. Lonely Aboriginal figures on a walkabout along the mysterious Songlines, western explorers consumed by fire and fear, intrepid and unlikely drovers and treasure hunters. No, you are never really alone in the Australian Outback.
My footprints too have relented to this inflexible rule, overlapping one another, disappearing and resurfacing amidst dunes and rocky outcrops. Last year, on my return to Redbank Gorge in the heart of the Australian Red Centre where Uluru, the great monolith, Mt Conner and the Olgas rise out of the vast horizon, I found my footprints from twenty or so years ago. There was no real reason for me to do that, I simply heard the mysterious call that only those who have lived in the Outback are able to hear.
I was on the Meerenie Loop Road, the track that joins Kings Canyon and Glen Helen when suddenly, where the road veers left (clearly signposted today) leads me to steer down and follow it to the bottom of the gorge. I did not see the road sign, I found my old footprints. I left my car to start an almost 5km walk on the sand and over the stones of the dry river bed and there it was, just around a bend, Redbank Gorge – that long and narrow crevice that protects a precious pool of chilly water. I confess the first thing I did was to undress and dive into that pool, and then climb the 30-metre crevice through a zig-zag of rocks whose colours went from slate-grey to flame-red. Down in the Outback we become children again and we can let ourselves sink into the harmony of life, we just need to find our old footprints.
Why have I dwelled on these feelings, what brought them back to mind? It was the news of the imminent screening of the film “Tracks”. It is about the true story of Robyn Davidson’s feat – in 1977 a captivating and fearless 25-year old woman left from Alice Springs in the heart of desert Australia (Northern Territory) to reach Denham, a small town in Western Australia on the shore of the Indian Ocean. A woman, four camels and a dog crossed Australia’s red desert giving life to a wonderful adventure and charting a course that loses itself in the mystical labyrinth of the Australian time-space. I like to think that ‘in some way’ Robyn and I met at Redbank Gorge.
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