Sunday, December 26, 2010

Leaving Alice stop... Darwin!

....but everyone knows that its not just that simple to go from Alice Springs to Darwin. Even though they are in the same territory, we aren't just talking a simple bus trip to get you there. As I said in an earlier post, we are talking 2,979 kilometres (11846 miles) and I am not just jumping on a bus or car. I'm taking the World Famous Ghan!

For all of my international readers, you are probably wondering what it is (which probably proves that its not "World Famous" at all). Wikipedia describes it as: see this link.

Lets just say its one of the Great Australian Railways, which its website describes as a "transcontinental adventure offers an unsurpassed view of Australia - North to South over three unforgettable days." I am taking half of the journey, which takes a day and a half - leaving at 6pm and then arriving in Darwin at 5.30pm the following day. Its website says that if you travel on this train, you "are embarking on one of the great train journeys of the world". It was named after the Afghan cameleers who once traversed this route, taking many of its passengers from one edge of this continent to the other, through the very centre of Australia (where they'll pick me up!). I'll "be entering the Top End" where the landscape that I have become accustomed to (arid, dry Central Australia) will "mellow with subtropical flora staking its claim over the passing scenery."

I am so excited about this part of my trip. This is definitely one of the highlights of my Oz Overlander Experience and I hope to get as many photos as possible to show you all.


Thank You Facebook Friends

Thanks to everyone who has come to because I spammed you all a reminder on Facebook. Traffic has dropped dramatically over the Christmas period and so I needed to advertise its existence once more so that traffic can increase.

You see, I blog because it makes me feel like I am not alone on my journey. If I have have people coming to my blog, it makes me feel as though I am traveling with people, showing them the sights, giving them my opinion on what I see, describing what I love, discussing what I dont. Its really important to know that people are following so that the days dont seem so long, and so that the click of a camera just doesnt isnt being done for the sake of it. Its so that I can show you all what I am seeing. That is the joy that I get out of traveling - sharing my experiences.

So, if you've come via facebook, thank you so much for coming along. Now, enjoy reading my journey so far (if you get to the bottom of the page, you need to press "older posts" or go to the left hand column to find the name of each post that I have written).

Thank you!


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Kata-Tjuta - Valley of the Winds Hike

So for all of you that are following on Facebook, you should be receiving these photos as they come through, but then it takes time for me to sit down and write a blog post about them. But for those dedicated blog readers who are still hanging on, here's a little bit about my hike which I took on the third day of being in the Kata-Tjuta National Park. This hike was called "the Valley of the Winds" and its the second of the hikes (and the longest) that you can take in the Kata-Tjuta area and they only recommend doing the hike if you are of moderate to high level of fitness - not because of the kind of hike, but the sheer heat stress that can occur. This is because, in some places during the hike, you are in between massive walls of sandstone which can raise the temperature to over 20 degrees celcius MORE than what the temperature already is.

Interestingly, on the way to the hike, I saw this sign! W.A border only 190km away! Amazing!

Welcome to Kata-Tjuta.

Kata Tjuta in the distance.

Having walked the first 700m, it was time to take the 7.4km loop option!

The terrain was quite easy at the start.

But got very steep to get up to the 2nd Lookout.

Karingana, the second lookout.

The amazing view from the second lookout - well worth the climb up through Kata-Tjuta.

The rest of the 8km walk was out in the open, sun burning, undulating hills with magnificent views.

The rock from which Kata-Tjuta is made. Sandstone stained with iron oxide.

The types of wildflowers seen along the way.

And the wildlife, including a BlackSilver Shrike and a Rock Wallaby, or "Euro".

More beautiful scenery.

The end of a long 3.5 hour hike! Well worth it!


Alice Springs - Not Your Holiday Destination of Choice

Here I am, writing from Alice Springs, where I have spent almost five days as a "layover" before I jump on the Ghan, the amazing Railway Route which takes you up from Alice Springs to Darwin. I will be writing out of order from my pictures again (the rest of Uluru and then Kings Canyon are still to come), but I thought that I would take the time to write while I am in the writing mood, and leave the pictures until later.

I want to talk about what I have learnt about Australia - my home country, the Northern Territory and I want to share it with Alice Springs being the centrepiece - being where it all becomes just a collective bundle of all of the problems that exist out here in Central Australia. I want to talk about our Aboriginals.

Here is the Wikipedia explanation of Alice Springs:

Alice Springs is the second largest town (sometimes incorrectly referred to as a city) in the Northern Territory of Australia. Popularly known as "the Alice" or simply "Alice", Alice Springs is situated in the geographic centre of Australia near the southern border of the Northern Territory.[2] The site is known as Mparntwe to its traditional inhabitants, the Arrernte, who have lived in the Central Australian desert in and around what is now Alice Springs for more than 50,000 years. Alice Springs has a population of 27,481 people, which makes up 12 percent of the territory's population. Alice averages 576 metres (1,890 ft) above sea level; the town is nearly equidistant from Adelaide and Darwin.

The town of Alice Springs straddles the usually dry Todd River on the northern side of the MacDonnell Ranges. The region where Alice Springs is located is known as Central Australia, or the Red Centre, and is an arid environment consisting of several different deserts. In Alice Springs, temperatures can vary by up to 28 °C (50 °F) and rainfall can vary quite dramatically from year to year. In summer, the average maximum temperature is 36.6 °C (97.9 °F), whereas in winter the average minimum temperature can be 7.5 °C (45.5 °F).

That is the Wikipedia explanation of Alice Springs. Now, I am going to write this post about what I have learnt of "the real" Alice Springs, Central Northern Territory and the suffering of our Aboriginal people.

Before I write what I am going to write, its very important for all of my readers to know that -it has been tried and tested - there is not racist bone in my body. I believe in justice, fairness and equity for all. I have always been extremely interested and sympathetic to my country's causes, particularly the suffering of our Aboriginals at the hands of our earlier Federal Governments (including the suffering of the Stolen Generation). I have also paid particular attention, as a lawyer and as a believer of human rights for all, to such initiatives that the Federal Government has attempted to implement in the past, most recently being the Northern Territory Intervention, or the Northern Territory National Emergency Response (in 2007).

  1. So first things first, I am writing this as an Aboriginal sympathiser, not as an Aboriginal criticiser. Secondly, I am writing this using (1) my own observations; (2) information that I have read online during the quiet times of my journey about the Intervention; and (3) third parties - "White, Anglo-Saxon or European" people who have shared their insight into living their daily lives side by side with our Aboriginal people (who I will call "locals" for the sake of ease and clarity). Please do not take this "locals" as a racist statement - "white locals" does not mean that the Aboriginal people are "black locals" - I refuse to call Aboriginal people in this post "black" because I believe that is a derogatory term).

  2. You will notice that I will not speak of our Aboriginal people as our "indigenous people" because I have been told by locals that the word has been incorrectly used. They are not "indigenous people". The word "indigenous people" started being used by the Federal Government to incorporate Torres Strait Islanders (cultures that exist on the islands between Indonesia and Australia), because as one local said, the Torres Strait Islanders refuse to be called Aboriginals - and Aboriginals do not like to be referred to as "indigenous". I found that quite interesting, given that we so often call our Aboriginals as our "indigenous people".

  3. I am of the generation in which we saw a Federal Government in 2008 agree to say "Sorry" for the Stolen Generation, and past abuses of Aboriginals. This was a significant act by the Federal Government to recognise these past wrongs. Prior to that, I was also a law student who had the benefit of learning about the decision of Mabo, which recognised pre-existing land rights of Aboriginals before Australia was "settled" by the Anglo Saxons in 1788. Therefore, if you add up these two significant recognitions by our Federal Government in the past two decades, you can understand why I was told by a local that (1) the Aboriginals are considerably hostile towards the Northern Territory locals and the Federal Government for past abuses; and (2) the Aboriginals are considerably hostile towards the Northern Territory locals and the Federal Government for "stealing their land" and hostile towards tourists for "being on their land" (nb: these statements were statements made by a third party who I spoke with about the issue - I have not received any verbal abuse from an Aboriginal whilst in Alice Springs).

  4. Now, when speaking with a local when traveling around Uluru, he painted an incredibly dire picture of the Aboriginal communities surrounding Yulara (the town closest to Uluru) and Alice Springs. Rampant alcoholism, child abuse, third world conditions, piles of rubbish lying around, severe malnurishment of children, lack of education, violence....the list goes on.

  5. I was given the example of the condition of the camps around Uluru, including Mutitjulu. In 26 October 1985, the Australian Government returned ownership of Uluru to the local Pitjantjatjara Aborigines, with one of the conditions being that the AŠĻČangu would lease it back to the National Parks and Wildlife agency for 99 years and that it would be jointly managed. As part of the deal, the Aboriginal communities get a % of the total entrance fees to the National Park. One particular local, a tour guide in the area for over seven years, said "this percentage of money is handed back out to the community PER PERSON in the camp, no matter what age. This means that there is an incentive for the Aboriginal communities to have more children. So the camps are filling up with more and more children because it means more park fees per family."

  6. There is an interesting article which I have found about the furore about the fees and charges that tourists have to pay and the controversy that exists with the money people have to pay to go and enter the National Park. It is questionable where the money goes, but it is a fact (signs say so) that a percentage of they money goes to the Mutitjulu people here (read the comments - very interesting).

  7. The same local tour guide said "I used to drive the Aboriginal kids to the primary school. I used to drive into the camps and drive them out to the school. The conditions they live in are third world conditions. They live in federally built homes and often, within six months, that house will be destroyed so the family needs to be relocated again - for free and with no penalty for the damage caused - into a new federally funded house built."

  8. He said "They can't work, because of the discrimination against them, so they all receive the Federal Government pension and they can send their kids to school for free because the Federal Government have built and are paying for the local school - which is open to both locals and Aboriginals. Once the children reach a certain age, they are allowed to attend the college, which is for Aboriginals only. The locals have to send their children away to boarding school if they want them further educated past the age of around 12. If the Aboriginal family can get their elder child to go to school, the family gets paid up to $65 for that child to stay over at the "boarding school" between Monday to Friday - clearly an incentive to shift the kids off the school and not be responsible for them". He says, "when I pick them up, they are full of lice, are wearing dirty underwear and ripped clothes and when they get to the Federal Government school, they clean them up and given them new clothes, only to return them back on Friday afternoons to the community. Once the children reach 18, they are left to their own devices." The local tour guide said that when he drove the buses to the school, he used to have knock on the doors of each home and coax the children out, but there were often many excuses as to why they were not going to school that day. He said that as a result, the standard of schooling at the college (for children aged 12 - 18) was the equivalent of that of children aged 6 - 12. Inconsistent schooling.

  9. Here is when he gets quite hard - and I do remind everyone that it is entirely verbatim - its not fact, its not proven, its just one man's view of the situation. He says "with the children at school, and the mothers and fathers not needing to be responsible for the care of their children (except for those under 4), the adult Aboriginals have nothing else to do - so the pension money, park fees, education incentives and other hand outs get spent on alcohol and junk food". He speaks of the local IGA, and the stories he hears from the counter sellers, above some of the local women who have to remind the adult Aboriginals that they cannot feed their children properly by giving them Coca Cola, lollies, and chips. The local spoke of the patch of grass 1km out of the Aboriginal Camp, being the "greenest patch of grass in the entire Northern Territory". Confused, I was, given that Central Australia is arid land. He waited and then reminded me that our local beer, called "VB" is purchased in large green boxes. The babies that are not at school age, are often left to their own devices as mum and dad drink themselves into a stupor.

  10. Part of the NT Intervention stated that they would "removal customary law and cultural practice considerations from bail applications and sentencing within criminal proceedings". In other words, they would revert to "local" laws when dealing with juveniles and adult Aboriginal offenders. However interestingly enough, the local stated that "no Aboriginal under 18 ever gets charged here in the Northern Territory". I, quite surprised, told him that there was no possible way that a law could be enacted to stop the charging and prosecution of Aboriginals under the age of 18. Sure, in 2000, the United Nations slammed Australia's mandatory detention of Aboriginals under 18 and that practice was abolished in 2001 by the Northern Territory Government but that did not mean NO child (whether local or Aboriginal) became free from prosecution. His response? "The police just don't do it." He speaks of stories of adults aged 18 - 20 years stealing cars, and "then handing the keys to a 14 year old in order to avoid prosecution."

  11. Locals, both this tour guide, and a few other locals with which I have had discussions whilst up here, have said the same thing. The Aboriginals in the areas surrounding Alice Springs and in Alice Springs itself are in dire straits. To much extent, the Federal Government is doing its best to provide services to the Aboriginals to try and improve their living conditions, assist the Aboriginals to retain their culture and not succumb to "white local" temptations such as alcohol, and increase the mortality rate.
Sadly, from what I hear (above) from the locals and from what I am seeing with my very own eyes, the Northern Territory Government is failing badly at assisting the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory. However, I then turn my mind to whether the Federal Government are in fact enabling them, through providing them so much in the way of financial assistance, so that they can go and spend so much money on alcohol?

They have tried to limit the financial assistance by providing their pension by making it in part vouchers but there is no education provided to the mothers and fathers about nutrition so that the younger generation to grow up healthy and strong. They have also allegedly tried "bush orders", that is, limiting their pensions and then bringing the food into the camps. However, there have been complaints by one website that states the food is often spoiled by then time it gets there because of the distance it travels.

This website (though it appears incredibly left wing) also states that the NT Intervention has failed because:
  • Ninety nine per cent of all Aboriginal communities in the NT still have no substance abuse service and 99 per cent have no dental service;

  • Only 54 per cent have state funded primary care services and 47 per cent have an Aboriginal primary health care service more than 50km away.

  • The Australian Medical Association has estimated that $700 million is needed to bring up to minimum standard the basic infrastructure needed to maintain health, such as water and sewage.
  • The government has funded only 20 child protection workers to cover the whole Territory, and currently only 1 is actually employed.
The locals say that the Northern Territory Intervention was supposed to turn outer Aboriginal communities into "dry communities" but that hasnt stop Aboriginals from coming INTO Alice Springs after each fortnight's Federal Government Pension Day to "binge" on masses of alcohol before returning back to their camps for a week or so. You can, sadly, see it when you are in Alice Springs.

My own observations show:
  • that there are countless groups of Aboriginals huddled in groups in the Todd River (the main river in town, which is dry) drinking from cases of VB. So, there's alcohol being served in large quantities in the town of Alice Springs.

  • that there are large groups of Aboriginals, both male and female, that linger around the liquor stores of Alice Springs, and there are numerous security guards that man the doors in case there is "trouble".

  • I had to hand over my drivers licence to be scanned into a register when I purchased 6 bottles of lite beer in order for the Liquor Store to see whether I had any court order against me. If I was registered as having a court order against me, it would be reported back to the court. I would then be refused alcohol. This is why they have security guards. It would it then not be easy to just ask a friend to buy on my behalf, given that the court order is registered only against me, right? And what would be my punishment? I expect, given the comments made by locals, that there would be little punishment for breach of order, as I expect the detention of any Aboriginal for summary offences are frowned upon.

  • I was warned when I went to Alice Springs that I was not to leave the hostel at night on my own or even in groups because of the danger that is presented.
The only real evidence of any action that I have seen in Alice Springs (and a few outer communities) to stop the masses of alcohol that is being drunk in this town are designated areas, through signage, that states alcohol cannot be consumed in a certain area.

How does that improve the conditions of our Aboriginal people in general? Do we really have control over the poor conditions that allegedly exist in the outer camps? My answer is no. And this is a sad, sad lesson to have learnt as I travel around my own country.

What is the answer to this? The Federal Government doesnt have the answer, clearly. I'd be interested to know what role the elders of the Aboriginal people have to say about this...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Images of Uluru at Sunset

At the end of the first full day, I also went to see Uluru at Sunset, one of the most magical experiences a person can undertake in their lifetime. It really is awe-inspiring, as the sun goes down, the rock lights up.

There was a break in the clouds behind us and all of a sudden Uluru lit up like a Christmas tree.

It turned into a magnificent glowing orange.....

...creating a spectacular photo opportunity.


Walpa Gorge, Kata Tjuta

Next stop was Kata Tjuta, to walk the Walpa Gorge, a short walk amongst the towering walks of the 36 large sandstone boulders that make Kata Tjuta.

Kata Tjuta from a distance.

Walpa Gorge.

Walking into Walpa Gorge, you get a perspective of just how big these boulders are.

The track in and out of Walpa Gorge.

The rocky track in the hot sun.

Like Uluru, the colours of the sandstone change with the direction of the sun.

Standing in front of Kata Tjuta, or its english translation, the Olgas.

Looking back at the Olgas, or Kata Tjuta.

Base Walk Around Uluru

I decided not to climb Uluru and the National Parks and Wildlife Rangers make it pretty clear that for safety reasons, as well as cultural reasons, people just should not walk up Uluru. 35 people have died since the walk opened, and when you look at the kind of climb you need to undertake, it is little wonder why. Even as a moderately fit person, I don't think I would have climbed it in the heat of the day. It'd be stupidity.

The sign that says that on this particular day, the climb was closed anyway, due to strong winds. You can see the climb in the background, and just how steep and exposed the climb is.

The rock of Uluru - a sedimentary rock called "arkose sandstone", which is a coarse-grained sandstone which mostly contains a mineral called feldspar. Interestingly, Uluru is actually not naturally orange. Rather, its been stained by the iron oxide in the surrounding desert sands.

My friend, Judith from Germany, and I took the 9.6km Base Walk of Uluru, which takes around 3.5 hours to do.

Here I am, touching Uluru. There are only a few places around Uluru where you can actually get to the rock and put your hands on it. Much of the area surrounding Uluru is roped off as it is "sacred land" of the Anangu people.

Uluru is full of surprises, including caves. The roof of this cave had an almost lattice effect created over the millions of years.

The walk around Uluru in the heat of day - approximately 35 degrees celcius.

Here I am, exhibiting the sheer size of Uluru.

The sandy paths around the base of the Uluru.

The sheer contrast between the blue sky and the orange stained Uluru.

Different perspectives....each angle creates a completely different perspective of Uluru. It never looks the same from the same view. Its quite amazing.

Aboriginal art work created by the Arangu people.

The rock in the blazing hot sun.

Another angle!

Jumping for joy after a long, almost 10km walk, around Uluru.