Barrow Creek (NT)

Barrow Creek (NT)

The art of the Indigenous Peoples of Australia was, and to some extent still is, related to everyday life, it flows directly from rituals, not from aesthetic needs. The sense of touch is strongly involved in the creation of paintings. Take as an example drawings made in sand with a finger or a stick. These are, of course, impermanent forms, like Tibetan loose mandalas. Navajo Indians create similar ones. Native Australians do not need to preserve written drawings with a stick, because they are disposable pieces needed to extract the content during rituals.

I realized this when we reached the hamlet of Barrow Creek, on the main Stuart Highway, north of Alice Springs. There was a small pub covered with a million business cards and other gadgets, with children wandering around with cans of Coca-Cola and packets of crisps. Women looked away and men treated us like nothing. The excuse to stop here was to ask for directions. Our best maps showed no path that could take us anywhere near the mountain we were looking for. I counted on the help of the whites, I walked around the settlement, but I didn't see anyone.

– We are looking for a driveway to Mount Strezleki – Rocket asked one of the Elders.

I stood on the sidelines and thought we were wasting our time. How could they hear about a small mountain located far from hiking trails, a mountain with such a foreign name. And then something strange happened that I still can't explain. One of the men stood up languidly, took a stick, began drawing lines in the sand and muttering to himself. But clearly enough that we understood that he was talking to us.

– Drive twenty kilometers further north. There will be a mountain on the left, like a giant termite mound. It's hard to pass it - he said, not looking us in the eye for a moment.

He didn't want eye contact, and besides, he was drawing a map - as it later turned out - a very precise one.

– Just behind the mountain there will be an ordinary farm gate – he continued.

– You will open it and the path will lead you further. Recognize your mountain by its smell - he finished, put down his stick and rubbed the map with his boots.

My jaw dropped to the floor. Thanks to his tips, we found Strzelecki Mountain without any problems. It was a completely desolate area. We set up camp three kilometers from the summit. We walked for two days on very difficult terrain. The heat was tormenting us, the spinifex grass was hurting our legs until they bled, and billions of flies were bothering us. We conquered the mountain, measured it and described it. We felt the thrill of discovery. We left behind a metal plaque and a bottle with a written note, hidden among the stones at the very top. When climbing to the top, Valdi, who stayed in the camp, was visited by the owner of these lands. He asked what we were doing, but didn't chase us away. He was in a hurry because he had a flat tire and wanted to get to civilization on a half-board. At the end of the short inspection he said:

– I didn't know that I had Strzelecki Mountain on my land.

When I remember this story, I have the uncertain belief that the Elder who made the map in the sand intuitively sensed our intentions. He treated our journey as following in the footsteps of Strzelecki, whom he understood as his Ancestor. And this is of the utmost importance to him. It's sacred. He wanted and had to help us.

*** Excerpt from Marek Tomalik's book "Australia, where flowers are born from fire" National Geographic 2019

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