Day 15. Saturday 12 August.
Surprise of the day was prices at the Yulara IGA: 65 cents a kg for spuds (D saw no reason not to stock up), $1.69 kg for a good size head of broccoli, and other items were comparative with Canberra or better. Perhaps it’s us at home who are being ripped off? The carrots will have some serious companions and it definitely means we can delay going into the Alice (although we are planning to be there next Saturday for the Henley on the Todd Regatta.
To Uluru, and the same spiritual feeling as a decade ago. What is a decade when time is measured out here in millions of years? It’s not difficult to appreciate and share the connection to this land and to the symbols it provides.
A 50 km drive took us to Kata Tjuta, which in some ways rivals ‘The Rock’.
As well as viewing from a distance, we walked up the Walpa Gorge track, again awed by the majesty.
At the risk of being narky, just a comment about some of the tourists (from overseas). There are signs requesting that visitors remain on the pathway: these were frequently ignored. A billboard explained the significance of the place to the indigenous people, and how it is considered sacred, and that they approach it in silence and with respect. We visitors are asked to do the same: apparently some had not read that request, as their chatter and carry on was anything but respectful of the place. Rant over.
Back on the Lasseter Hwy to Curtin Springs (150 kms to reflect on the beauty of the day) with D on a promise. Once there, a quick set up and he received his reward: a cold Coopers Ale – and T had a Coopers Light. We took the opportunity to introduce ourselves as friends of Sylvia, a member of SWUC, whose daughter is married to the original owner’s son, and manages this place, which is just a small part of the 1 million+ acres of cattle station. At the bar we met ‘Irish’ (Sylvia’s grandson-in-law, Dave Allen) and chatted to the cheeky patriarch Peter Severin who immediately pulled out several non-pc jokes upon seeing D and drawing an immediate likeness to another famous (infamous) Aussie, Rolf Harris!
We didn’t need much convincing to stay for dinner, outside, under the thatch roof courtyard, and shared home -made chilli and ‘plain’ sausages. The history boards in the courtyard tell the story of the transformation of the station: from sheep to cattle and the arrival of Peter and Dawn Severin in 1956, through drought and flood, the arrival of helicopter mustering and satellites, then the addition of accommodation for tourists to Uluru. Tourism complements the cattle business. The kitchen had Chinese chefs busy; we were served by a young girl from Nanking doing work experience. It is a wonderful set up, with free camping out the back, relaxed and welcoming and we shared the balmy evening with a motorcycling couple who were riding their bikes from the West (Shark Bay) to the East (Byron Bay) coasts, an expedition in the dust and sand over about 6 weeks. They were relishing a steak meal after 2 weeks of dehydrated food and before the next session of the same. With their kitchen limitations they had no use really for some extra carrots.
Day 16. Sunday 13 August.
Started the day with a visit to the office to catch up with Lindy, Sylvia’s daughter. T duly made contact and fetched D from refueling duties to join the gang in the kitchen for a cuppa and freshly baked muffins. Peter was peeling spuds (his everyday chore), T was chatting with Emma (Lindy’s granddaughter, age about 11), the usual stuff: school, home, friends etc. What a confident, engaging girl she is, describing her classroom with School of the Air, household chores, her best friend who lives 100kms down the road….Lindy was preoccupied with some friends who had dropped in, explaining the plans for renovation and extension of the proposed bathroom facilities, but checked in with Sylvia to let her know we’d arrived: Sylvia instructed her to show us the paper making operation.
After the friends had departed we were taken on the tour – which lasted for a couple of hours. We felt truly grateful that this time had been made available in an obviously full-on schedule. In addition to an explanation of the paper-making process, we were also treated to a discussion about life on the station and the attached businesses (campground and paper making) which are all part of a ‘system’ that provides a leveling or some surety of income when conditions are bad. Lindy noted that the combination of the GFC, the dollar exchange rate, a drought and the ban on live meat exports to Indonesia had combined to create a dire economic situation some years ago. Many of the cattle destined for export became too big during that period – over 350 kg – so were redirected to the domestic market, creating an over -supply. Ashley (Peter Severin’s son & Lindy’s husband) had been offered the same price for his cattle as he’d received in the 1970s – he queried this, with the agent stating that he already had more than he needed – ‘take it or leave it’. Ashley left it. Interestingly, each head of cattle requires 250 acres, so the million+ acres supports about 4,000. Lindy said that at times they could carry much more, but had to husband the land so that it could survive the bad times.As Dianna, one of the staff, with a degree in Environmental Science remarked, they are true ‘greenies’ because of their care and maintenance of the land.
A couple of years ago Lindy and Ashley had ‘run away’ to Tasmania for a holiday and had visited the fantastic paper making operation in Burnie. A germ of an idea was planted! Ashley came on board, and the disused abattoir at Curtin Springs gained a new lease on life. As an aside, the abattoir was built many years ago to approved standards and certified for use, but ‘due to local politics’ the abattoir closed in the 1980s, so that now beef is sent to Adelaide for slaughter and then sent back to Curtin Springs for consumption. Anyway, that meant that this new paper-making business had somewhere to start, which was almost a perfect fit. Most of the equipment was built by the lads, apart from a Hollander beater and some deckle boards obtained from Burnie.
Having started this business, the question was: where to from here? Enter Lindy’s daughter Amy, who has a creative streak that bemuses her mother: ‘I gave birth to her, but I have no idea where she came from!’ Amy has developed a line of jewelry made from the paper, but more intriguingly has also created ‘wearable art’, last year gaining second place in a competition. This year she is exhibiting in an international expo in Perth later this year. In addition to these products, paper made from local ingredients is sold. The primary ingredient is Spinifex Grass, but other grasses are also used such as Woolly Butt Grass, as well as colouring and texture agents such as the red soil, bark, clay, flowers (eg. bottlebrush), bangtails, and cow poo. The result is fantastic, and is a visual and tactile reminder of this country. Lindy explained that they are not into the commercial paper field, it’s about providing an activity that keeps the tourists in the area for another day…business is really about beds and meals, so an activity that leads to this end is what the paper is about.
Have a look at www.curtinsprings.com
And it seems that there’s a lovely Maya everywhere we go!
(PS. A bangtail is the tail of a cow that is cut off close to the rump during counting (about every three years). Those that have been counted will have had their tail cut off, so only the ones still with a tail are added to the tally – and that tail is then cut off).
We departed in the early afternoon, heading for King’s Creek and the canyon, with a quick stop to take a look at Mt Conner.
T reflected on this family business community, the 4 generations living and working together 24/7, the challenges involved in diversification, the time/labour/creative output equation, how to meet the needs& wants of tourists while keeping the staffing levels appropriate…
Something we did notice was the absence of Indigenous workers and the presence of overseas staff, some working toward permanent residence and others here for the short term work experience.
Kings Creek is a different version of Curtin Springs: far more organized and controlled, and expensive! We are wondering why we stopped here tonight: we have a rig with power and water that can easily free camp for at least a week and we have reprovisioned. D recalls that we dropped in here in Gloria at night in 2007 to refuel and possibly to stay the night. Two things put us off back then: the price and the attitude of the Irishman serving us. He almost refused to provide fuel once we told him we were going to keep driving, because he said that meant we would almost certainly die by hitting wandering cattle. Anyway, we drove on to a rest area about 40 km up the road crawling along at 60 kph – and yes, there were lots of dark wandering cattle on the road, hard to pick up against the bitumen. We’re wised up now and will be on the lookout for those free bush sites from here on in.