Day 22. Saturday 19 August.
Today was Henley on Todd regatta day in Alice, the 56th year that this iconic NT water(less) event has been held. The three Rotary clubs of/around Alice combine in a FUNdraising day in the dry sand of the Todd River. A parade through the Todd Mall kicks off the craziness and we got a taste of the vibe as we downed a coffee.
These guys were raising money in support of two cyclists, who were riding across the Simpson Desert to raise funds for Beyond Blue.
The town turned on perfect conditions, mild with a breeze. After all the preliminaries, the anthem and “I Still Call Australia Home’, the thank yous to the thousands who had travelled from afar, the first race got under way. The ‘boats’ run a course through the sand to a positioned 44 gal drum, turn and head back to the finish line – distance about 30 metres each way. Depending on undisclosed criteria the MC may decide to handicap a race, any amount of sledging is encouraged, runners are interviewed, cheered, and winners awarded medals by the Commodore. The crowd is suitably worked by the MC and a highlight ‘battle event’ happens around 1630, with flour-bombing and hosing. It is a day of total frivolity and significant funds are raised. This was a ‘taster’ session for D&T – we didn’t stay for the whole day.
These boys from Yirrara College won the Grand Final – and were excited!
And the Maxis.
In the early afternoon we departed Alice and the HOT event, heading for Hermannsburg, the home of the Finke Lutheran Mission of historical importance. We’d arrived at around 3.30 thinking that would give us adequate time to look over the little late19th century settlement. Half a day at least would have been more realistic. We spoke to Rod who was on duty that afternoon, and he was delighted to discuss the history of the place, as well as other issues such as the 2007 Intervention, the Basics card, the Stolen Generation and so on. The tone was non-judgemental – just a balance of pros and cons. He’d been at Hermannsburg since at least 2007, when he arrived as the Assistant Store Manager: we assume he liked the place and consequently had stayed on, but we didn’t quite get to interrogate him about his personal life.
The Mission is now a Heritage site and tells the story of Lutheran missionaries who came to spread God’s word and reach out to the aborigines, who initially thought they were devils because of their pale skin, long necks and small ears. Amongst the many horror stories of the times (1860s onwards) this seems to be one of the better ones. There were no Stolen Generation from Hermannsburg, as the missionaries protected, and even hid, the children. They also protected them from the pastoralist settlers, who apparently in one ten year period murdered about 700 natives. They also took action to have a SA policemen charged with murder due to his complicity but the case was dismissed because the witnesses didn’t speak English and the interpreters couldn’t tell the story. But apparently the Police Commissioner was aware enough to remove that policeman from that area. Rod mentioned that there is a street in Alice named after him and periodically there are moves to have it renamed.
Hermannsburg is of course the home of Albert Namatjira and the gallery space displays a collection of watercolours by several artist-families who formed the Hermannsburg Artists, including Namatjira’s 5 sons. Interestingly, it seemed that watercolour painting was only done by males. Women’s artistic skills were displayed in pottery and, from earlier times, in needlework.
The day was running away from us, so it was time to head for our camp destination at Palm Valley, on the Finke River. Little did we know that our own sand event was in store. All was going well on the gravel, corrugated track to the gorge. The first of the major sand patches caused a bit of a heart flutter as the car & van swung, grounded and slipped but got through. Then came the clincher…in lowest range we ventured in…squeal, spin, stop…we were stuck. Tyre pressure was too high and clearance under the Pajero not high enough. The afternoon was fading, the location remote and the travellers somewhat stressed. However, the temperature was not at 40 degrees, we had water, food, a shovel, traction mats, warning triangles and, if the worst happened, we could wait till a Samaritan came along…..which did happen and he did the digging while D lowered and lowered and lowered the tyre pressure. So we reversed out, decided to give the Palm Valley idea a miss on the advice of another traveller who stopped to check we were alright (the track apparently got worse, and the Pajero does not have sufficiently high clearance for this track), did a U-turn and decided to head for Wallace Rockhole (34 km of bitumen and 20 km of gravel back towards Alice). We discussed how many sandtraps there were on the return route. At a certain point, D felt confident that we had managed them all (just), T kept thinking there was one more but we were out of danger after renegotiating that first one again and agreed it was time we re-inflated the tyres. Our very own HoT event…thank goodness there was no crowd of onlookers!
And here we are, safe and sound at Wallace Rockhole, a tiny community which we visited in 2007. We arrived in the dark to join just one other campsite. D reckons that it is exactly as he remembers it, but given it is now dark that will