West MacDonnell Ranges: Peace in Ormiston Gorge

Got up at 9am and had a call from Keith asking if I would like some pancakes. I explained I was waiting for Chris to come and I would follow him to Keith’s place. Keith lives 15 km out of Alice Springs.

I had a really nice breakfast with Nicki and we talked about friends and she mentioned the night before she had a needy friend. I find I have quite a lot of friends in Melbourne, some in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. However, close friends are 4-5. I find myself so in peace around it. Years ago when I was in my 20’s it did bother me and I found it hard to find good friends. As an adult I no longer mind. I don’t have a strong need for friends, but I befriend people quite easily as I am friendly and usually initiate a friendly exchange. I am a loyal friend and have no difficulty being a friend for life. But if people leave my life I am okay with that these days. I see it as change and meant to be. I find I have no problem connecting with anyone and it is so natural to connect with pretty much anyone I come in contact with. I find that is because people on the whole are so lovely. I really don’t have fear of them. In many ways I don’t want a lot of close friends as I am doing this work and I do like my own space to focus on peace. I was thinking it is good that I am not inundated with phone calls, as I am so tired at times, just wish to flow with the life. Nicki mentioned giving time to friends and I can imagine you get stretched, there are also expectations of friends to get in touch. I don’t have that and before I would just go and visit. Now I am traveling and not expected to return those friendships may loosen or fall away which is fine. I am learning to flow with life without neediness. I am not defined by friends, I define myself. I am teaching myself to trust the life process, to not resist what happens and learn to love myself. I feel we are to be the source of love, rather than seeking it to feel good about ourselves.

We had a bit of a chat about welfare here in Australia and that certain pensioners could get discounts and were treated better. Unemployed people were left out somewhat and she assessed it as punishment for not working. I don’t feel that is incorrect as the protestant work ethic is so strong and the system needs people to work. So psychologically it is better to make unemployment stigmatized incase people find not working a good idea. However, on the whole at least we have a welfare system and it pays reasonably well around $540 a fortnight with rent assistance. Although as rents go up to $150 per week, it is getting harder to live for many people.

Nicki had training in the theatre which is great preparation for clowning. She was an actor and like me she had her struggles surviving. Funny how artists are the ones that go through these challenges, but I guess it builds character (could be a joke there) ha. I asked her about her clowning and she likes puppets. She gave me a little parrot puppet which I loved. You can use them to hop from one thing to another, she found it a gentle approach. She said the realistic puppets didn’t tend to work. They tend to improvise as they go and connect with people. She is a very warm and wise person, I really enjoyed our conversations and learned a great deal from her.

I waited until 11am and Chris hadn’t shown. I rang and left a message and he got back to me saying he thought he was meeting me at Keith’s. All fine.

I gave her my silver Buddha that I’ve carried around for years. I felt it was for her. When ever I get a flash to give something I just give it. I gave her my lepracorn lucky glasses which she may have fun with on the wards.

We parted and the trusty old GPS took me to Keith’s place. Chris was waiting at the drive and flagged me down, I would have wizzed past. So lucky he waited. His wife Gerda was there, a very attractive lady. They had 3 kids and both were in the peace movement I was to discover.

We traveled out to Ormiston Gorge which was around 130km west of Alice Springs.

Here is a quick rundown on Ormiston Gorge. http://www.about-australia.com/northern-territory/alice-springs/destinations/west-macdonnell-ranges/articles/explore-ormiston-gorge/

The imposing rich, red walls were spawned by massive geological forces, creating one of the most acclaimed gorges of central Australia. The West MacDonnell Ranges National Park is rich in flora and fauna, and sets the scene for an unforgettable bushwalking trip. The gorge rises to more than 300 metres in some places, and adventure seekers can spend many hours exploring the pound, which runs east from the large waterhole at the gorge. This waterhole is around 14 metres deep, and fairly beckons the traveller at the end of a rewarding day exploring.

The gorge is dotted by the graceful river red gums and adorable wallabies that make the park their home. You will also find a fascinating collection of native fauna that includes plant species left over from a forgotten, tropical past.

Ormiston Creek runs through West MacDonnell National Park. It is a tributary of the Finke River, which some call the oldest river in the world. The area was named by explorer Peter Egerton Warburton on his 1873-74 journey from Alice Springs across the Great Sandy Desert to the Western Australian coast.

A number of walks in the area allow you to choose your way to best explore the gorge. The seven kilometre Ormiston Pound Walk leads you on a circuit from the visitor centre, across the slopes, onto the flat floor of the pound. It returns along the gorge by the main waterhole. Barbecue facilities invite you to relax and enjoy this scenic landscape.

What can I say about the country, it was breathtaking. The West MacDonnell ranges are a long mountain range which the aborigines call the caterpillar dreaming or Yeperenye to the local arrente people. It looks like a long caterpillar. There are little mauve pockets of flowers by the road, bush trees, grasses and gums. Where there are trees there is water. Apparently underground rivers flow in this desert. I was particularly fortunate as there has been rain and much greenery around. In the heat or droughts it is dried out grasses. The country is so dynamic. I just marveled at the green and red in the mountains and how spectacular they are. I had never seen mountains like this. The road was sealed and great all the way there.

I sat with Gerda in the front and discovered she was a counselor and facilitator in conflict resolution. So similar to my field. She worked with the indigenous kids In a program that she felt was quite slow. The funding kicks in next year. My understanding is that they work with traumatized kids but sadly they are living the trauma not dealing with healing from it. Unlike people in war zones who come out and who deal with trauma, these kids are in troubled families where they are living the trauma. I felt this as a byproduct of two cultures that are extremely different. The indigenous and the anglo/European. To go from camps to house, to move from prehistoric ways of living into the space age, this is a major shift in only 200 years. So you can imagine the confusion, the lost ways, the lack of authority and control, the loss of respect, alcoholism and health issues. In the houses their lifestyle has changed from being an outdoor people to indoors. They didn’t want to see their neighbours may have tribal reasons so they close the blinds. I asked if depression was an issue and she said yes. Also they aborigines used to walk everywhere, some walked thousands of kilometers. Looking at this incredible land they must have known so much about their land, hence no separation between their identity and the land. Since cars, they drive everywhere even around the community so they are losing their health as a result.

We discussed their health and she said it was pretty bad. I asked what sort of health issues they have. She mentioned heart attacks, diabetes and as they have a different kidney, they tend to absorb water. You can imagine how this came about given the long distances they walked and the retention of water kept them going, as it may be long distances between water. So when they consumed alcohol the body retained the alcohol and you can imagine the toxin build up. Fast foods just damaged their health as their bodies were not used to processed foods. Moreover, the government has moved communities away from traditional lands they feel so bonded with as part of themselves. They are moved into rival tribal areas and many conflicts and problems arise. Something white people have no concept of. So the western way of life has been disastrous for them. Yet she did say that she had heard a aboriginal man say they would keep breeding so they don’t die out. Another indicated that they will survive this transitions, they have to be patient and wait. So there will be so many stresses and strains, new diseases, new cultures introduced which have big impacts on their identity. Huge adjustment. The world of work is a strange concept as many don’t want to leave their areas and don’t want to work. So the protestant work ethic has no meaning in a mindset that has lived off the land for around 50,000 years. Can you imagine the changes? I was to find out later that the indigenous culture is matriarchal but this is not overtly stated. Moreover, the grandmothers are leaders. Certainly Margaret I met the other night at campfire in the heart was an elder. The grandmothers look after the grandchildren and hold things together I understand.

Gerta told me in an interesting story of an aboriginal man who was walking from his community 80km. She said he was able to relocate 80km away instantly. I referred to this as de-materialise then materialize. I’ve heard about this when reading about highly spiritual people being able to move instantly. The spiritual world is another dimension and it is very hard for white people to understand who are so in the material world. Yet this other world, the dreaming is a place where anything can happen and those with the ancient knowledge had special powers.

Chris did tell me a funny story later in the day about taking some aboriginal people out for the day. He drove one car and his wife Gerda drove the other with the women. He said they had killed a Perentie lizard it is the width of the 4WD in length. Anyway, apparently they are tough to kill. He said he was coming to a T intersection and there was much commotion in the car. He thought maybe they saw a kangaroo (the aborigines) he said some were trying to get out, the window was up and they accidently locked the door trying to exit. He realized that the Perentie came alive and they were getting out of there. I laughed, big strong men I thought. Apparently they stopped both cars and the women killed it. Chris said they killed it first. I had to laugh. He also told me about the shooting of kangaroos. I am never comfortable with killing but I reserve judgement, this is an insight into a man’s life. Anyway, Chris learned to shoot them in the head and apparently there were lots. The farmers saw them as pests as they compete for grasses the stock eat. Anyway, in this place they aim for the legs, so they can’t run and then they finish them, as he said. He acquired a nick name which I think was shoot em in the head. He went on to say there aren’t many around. I was trying to figure out why I saw so many from Toowoomba until Tennant Creek. We agreed the road trains just run through them. In this area they keep away from the roads but there aren’t as many. The aborigines have killed many of them as well apparently.

At the Ormiston gorge you find out that the Larapinta trail runs through there. Apparently this walking trail is 223 kilometers long. People walk along sections of it along the MacDonnell Ranges. I was stunned by the sheer beauty of this place. It is hard to describe in print but you can look at my photos when I upload them. Even there it will be hard to see the magic of this place. Indeed I felt a shiver run up and down my spine when I felt the mountains. The rocks just blow my mind as they look like they are lying on their sides. It seems to me there has been major tectonic activity here in the centre of Australia and when you think that an inland see rose 600 metres above our heads this land has been shaped and carved by environmental conditions.

My friends Chris and Gerda are part of a choir called Asanta sana which means thank you in the South African language. There were around 50 people in the choir, apparently it is bigger. Maurice and Barbara started the choir, they were the people I heard singing at the campfire in the heart. They were beautiful singers. Maurice is from South America but looked like a African. He had a dignity about him and his wife had a voice that was so beautiful. The choir was set up on the sands under the majesty of the red rocky mountain with a large gum tree in the foreground. They used the acoustics there and it sounded like angels singing. People gathered with their chairs, children swam in the pristine water hole and after they sang applause rang out. Such was the magic of being in the same space with an orchestra of angels singing freedom and peace songs. This was the language of my soul for sure. I leaned onto a gum tree as ancient as the land and felt exhaustion in my body yet I felt the sweet joy of healing from these heavenly voices. I just closed my eyes and took into the vibrations. I felt a deep sense of privilege.

I filmed them from time to time to capture this moment. Then I saw some little children with eyes wide looking at a rock wallaby. I saw it earlier but it bravely came close to the choir as it walked on the rocks. The kids were fascinated and you could watch them creeping closer and closer. The wallaby didn’t seem to mind. When they got too close it hopped off quite quickly. Everyone enjoyed our furry visitor.

After a while I went for a walk and then crossed the stream where it was dry to check out the opposite bank from the singers. I walked along the beach and watched the people sunbaking and walking. I loved the huge gum trees I am sure they are over 100 years old. So I was feeling myself walking through pristine Australian landscape millions of years old. Whenever I see old trees I think dinosaurs. Always I seek to touch them to connect as they are living beings. I feel the energy of the place and it is awesome. I walked further down and the gorge turned a corner. As I got to the peak in the beach I could see the curve of the gorge and the folding rocky outcrops and more mountains. It is so hard to describe just how incredible this sight was, but I just took lots of photos. I turned to meet an older lady and grandchildren. They were lying on a rock and she was exclaiming that she didn’t have a camera. I offered to take shots for her and email them. The kids posed on the rocks. I told them to do silly faces, I smiled at the grandmother and said oh well I am a clown. She was trying to get them to do nice pictures, so I said to the kids smile nicely for your grandma. They did and she was happy. We had a nice ol chat as we walked along the beach. She was a former teacher and lived in Alice Springs. Her daughter was in the choir. She memorized my email and gave them a hug and off I went to meet Chris and Gerda.

It was a lovely day, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was exhausted most of the day and my throat was sore, but how fortunate I was to have friends to take me to this special place to hear such a choir. Something I will never forget. I thought about the kindness of Chris and his wife opening their hearts to me. They gave me such a lovely lunch and welcomed me, I really appreciated it. Chris said he had traveled and new what it was like to not know anyone, so he wanted to return the good others had done for him. Pay it forward they call it. If only everyone had that spirit, just imagine our world.

I feel very fortunate to have met these two. As I said earlier in the blog they had been in the peace movement. They showed me a book that was put out as a celebration of the International Year of Peace (1986). Chris is a clown doctor and when he and his wife were quite young with two children they went on a family peace tour around country centres in Queensland. Chris’s clown name is Weppo the Global Lifesaver who dressed as a lifesaver with humour, mime, role-play, games, music and improvisation to stimulate responses to the dilemmas facing people in the world. Gerda was conducting workshops on ‘Parenting for Peace and Justice’. I had seen a book on this topic many years ago and thought it was the most important part of peace making. It has to start in the family before the world change’s, so they actively did this. They linked up people particularly in smaller country towns and encouraged families to get together more. They found through their journey that there was widespread reluctance and fear to openly challenge the commonly held or expressed views on these sensitive issues (anti-nuclear). Apparently people felt that the repercussions of speaking out were too costly particularly in smaller country towns. Chris did shows at schools. Chris had also been on ABC radio presenting a Christian show. I asked him if he new of Stella Cornelius and Dr. Keith Suter. I knew Stella from the Conflict Resolution Network in Sydney and she was on the committee during the International Year of Peace and was the initiator of a campaign to start a Department of Peace. The book on this subject was compiled by Keith Suter. Chris said he had influenced him. He said he went from charity as a Christian to social justice. In fact many Catholics at this time were becoming more active although there was a tension as the priests were often conservative and didn’t want their parishioners to be associated with socialists/communists. In Queensland I was told they were not allowed to associate in groups of more than 3. This was under the premiership of Joe Bjelke Petterson. The aborigines were agitating for land rights, the peace movement was rising up (anti-nuclear) and various others and Queensland had become a police state. Amazing to think of in a country like Australia. These trends were happening all over the world.

Chris told me that Keith had said that you cannot have a better world without 3 pillars working. The pillars were justice, ways to resolve conflict and disarmament I believe. I understand that as we use military to force change rather than resolution through understanding underlying reasons for conflict. I have seen many times where justice is critical and really what that means is fairness, it is a value. To have some code that is just for all persons. Chris and Gerta with their baby in a stroller and handed out leaflets. They were noticing men in suits moving in and out of a building that had two way mirrors. They said as they were about to leave men rushed out from the Special Branch and tried to arrest them. They couldn’t find any leaflets as they were under the baby and Gerta said she was worried they may take her baby. They were warned and told not to do it under their noses. Incredible times in the 1980’s. A privilege to meet people who actively sought to work for peace.

At the end of our day after a nice drive back and much exchange on clowning and life. We arrived at Keith’s place nestled at the base of a range. I have been given the studio to stay in with kitchen, bathroom and double bed. Heaven. I am so amazed at the generosity of these people who don’t know me but respect what I am trying to do.

I finally found out how Chris found out about me. A school had sent an email to him about me asking if he knew of me. He said no. He decided to make contact and put me in touch with Keith, Nicky (clown doctor) and David and Sue (campfire of the heart). A community came around me and supported my efforts. I feel blessed in ways I just can’t describe to you. To me, he was an angel.

Chris asked me if I sought companionship. I said yes but I also recognize strongly that my work is in peace. I do feel I am meant to be on my own at this time. Life is always easier with a partner, yet I feel to remove all fear from my life, this must be done alone. I told him I believe when the time is right that person will walk into my life. I do see fear in relationships where people feel that sense of security and they feel afraid to venture off, I don’t have that fear so I am free to go wherever. I said to him there are advantages and disadvantages. I really feel a deep sense of gratitude for my life that I cannot put into words. I am shown that life supports me and I am the source of love. I am meeting people who are kind and teaching me about this world. I see my life as my work and I am humbled by this experience.

No regrets, love is all around me. With that dear friends, have a beautiful day/night. May my words inspire you to create your pathway and to not fear life. It just expands and we only ever gain as we always learn.

Be peace, be in joy and be one.

Mohandas Gandhi

“An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”