scorched earth

I went for a walk today. Sounds innocuous enough, right? Wrong. It didn’t seem terribly warm to me, maybe low 30’s? so I popped Emmeline up on my back and called the dogs, and we set off. Amata Community is set in a valley, surrounded by what is known as the Musgrave Ranges. I’m not sure what it’s called in Pitjantjatjara, and seeing as though it’s a sacred men’s place in Anangu culture, I probably won’t be likely to ever find out. It’s such a sacred place, that it’s completely off limits to Piranpa (whitefulla), and many Anangu. Sometimes I get nervous if I even stare out to the west for too long. I only just got accepted by the Anangu, the last thing I want to do is break Anangu Law! There’s even some question about the Western Range being captured in photographs – which is tricky, because the Ranges are so imposing, that you can barely take a photo in Amata that doesn’t have the Ranges in them. Fortunately I checked with a friend who’s a respected community member (let the record show!) so I can share some photos with you. So the four of us trudged out to the eastern hills instead – which is where lots of people do their walking. And for the inherently lazy like me, these hills are significantly smaller. So out past the cop shop we go (the compound as I call it – because that’s exactly what it is. Ironically as I did this, a local kid roared past on his new dirt bike, at obscene speed, at deafening sound and spewing dust in his wake. This kid is 15 years old, so too young to have his licence. He’s also been driving his pink (which he insists is faded red) Hyundai excel around town for long enough for me to know that the police here really don’t care about what’s happening in the community. Or maybe it’s easier to just turn a blind eye? It can’t be an easy job, and I’m not sure I have a solution. Perhaps they view it the same way I sometimes view parenting, in that sometimes you need to just pick your battles?) I ponder this as I walk along the main road past Amata community, that continues along to a T junction to the two major Australian Highways through Central Australia. The road travels between this gap between two hills. One hill is called ‘Telstra Hill’. Now there might be some legend about Lord Telstra and his faithful horse discovering this fabled hill, but I reckon it’s got more to do with the fact that at the top of the hill is a phone tower, and sadly Telstra is all we can get here. The other, I’m not sure if it has a name, but it has a nice trail over it and back, and this is where I was headed. I was about a third of the way up, and my feet started to feel uncomfortably warm. I was wearing canvas shoes – the folly of which I realised as soon as I embarked up the steep rocky path – despite the air not feeling particularly hot, the ground was burning! And either I was stepping directly on each and every pointed rock that was jutting up at an awkward angle, or the soles of these shoes were uncomfortably thin. I think it was a combination of the two. About halfway up I considered turning back to change my shoes. But the thought of walking home only to turn around and walk back made me loose the will to live. And let’s be real – I wouldn’t be coming back. So onwards I walked and warmer it got! Apparently I was wearing shoes made of… I dunno, iron or something that conducts heat really well I guess – Because my feet were in fire! And every one of those awful, jutty-outty rocks were prodding my poor, scalded feet. Again I thought about turning back, but then I thought: “oh nah it’ll be okay – because just up and over the hill it becomes really sandy and that will be easier because it’ll just be hot rather than heat + pointy rocks!” Yeah. No. So I made it over the hill and to the promised sands… And it was hotter! Yep, for some reason that was probably explained to me in high school physics – it was unbearably hot. And being so hot, sinking into the soft sand meant that I was in contact in with the hot sand for longer! You know that feeling when you plunge you’re hand into a sink full of too-hot dishwater and get that OW THAT’S HOT moment and then it goes away? That. With every step. So I tried to walk on the harder edge of the track, but even that was hot. There I was, quick-stepping it down the hill, walking on the outside edge of my feet like some sort of confused ballerina. I looked up to see what the dogs were doing, and despite being complete and utter idiots, they had a novel approach; they were sprinting from tree to tree, sitting down to wait for me in the shade, before sprinting to the next tree. Meanwhile I was limping down on blackened, charred stumps. But at least I had a slither of rubber between my feet and the earth – those poor pups had nothing! I got home, and wordlessly went and poured water into a bucket and plunged my poor, scalded feet into water and sighed. I looked down, fully expecting to see my tarsal bones. Of course all I saw were the soles of my dirty, cracked feet. Not even a blister. And my ancestors have walked these lands in BARE FEET for the last 60,000 years.

I’m in awe of that.







2 thoughts on “scorched earth

  1. It’s really refreshing to see someone writing about a sacred issue that women aren’t involved in- that is from a place of respect. In my religion there are things men just are not allowed to do/be a part of, and things women are not allowed. It is a source of much vitriol…among people that aren’t even in our religion! (And my religion isn’t a patriarchal mono theistic one even- we have a father and mother)


  2. It’s hard, balancing that reverence and natural human curiosity – and those ranges are GORGEOUS! We visited a local sacred spot (with permission from the elders) when visiting friends in Fregon and it was surprising to be told we couldn’t look over one of the hills, and DEFINITELY couldn’t take pictures. I don’t know what my point is, but it was an incredible privilege and a challenge to be surrounded by so much spiritual significance and history.

    Liked by 1 person

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