Sunday, 9 July 1995

AUC 1995 - The Art Gallery; Wards Canyon; The Amphitheatre (Carnarvon Gorge NP) Qld

Unfortunately for Sue, Sarah had not fully recovered, despite a day off and her coughing and general unwellness was enough to make us realise she was not fit for walking.

Therefore, Gog, Pa, Chris, Sam and I set offfor our last day in Carnavon Gorge, intent on seeing the best of what it had to offer. Our proposed trek was to cover 14 kilometres, but as we would be starting with the furthest feature from the camp, every successive feature was closer to home than the last.

It was a clear day with an eventual top temperature in the early twenties, but our routes into the side gorges would provide plenty of opportunity for cooling down.

The first destination was The Art Gallery, an aboriginal art site 5.7 kms from camp (plus the 500 metres from our actual tent site to the start of the walk). As with all of the sights here, you had to ascend a steep slope into the attraction itself. On the track in, we spied an unusual rock formation jutting out from the leading edge of a nearby precipice. It strongly resembled a giraffes head. It had separated from the main rock wall and was sitting precariously over the creek below, like Damocles Sword.

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A final series of steep steps and we rounded a rock to be confronted by a long wall of aboriginal art. There are three types of art work on show at this sight. About half of the work is in the now familiar form of stenciling. In this form, ochre is mixed with water and sometimes animal fat and blood and spat from the mouth over the object to be stencil copied. Here, hands were common, but boomerangs and clubs were also easily discernible.

The most used colour is the red ochre, but orange, white and black are also used. Red is most used,
because it is the best at remaining in solution.

The other common form of art work here are petroglyphs - engravings, made with sharp sticks or stone. Without question, the replication of the female vagina is the most talked about feature and the one most often reproduced on these walls. It is uncertain as to why these appear in this particular site and what the significance of them being here in such numbers is. One thing which did become apparent, however, was not all members of our party had read of the existence of these patterns before walking.

All of the markings on the walls are clearly sign posted and additional explanatory comments on
plaques are attached to the restraining fence. The youngest member of our party, Sam, turned to me and announced ... "Gee Dad. Fancy the aborigines knowing about exclamation marks back then !" My mirth turned to hardly restrained laughter when the oldest member of the party, Gog, thought they were depictions of coolamons. I discretely directed her to the appropriate plaque, hoping to save her from further embarrassment; only to have her return and explain to both of the boys the etchings were the artist's impressions of looking down your throat.

A return visit to the plaque finally revealed the truth to our muddled matriarch, updating her knowledge database by about three quarters of a metre. Much giggling ensued !

Having topped up the tummies with morning tea, we returned to me main track and began retracing our steps eastward, to Ward's Canyon. This narrow side gorge was used extensively by the Ward brothers prior to the first World War. They were marsupial hunters and knew the gorge well. It is considered they were the first Europeans to really get to know the gorge and the surrounding country. Among other uses they found for the cold and wet conditions in the canyon that was to eventually bear their name, was the storing of fresh meat in the warmer months and the processing of film on moonless nights.

The canyon had been renamed Angiopteris Ravine, after the Angiopteris Evecta or King Fern, which are so plentiful in the canyon. However, a move was made in recent times, to return to local names that were meaningful. The King Fern is not found in any other place in Carnarvon Gorge NP.

The ascent to the beginning of the Canyon was, as usual, steep, but thankfully, not long. Within 250 metres, we had reached the beginning of this wonderful place. The initial opening is the place where the small creek running through the Canyon makes its appearance in the Gorge at Lower Aljon Falls. The falls were named after Alfred Jones, the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, who had been a keen supporter of the Australasian Geographic Society. The Society had made many trips into the park from the late 1930's through to the early 1960's.

A narrow, but well formed pathway In the bedrock sandstone winds its way into the back recesses of the Canyon, With each turn, the entire passage closes in, as the walls above tower skyward. As It darkens, the King Ferns appear. Fed by the moisture and protected from the light, they thrive in a perfect environment.

The path leads to three final stepping stones. We had arrived soon after midday, but despite the high
position of the sun, the light was still only filtered. Moving forward, in turn, we each walked forward on those remaining steps to the very end of the canyon. On reaching the last stone, you are treated to a rare sight in nature. There before you, is a unspoiled rock pool, perhaps only half a metre deep. The extent of chasm which contains the pool is unclear as the walls to left and right are obscured by the narrow crevice through which you are looking (perhaps 1.5 metres). At the far end of the pool, trickling down the wall as it has done for countless centuries, is a small but delightful waterfall, known as Upper Aljon Falls.

This sight was breath taking. The walk into the Canyon had been special enough, but this reward at the very end of the passage was unexpected. However, this was the overture only. Over the next few minutes, we became aware the light was changing. Sunlight was beginning to spill into the chasm in a slender shaft. Then, in an unique display, the sunlight made a small, bright spot on the water surface, sending reflections dancing on the ceiling and walls of the chasm and the walls of the canyon beyond, where we were standing. As the sun continued it's slow ride across the sky above, its searching rays moved further toward the falling water. They never actually reached it - such was the angle of entry of the sunlight - but their final wonder was a display of sparkling light on the surface of the broken water in front of the falls which looked like so many fireflies dancing in courtship.

This poignant reminder oj God's wonderful creation lasted, in its entirety, for twenty minutes. The departing farewell of the sun's entry into the chasm, was the glowing yellow and then orange of the
sandstone wall high above and slightly behind the falls themselves.

As we turned to consume our lunch in an earlier section of the Canyon, the adults in the party reflected that this would be one place which would be hard to leave, such was the beauty soaking our senses.

Chris near the
Reluctantly, we eventually made our way out and down from Ward's Canyon and again headed East. The track took us to our last stop for the day, the much heralded Amphitheatre.

The now perfunctory steep side gorge track, gave way at its end to an obstacle we had been previously warned about. There, below a 1.5 metre wide crack in the sandstone wall 15 metres above the track, was a steel ladder that had to be climbed to accomplish access. For the more adventurous in our party, this was a challenge, but not one we believed would be beyond us. I am sure all of our thoughts turned to Gog, no lover of heights and certainly the least likely person to scale a
15 metre vertical steel ladder.

Each took our turn. Chris, closely followed by Sam and myself: providing back up to both of them in case they had a mishap. The ladder was surrounded by a steel cage, thus providing a greater degree of safety.

It had not always been thus. As recent at ten years ago, the ladder had been in place with no safety cage and a chain to pull yourself up and into the narrow passageway connecting the outside world with the totally encased Amphitheatre beyond.

Gog and Pa then took their turn and despite wobbles and undoubted fear, both made the ascent.

The Amphitheatre is a big hole in the ground, behind the sandstone cliffs which mark the edge of the
Carnarvon Gorge escarpment. Water has found a weak spot and has eroded out a space 50 metres deep and 50 metres across. The water then escapes through the narrow entrance crack and on, into Carnarvon Gorge proper. The walls are shear and little vegetation exists inside, apart from ferns. It is an awesome, somehow threatening place and one I was glad to leave.

Damper after a big day
Les & June Langston
So saying, we did not linger long and in doing so, retraced our steps to face the even more frightening
descent of the steel ladder. I descended first, with Sam above me and then made return trips up the ladder for Chris, Gog and Pa, each to reprise Sam's position above me in their descent. Nerves shaken - and knees to match - we gathered ourselves and slowly wended our way back along the
creek to camp. All were tired, but excited by what we had seen, particularly the sights in Ward's Canyon.

For me personally, this was one of the most satisfying days walking I had ever undertaken. Many of the memories will be etched into my consciousness forever.

We had a rousing campfire that night and a damper mad by Gog.

Invariably there were regrets about missed opportunities and things which should have been done, but weren't. The fantastic nature of the sights we had seen left us all feeling sorry for Sue and Sarah, who had, because of no fault of their own, missed the best of the wonders Carnarvon had to show.

On the final morning, we enquired about the possibility of an additional toilet block being installed at the eastern end of the camping area - our only real concern during our stay. We were informed, by the friendly Ranger who had given the photographic slide presentation on our initial night at the Gorge, that funding had been sought on numerous occasions, but had not been forthcoming.

On the way out of the park, we paused long enough to get a photograph of the Reman air disaster memorial. In 1943, a US Dakota DC3, carrying US and Australian military personnel, crashed near the eastern boundary of the park, during a violent electrical storm. All on board were killed and a section of wing and a plaque are all that remain as a memorial to those who lost their lives on board.

Our final stop was at Balloon Cave, another aboriginal art site. This was less spectacular than the Art Gallery, in both the number and variety of the art work. This guided walk contained interesting information relating to aboriginal use of the flora as medicines and tools.

A quiet descended on us as we bumped our way back out to the Carnarvon Highway, to head further north.

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