Saturday, 19 August 1995

The Devils Marbles

Tennant Creek to Alice Springs
Wauchope, Wycliffe Well, Barrow Creek, Ti Tree, Aileron (Stuart Highway) 505 kms

With another driving day in excess of 500 kms facing us and one or two things to see on the way, we were away reasonably early. In fact, it would have been earlier but for us stopping and talking to caravan neighbours who were heading north. We were becoming "experts" on what should be seen in the Top End and I'm afraid we held court a little on this particular morning on the virtues of Kakadu and the pitfalls of Litchfield.

Still, our 8:30 am departure was not so tardy as to prevent us from putting plenty of distance under the wheels before lunch.

First stop for the day was about 100 kms south of Tennant, at one of the weirdest sights we had yet encountered. Suddenly before you, as you are beginning to be bored into not noticing the landscape, is a field of orange boulders which look like the scattered remains of a bread maker's convention. This collection of oversized granite tors is called the Devil's Marbles and like many natural features in the Territory, their origin depends on which version of their history you choose to accept - geological or cultural.

According to geology, they are granite boulders, worn loose from the surrounding country and rounded by the action of wind and especially water, causing exfoliation or "onion skin" erosion. Their orange colour stems from oxidisation after being torn loose from their original position in granite beds.

The aboriginal belief is mat these are the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent.

What ever version you choose, the strange collection certainly catches the eye: not only for their shape and size, but also for the random way they are stacked and the precarious manner in which tliey stand. Some appear to be held in the air by only the smallest of supporting material, but they remain in place. Only the broken down coarse sand and pebbles at their bases gives any evidence to the rounded surface sheets which are loosened by water working into cracks and allowing gravity to do the rest. We all clambered up and over the tors, which reminded Sue of balls of baker's pastry or dough. Photos taken, we rehirned to the road and tiie trip south.

Morning tea was taken at Wycliffe Well - another of the "towns" which look far more impressive as a dot in our version of "Explore Australia", than they do in real life. It comprised a combined store, petrol station and camping ground and an alleged lake ! Needless to say, we did not dally longer than a cup of tea and some biscuits took to consume.

Another few hundred kilometres later, we were in Ti Tree for fuel and lunch. A well kept park with bar-b-q, play equipment and a shady picnic shelter was an inviting place to stop, boil the billy and make sandwiches for the hungry mouths which demanded feeding regardless of their level of
activity! The only down side to this pleasant facility was the absolute lack of a toilet I

Sue stepped into the driver's seat for one of her rare stints behind the wheel and I quietly slipped into the Land of Nod, in an effort to retrieve some of the lost hours last evening.

I awakened to a changed landscape, about 90 minutes later. Gone were the flat expanses of saltbush and low scrub and in their place were colourful displays of wild flowers and increasing numbers of Ghost Gums. Mountains towered in the distance ahead and to both east and west. The blue haze of these monoliths suggested we were approaching Namatjira country.

A change of drivers was affected soon after passing The Tropic of Capricorn for the second time since leaving Tambar Springs in mid winter, in preparation for the last twenty or so kilometres into Alice Springs. Our arrival at 3:45 pm, marked the end of three long days on the road and it was with great relief we put up the big canvas and organised our camp site for the four nights we would spend here. I decided it was my turn to cook and being one who likes a variety of cuisine from different cultures, my decision turned in favour of Italian. A short drive, some quick service and three large super supreme pizzas and giant Pepsi were ready for consumption. I spared no effort!

Deliciously full, we rolled into bed, ready for what The Alice had in store for us over the next few days.

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