The 2014 Expeditions - In the footsteps of the Greats! 'Glen Edith' & the Tarn of Auber (Giles 1872)

Friday, Feb 27, 2015 at 08:59


Thursday 12 June, 2014
Watson Range NT

Authors note;

The areas covered by our 2014 expeditions are deeply sacred to aboriginal people. It is with the express permission of the Central Land Council, and in particular, the traditional owners of the areas, that we are privileged to visit these sites. These areas possess a provenance that stretches back countless generations and the cultural significance to aboriginal people is beyond measure. By their request, and out of respect, culturally significant areas were not photographed. The author hopes that a rich verbal description will convey the deep significance of the site to the reader.

Mick O – Feb 2015.

Today saw us visit an area rich in both the history of Australian exploration and the lore of the aboriginal peoples of the red centre. It was an amazing experience to wander amongst ancient rock art and reconcile it with the observations and drawings of one of Australia’s most prominent explorers, Ernest Giles.

The day began in our Mereenie loop camp much as it had ended, the first traces of daylight bringing the sound of traffic passing our camp. For some strange reason my last thoughts before sleep had been on better packing arrangements for the main pod of the truck. When the time came this morning, I packed the rear void with skill and daring and was feeling mighty pleased with myself the way everything had fitted seamlessly…..until I realised I'd forgotten to pack the bloody ladder! All was good in the end and resulted in a much better arrangement than that we left Alice Springs with.

Heading west in the early morning light, Larapinta Drive exploits gaps in the foothills moving off Missionary Plain until it is running hard against the main ranges of the Gardiner Range.Passing “That Hill” (I kid you not) it finally cuts across the Gardiner to head in a more southerly direction into the dunes of the Mereenie Oil & Gas fields. We found the road in reasonable condition. The new “Lift um foot” drum on a sharp right hand bend provided a laugh and we saw plenty of wild horses roaming the country. Some 40 kilometers along saw us turn west on a little used track into the gas fields and aboriginal lands. It was fabulous country that appeared park like, the cut lines were leafy avenues bordered by never ending groves of desert oak. Here and there winter flowers were blooming. We even saw one large corkwood tree, normally a gnarly bit of flora, in the full majesty of bloom.

It was great having Marg in the car as she was constantly identifying many of the plants I had cursed on previous trips. I now know my Horse Mulga from my broad leafed variety. Thriptomene, the curse of outback tyres, was in full bloom, its pinkish flowers a treat as were the red flowered ‘upside down’ plant. We passed a stand of grass trees (Xanthorrhoea) just short of our turn into the mysterious ranges that hold Glen Edith and the ‘Tarn of Auber’.

On the first of October, 1872, with the temperatures rising punishingly into the high 90’s, Giles and his party were pushing south-south-east from Mt Udor in a desperate search for water. Dragging themselves though an unvarying monotony of casuarina scrub and sandhills, Giles stumbled upon Glen Edith and then the rectangular notch that held a good sized pool, of water. With the men down to their last half pint of water and the horses dry for three days and nights, the party had been saved. Giles wrote;

“Looking about with some hopes of finding the place where these children of the wilderness obtained water, I espied about a hundred yards away, and on the opposite side of the little glen or valley, a very peculiar looking crevice between two huge blocks of sandstone, and apparently not more than a yard wide. I rode over to this spot, and to my great delight found a most excellent little rock tarn, of nearly an oblong shape, containing a most welcome and opportune supply of the fluid I was so anxious to discover”.

“No one who has not experienced it can imagine the pleasure which the finding of such a treasure confers on the thirsty, hungry, and weary traveller; all his troubles for the time are at an end.”

Ernest Giles – Australia Twice Traversed

Very little has changed since the time of Giles. Glen Edith is a rough bowl shaped stretch of grassy plain surrounded by low sandstone ranges. On the southern side of the glen, several large caverns have been scoured by the elements and time. In Giles time, this wave like wall was covered in fresh art and it was this that drew Giles attention to it. From the top of this small range, the view north across the grassy floor of the glen reveals another sandstone range, broken into large slabs and crevasses, the tarn, a clearly visible slash penetrating deeply into the hills. White Cyprus dot the hills and a large gum tree shades the entrance to the tarn.

“Low sandstone hills, broken and split into most extraordinary shapes, forming huge caves and caverns, that once no doubt had been some of the cavernous depths of the ocean, were to be seen in every direction; little runnels, with a few gum-trees upon them, constituted the creeks. Callitris or cypress pines, ornamented the landscape, and a few blood-wood or red gum-trees also enlivened the scene. No porcupine, but real green grass made up a really pretty picture, to the explorer at least. This little spot is indeed an oasis.”

Ernest Giles – Australia Twice Traversed

Arriving at 10:45, it was the perfect time for a spot of morning tea. As we sat, the peeping of finches and the flocks flying down into the crevasse then returning to roost nervously in the nearby pines was a clear indication of water. At its entrance, the tarn is 4 metres wide and a sandy floor sloped down to a dark coloured pool of water that extends 5 metres into the gorge. The sides are steep rock so water can only be accessed from the narrow front. A large boulder blocks the rear of the tarn although the rift does extend fully through the range as I’ll describe later.

With the refreshments taken, we wandered over to the caverns to with Dick where we learned the Snake Dreaming associated with the area. These paintings were fresh at the time Giles came through in 1872. Nearby, emu tracks and other symbols have been pecked into flat areas of exposed rock. It left us in no doubt that this was an area of deep significance to the local peoples.

Venturing to the east of the Tarn, we made our way across the huge shingles of rock to the northern side of the range finding more caverns in the worn cliffs. In one small cavern we found pristine works in yellow ochre. Emu tracks, circles and snakes all looking so vibrant that they could have been drawn yesterday. Slowly exploring the caverns behind twisted native fig trees, we reached the northern end of the Tarn. Here the gorge is wide and high, it’s broad grassy floor littered with large rocks. An immense overhang marks the entrance to the gorge and it is covered in much faded art and later graffiti. Hand stencils, snakes and circles share space with charcoal drawings of men in hats, drays and more ‘modern’ themes. The images of white men with hats drawn in charcoal were actually done by Carmichael, a member of Giles expedition.

“One device represents a snake going into a hole: the hole is actually in the rock, while the snake is painted on the wall, and the spectator is to suppose that its head is just inside the hole; the body of the reptile is curled round and round the hole, though its breadth is out of all proportion to its length, being seven or eight inches thick, and only two or three feet long. It is painted with charcoal ashes which had been mixed up with some animal's or reptile's fat. Mr. Carmichael left upon the walls a few choice specimens of the white man's art, which will help, no doubt, to teach the young native idea, how to shoot either in one direction or another. “

Ernest Giles – Australia Twice Traversed

It took us a good two hours to return to the vehicles as there was simply so much to see. Later expeditions to the area proved how fickle desert life can be and just how lucky Giles had been in his discovery. Later expeditions by Tietkens and then Chas Wineoke leading The Horn Scientific Expedition, found the tarn dry. Thankfully those later expeditions were using camels and while pressed, were able to reach other locations where water was known to exist.

Leaving Glen Edith, we back tracked along our mornings route for 15 km before spearing off on various survey lines and tracks until finally, we were pushing our way west into virgin territory, the country again almost park like. Jaydub was following a torturous GPS plot from a previous visit to the area although in reverse. It was magnificent country but it took me a bit of time to get back into the swing of things, Jaydub’s tracks often disappearing. Truly magic country with occasional glimpses of distant blue Mounts’ Udor, Putardi, Peculiar and Palmer to our north and north west.

About 4.15 p.m. we hit the creek line that Dick wanted to investigate. Crossing it we bore south on its western side following it into Laycock’s Hill, a prominent ridge of the Watson Range. This banded escarpment runs to the north east and we aimed for a gap at the south eastern end where the range diminishes in height. A few dunes and some belts of gnarly mulga were negotiated before we finally found a camp site at the base of the range in the mouth of the gap. The wind has sprung up tonight putting a chill in the air but we have a well protected camp site with plenty of timber to keep Dick warm. We climbed the range to get a view of the surrounding country in the fading light of late afternoon, exploring the many caverns formed as great blocks of sandstone have sheared from the cliffs. I managed to harvest a plate of native figs for desert tomorrow. A great fire and hearty dinner of steak and onion, potatoes and veggies.

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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