I’ve been to the Flinders Ranges twice this year. I walked the creeks and ranges of the Warraweena Conservation Park in the North and the country around Elder Range just South of Wilpena. Each time I felt deeply impressed upon by the landscape, the fluid forms of the River Red Gums, the tenacious wildlife and hardy flora with such pretty and delicate flowers. I have been baffled by its age, enchanted by the changing colours and spell-bound by the immense sky especially at night but I have struggled to find the words to bring these experiences into some greater sense of this country and my relationship to it.
I’ve read facts about its geological formation and tales from its white-fella discovery and early settlement but its hold over me is more emotional than intellectual. I’d even go as far as saying its effect on me is somewhat mystical which would imply that it can’t be explained. Even so, I wanted to find a return path through words, thoughts that were personal. The problem was where to start, until the other day when I opened up Google earth and through the eyes of a satellite found my way in.
From the high vantage point only a satellite offers the Flinders ranges can be seen as a drift of twisting smoke passing eastward over the land. To its West, North and East the salt lakes of Gairdner and Torrens, Eyre and Frome respectively appear like white cloud driven by the same invisible wind. All around, excepting to the green South, the land is a furnace of slow-baked red sand. How at odds this fleeting image seems for something so permanent.
I came back to the smoke drift and zoomed in a little looking for more detail. Then the smoke seemed to clear and out of the contorted ranges a face appeared gazing upwards from the middle of the range. A single eyed, part-formed face bearing the likeness to some hybrid mythical beast. Intrigued I stared for a long time, then zoomed in still further alert to what else might be there, and there is plenty.
Now all manner of animalistic forms appeared. There is a long legged creature, perhaps winged, stretched in a gesture of leap, there are powerful insect legs, beaks, spines and another lone eye set under a concentrated brow. Almost everywhere there appeared body parts and bits of bone expressed in a style akin to ancient rock art. Here they all were like some strange archaeological find placed haphazardly awaiting order, unification, identification.
The imagination continued as I zoomed in further still and saw that the surface of these parts had textures similar to skin, or scale or muscle, pinched, taut, dry, weathered and resistant. They seemed as though they had been there for aeons, unseen, undisturbed.
Here, hiding in plain sight was an aspect of the Flinders that was entirely new to me. It seemed as though the whole range had another dimension, more than the colossal natural forces that millions of years ago pushed these sea-bed rocks upwards to form the range the long slow revealing of long buried rock submerged fossils. This was an archeological site of a mythical sort where giant bones and the bodies of beasts had been brought to the surface. The Flinders was a grave.
I’ll stop my imagination and acknowledge straight away that these ranges already have a mythology, one held and carried by the indigenous people who inhabited this region since a distant time. I don’t know this lore, nor do I want to piggy-back on it and I don’t need my imaginings to be true, but I did want to find a personal connection and to be stirred by it. And I have been.
To draw this to a close I’ll bring things back to earth. I remember walking up and down the ranges of Warraweena and thinking how solid and immovable they appeared. When I looked closer though I realised that everywhere there were cracks in the rock and in a number of places it was was possible to pull chunks of rock out of the main body.
In fact laying around were countless examples of both small and sizeable rocks having fallen away. From these, ever smaller fragments had split and eventually separated from its host. As I descended from summit to creek bed the size of rock got incrementally smaller and smaller till at the base it was little more than shale and sand. From the creek beds water will wash these grains away carrying them towards the great dry lakes that surround the ranges.
It is not lost on me that it was a similar process that first brought about the great sea-bed of rock that much later would be raised to form the ranges in the first place. Ironically though, however large and immovable as these ranges appeared they seemed to be falling apart. I thought of the principal of impermanence and realised it was evident all around in the forms of fallen trees, shrivelled plants and the corpses of fallen animals and it seemed the rock was not immune from it to.
My mind returned to the immense life span of these rugged, beautiful and captivating ranges and I felt in essence, little more than the earlier described drift of smoke. Here I was passing over-land, temporarily wrapping myself around its features, rising over-head, catching brief glimpses before rising further, dispersing under the still gaze of the one eyed beast, my Spirit of the Range.