We have booked an airport bus to pick us up after breakfast. The small minibus arrives and we hurtle around Sydney picking up luggage and other passengers and when we are full to bursting point head out to the airport. There are different terminals and the bus driver drops us at the wrong one.
I go into the terminal, show my ticket, and the girl directs me upstairs. I check with the girl at the desk upstairs and she, very rudely, tells me I am in the wrong terminal. We have to get a trolley and push it through the car parks to the next terminal.
The plane for Ayer Rock is the scruffiest plane we have seen. The seats are tatty and none too clean. The air hostesses have lots of make-up but their clothes are messy and untidy.
We fly over Botany Bay and then turn north. The first settlers found a lack of fresh water at Botany Bay and they set to see again and discovered Sydney Harbour which had plenty of fresh water.
It is a three hour flight to Ayers Rock and we lose half an hour in the time difference.
There is nothing to see after we fly over Sydney and the Blue Mountains. Australia is just mile after mile of red oxide earth. Most of the population live within a few miles of the coast as the interior is so inhospitable.
We are collected in the searing heat at airport by coach and driven the short distance to the main accommodation areas which are about fifteen minutes’ drive from the Rock itself. All accommodation is low level, and we only have a short time to dump our bags, grab a sandwich and then wait with others at reception. Our next coach collects us at 3 pm and we set off for Ayers Rock.
First of all we go to the Mumbles and there is a walk through to a ravine. It it is snowing flies and even though we have out netted hats on, it is miserable. I start to climb the hill to the ravine but give it up as it is too hot and I am wasting so much energy waving flies away.
We wait, with others unable to make the trek, under some shade until the rest of our group returns from their walk. Whilst we are waiting, Dave the driver, lifts a dragon lizard in the palm of his hand. The creature is so perfectly formed, with a series of mottled triangular spikes rising from his spine and reaching down to his tail. He scuttles into the bush as soon as he is set free. We are take to different photographic stops. It’s a very flat reddish landscape with two rock formations on the horizon which look like two septic boils.. There is more greenery than we had expected. It had rained last week, the first time since October. The dust is as bad as we expected.
Dave, our driver, is very pleasant and gives us lots of information whilst we are in his care.
He warns us to stay rigidly to the desert code. Do not go walkabout without informing someone where you are going and when you will return. Take one litre of water for every hour you walk and two litres for every hour you walk in the middle of the day.
He tells us that the Australian government returned the lands at Ayers Rock to the Aborigines several years ago and then leased them straight back. Everyone entering what the government call the “National Park” has to pay 15 dollars toll to the government on top of whatever the tour company has already charged.
Dave also tells us he had climbed Ayers Rock seven times when he was young and ignorant, but will never climb it again. The Aborigines consider Ayers Rock a holy place and all tour guides are now honour bound to tell the tourists that the Aborigines have requested that the Rock is treated as a sacred place and ask that tourists stop climbing it. The Aborigines are also fearful as the Rock is eroding. We can clearly see in the distance the lighter coloured red soil that highlights the path taken to the top of the Rock. Added to this is the fact that thirty-seven people have had heart attacks whilst climbing the Rock since the start of the year. (It is only March).
For Maureen and I this decision is not a problem. We are not fit to climb the Rock but in view of what we have just heard, even if we were fit enough, we would not climb it in respect of the Aborigines’ wishes. For us it will mean a long lie tomorrow. The rest of our party who are climbing tomorrow morning leave at 5 am to view the sunrise and then start their climb.
We are promised a “good sunset” and Dave pulls the coach into the coach car park. He hands out folding chairs and sets out glasses, wine and nibbles. We sit to wait out the half hour or so until sunset. Many other coaches arrive and I count at least twenty. Maureen and I are sitting quite comfortably when a coach deposits its load of American tourists who proceed to set up camp directly in front of us and spoil our view. The driver is quite embarrassed by their behaviour and spends the rest of the viewing time talking to us. We drink white wine whilst the Americans drink champagne.
The Rock changes colour rapidly as dusk descends. The waves of crimson and purple fan over the crevices in the Rock, but for me the most startling event is what is happening to the west of the Rock. I can see flurries of ever deepening shadows which looks like fine black dust thrown up from the heels of a thousand horses racing. I ask the Americans’ coach driver, “What’s that over there?”
”You’re seeing the earth spinning into darkness,” he replies.
As I watch this I am aware of seeing the earth’s movement for the first time, that the earth is round and that it is travelling through space. It’s a mind-numbing sensation and I feel as if something magical has touch my soul and start to shiver as night blankets the Rock and the drivers collect the drained glasses.
We eat in the restaurant at our hotel. It is self-service and we pay a flat rate of 35 dollars each for our meal. This is the most expensive meal we have had yet in Australia.
It is very disappointing as there is no bread, little meat and no tomatoes left in the salad. We do not complain until an Australian does. He loses his temper and is shouting at the staff saying they are cheating the tourists. We are refunded most of our money but we complain at the main reception desk so they know what is happening in their restaurant. They ask us to book for breakfast but we decline.