Illarari, Tempe Downs, August 2019

Illarari is our most remote campsite, situated deep in Aboriginal freehold land. Access to this location is difficult in many ways but it’s well worth it. Such a thought provoking and astonishingly beautiful place. A spring fed creek burbles through what is currently, desperately dry country. This creek, so important for the Aboriginal people and native wildlife for tens of thousands of years made this area one of the first areas in Central Australia to be claimed for cattle grazing and it operated as a station until the 1980’s when it was put back in the hands of the Traditional Owners. It is now preserved for its natural abundance and sacred sites. Stark remnants of the station days still remain, now unused.  In our week camped there we saw no other people at all.

But there is little to be said about our time at Illarari that is not said more eloquently in Lyn Harwood’s beautiful poem Still, reflecting her experience of this very special time and place. Thank you Lyn.


A long day’s journey into heartland
Baptism by sand

And bogged we dig away the remnants of normal
And place our bed in the ancient river.

Awake, awake,
Brews up.

Drowning in form and line and red rock.
That place of dancing trees and solid scape.
That place, out of time.

Haunted by dreams unresolved,
The aching grief of loss, still
Be still.

Who walks this country now?
The moaning bull,
The skittish horse,
The cheeky dog,
And the absence of you.

The long journey home.
The stripped heartscape slowly shrouded by the mundane.

Lyn Harwood

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FINKE RIVER @ 2 Mile 2019

The Finke River, reportedly the oldest river in the world, rises in the West MacDonell Ranges, west of Alice Springs. In this tract of country is the marvellous campsite we call Finke River @ 2 Mile. It’s an area very dear to us as we always camped there during the years of our Larapinta Trail Walks. It is close to  one of the few permanent waterholes on the Finke, such precious water in this very dry time. This sense of specialness infused all the work created.
The campsite, nestled in the protective saddle of a small hill, belongs to Trek Larapinta (the walking tour business Charlie started in the 90’s). Tall canvas tents, stretchers, gently winding paths, a composting toilet, a charming outdoor shower and a large covered kitchen area as well as our usual marquee ‘studio’ made for easy camping.  Being up above the river, we had incredible views in every direction; out over the ranges, the salty plain and the braided beginnings of the Finke.  The view was sometimes so overwhelming that people focussed on the smaller details of rocks, plants and the rhythms of the land before they tackled the omnipresent Mt Sonder, (Rwetyepme).
As well as exploring this immediate area we visited Ormiston Gorge, some choosing to do the 8k Ormiston Pound Loop walk, the most beautiful walk in the west Macs, many say. We also went to the less visited Roma Gorge, soaking up its special ambiance, discovering the petroglyphs to the joyful sounds of Zebra Finches. Everything we saw, everywhere we went, poured into the week’s creative work.  Even around the fire people kept working, needle felting little birds from wool.  And the natural dyeing results were a delight…. Have a look at it all!  Click on a thumbnail to bring up the slide show.
Photos are by me, Deb, unless indicated otherswise

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Palm Valley 2019

We have camped at the Old Ranger Station in Finke Gorge NP many times over the years. It’s always a delightful campsite, the immediate setting is beautiful and with so much inspiration  close at hand: Palm Bend around the corner on the Finke, the enchanting little valley behind the camp, the Mparre walk, the spectacular Amphitheatre, one hardly needs to go into Palm Valley itself. On this camp we only ventured into the Valley once. We enjoyed it immensely, with people choosing different levels of walking routes to explore it, but no one felt the need to go back. Life in camp and nearby was just so rich! And the wonderful thing was we had this beautiful campsite all to ourselves… except when we had a very welcomel visit!

Conrad Ratara and his family have taken over the lease of this building and surrounding area and are planning to develop it as a cultural facility for tourists, sharing his unique knowledge of this place as its Senior Traditional Owner.  We were his first clients and this was cause for a big celebration! We hosted 24 members of his extended family for a cook up around the fire while Conrad himself told stories in Arrente, in English and in song, to a spellbound audience. What an amazing night it was, a rare and authentic cross-cultural event.  All our participants pitched in to make it happen, serving cups of tea and cooking for our guests, we’ll all remember this night!

Camp participants were a capable and loveable bunch of women, first timers all, which is rare these days. As always, there were common threads; an abiding sense of caring, awareness and spirituality plus a deep interest in the environment. People really appreciated Charlie’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the place and Anna’s ability to cater for dietary complexities. Some people were keen to learn new techniques from me, extending their creative repertoire, others just wanted to sit down on country alone and engage creatively in their way. I extended myself, experimenting with a participant who was keen to make leaf prints on paper, just like we do on silk. The results were pleasing as you will see. Some people produced an enormous amount of work and others will take the experience home with them to build on over time.

I would like to thank everyone for coming with us and Conrad and his family for having us camp at ‘his special place’. What a treat it was!

Photos below were al taken by me except when acknowledged otherwise, click on any photo to see the slideshow at full size.

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Running Waters May 2019

Our luck began with rain the day before the camp! Washed the dry and dusty land clean and sometimes turned the dirt track into a river. We did get bogged on the way into Running Waters but our luck quickly manifest a dusky, green eyed, brumby wrangler, who pulled us out no worries…his was the only other vehicle we saw on that remote track that day. The rest of our good fortune was how much we all liked each other and how much we had to share. Then there was the warmer weather, the clear green water in the swimming hole upstream, the amazing red water in the rest of the Finke and the perfect refections in the claypan.  Most of us managed to ward off winter colds and no one was injured, a blessing! We were so lucky and yet we still swore??? We cursed those pesky flies that really were really out to drive us all mad. Our only trial, the lingering legacy of a very hot dry summer.  People did amazingly beautiful work! I just hope I have done it justice. All photos are mine (Deb) unless I have acknowledged another.
Click on any small image below to view the full screen slide show.

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Ross River Creative Camp September 2018

This was our first time at Ross River Resort.  For me it was a most enjoyable camp. Of course, it’s always a thrill to explore new terrain and the fact that Charlie and I didn’t have to provide the food was a bonus. But it was enjoyable for more than either of those obvious reasons, it was really that the location exceeded my expectations on pretty much all levels.

We discovered many beautiful places quite close to camp that I only vaguely knew existed. Each late afternoon we would venture out in the ‘Don’ (our big vehicle) down dusty red tracks to arrive at some monumental rock formation. They rise out of the landscape like jagged, crumbling walls, turning red in the late light. Lee and Graham the managers gave us directions to these hidden gems and were extremely helpful and easy going in all respects. The food was good, really good and plentiful! The cabins were comfortable, roomy and cool, their ‘quirkiness’ charming rather than off-putting. There were some very hot days forecast for that week but even these seemed more tolerable than I anticipated.

I delighted in the company of many creative folk who feel like friends now as they have been with us so many times and we enjoyed very much the company of 3 new faces, who seemed to fit in very easily. Meal times, in the old homestead dining room, separate from the main dining hall, were alive with invigorating conversation.  We also had our own fire to retreat to, to watch the sun go down on the ranges, or the stars after dinner, so it still felt a bit like camping. The only thing we missed was Anna, our wonderful bush-camp assistant!

The variety and quality of work created was remarkable as you will see. All the ‘old hands’ chose to work quite independently of me, venturing off into the landscape each day and coming back with stories and work to inspire us all. We had two keen photographers on board who focussed solely in this medium. Bob Williamson also made photo manipulation on his laptop, thanks to the luxury of unlimited power.  I do hope they send me some of their work so I can include it in the slideshow below!

I pulled my usual tricks out of the bag for those who chose to ‘play with me’ in the marquee: oil pastel and acrylic ink, ink and a stick, large ink paintings, making concertina books, natural dyeing, and ‘frottage’ (rubbing trees and rocks with graphite and paper). I even indulged my most recent obsession; needle felting birds, in this case a pair of scarlet robins, though no one else joined me.

We took trips out into the surrounding country to Trephina Gorge, John Hayes Rock Hole and Ndahla Gorge. Everyone worked ‘au plea air’ in these beautiful places as well as other spots they found closer to the homestead. Everywhere the rock formations are extraordinary, elegant lines dressed with the texture of spinifex and mulga. It was extremely dry but still very beautiful. The cattle and brumbies looked a bit forlorn in their empty supermarket but still pretty fat considering, with new calves and foals at foot.

All in all, it was a great location and a lovely experience. So we are all set to do it again next year.

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