We sat from under our corrugated iron lean-to behind the abandoned house, watching the rain pour down. We could make out the dark black spearhead cloud above us as the evening turned to night and the lighting flickered the sky. This rain would lock us in again, and make this our new home for a while.
Today was a different weather regime. The sky was a patchwork of blue and dark, threatening clouds. The air was hot and sticky and the wind howled from the north (a side wind). At different places around us the clouds released rain that we could see arc southwards with the wind to dump their load on the normally dry Lake Eyre Basin.
Lake Eyre South
As I cycled, I felt vulnerable to the elements, and my mood changed with the light. Moments of blue sky and bright light raised my spirits, followed by a sudden realisation of my insignificance in this stark, desolate landscape as a dark cloud passed over and the wind howled.
We stopped for an early lunch as the raindrops started to fall as we passed an abandoned railway siding – Curdimurka. Today would be a day sleeping in one of these abandoned buildings – we knew this already.
Only a few drops fell at lunch and we continued. We saw bubbling mound springs in the sun, Lake Eyre South in the rain, and finished as the black clouds descended in earnest at the ‘Aeroplane-henge’ at Alberrie Creek – a strange collection of rusty sculptures make from old mechanics parts. We considered sleeping in the Ghan Hover Bus, but opted on the abandoned house for better protection from the rain.
The road to Marree
The road to Marree
Bus at Alberrie Creek
Planes at Alberrie Creek
Dog at Alberrie Creek
The Oodnadatta Track follows a chain on ‘mound springs’ – pools of water supplied the Arteasian Basin – a huge underground water reservoir that lies below one fifth of Australia. The little pools of water sit on mounds that rise around 10 metres above the flat desolate landscape. These springs are at weak points in the earth’s surface where the underground water can push it’s way to the surface. Water bubbling out of these springs has been on a two million year journey through the artesian underground system from where it first dropped from the clouds in Queensland. These springs have great spiritual significance for the Aboriginal people, and were also key in opening up central Australia for the white settlers.
Today, sitting next to the spring, alone, in this desolate landscape with the hot wind on our faces, and the dark clouds looming on the horizon, Clement and I contemplated our mortality. In Clement’s body are atoms from Victor Hugo. In mine are atoms from my mother – that I will be visiting in just a few weeks – the endpoint of my bike trip where her ashes are scattered. Our bodies today are made of completely different atoms to the day we were born. Probably only a very small fraction of our mass was there when we first saw the light of day. Are we still the same people? Are we still Clement Peltier and Matthew Harris? Looking back I see a very different person in my body to the Matthew Harris of my childhood. Life is such an amazing thing – twisting and turning through fate, shaping and moulding as one tries to understand one’s soul.
‘Are you afraid of death?’ I asked Clement.
We both agree that if we died tomorrow, we would both die happy. Life is about living, and that is what we are doing – every day. Living despite my fears – running out of water, not being able to fix the bike, and many others. Sometimes I look at Clement and want to see fear. Does he not doubt himself sometimes? He told of a comment a host wrote about him – ‘Clement is fearless.’ I definitely am not.