The Namatjira palette

The McDonnell Ranges of Central Australia have long been promoted by marketers, lauded by writers, photographed incessantly and adored by visitors.

We’re heading north, but we can’t help taking a day or two first to drive the famous crescent route through Namatjira Country.

We head out through Heavitree Gap for the West McDonnell Ranges

Hermannsburg is a delight, not because of its paternalistic history, but because of how magnificently it has now been restored by its traditional owners, the Arrernte people (with a little help from the government). It is now an historic precinct, having been handed back in 1982 .  The brilliance, joys and sadnesses of Namatjira‘s life are in our minds as we transit his territory, recognising his purples and reds and oranges and pinks in every direction.

Kathleen Buzzacott, talented indigenous artist and delightful conversationalist, who now operates in a studio just west of Alice, spent her childhood at Hermannsburg, and remembers it as her ‘happy place.’ She’s sad when we discuss how buffel grass not only replaced the indigenous plants, but also killed much of the ‘bush tucker’ they gathered. She happily produces some of her gathered ‘bush onions’, which we munch like nuts.

Kathleen Buzzacott in her studio

It’s a joyous couple of days. Even though we had seen the McDonnell Ranges before, we still couldn’t help being overwhelmed by the scenery, especially where it is not polluted by buffel grass (pretty, but deadly) and we can’t help taking thousands of photos. The Lookouts, where we stay for lunch or overnight, give the most astonishing of views – Point Howard Lookout, Neil Hargreave Lookout, where we sleep overnight. We watch the sun set over the Namatjira-coloured sleeping mountains to the west, and then watch it rise in the east, spreading the sunshine over the curved hills and creating opposite and ever-changing shades.

But it’s time to go north now, off to Katherine to find some new tyres.

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