The T-Team With Mr B (16)
[The last few months I have revisited The T-Team with Mr. B: Central Australian Safari 1977 which is a prequel to Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981. In preparation for its release later this year, I will be sharing posts of this adventure.
In this episode we climb Uluru/Ayers Rock and Mr. B startles us with his dream for the Rock…]
Mr. B’s Dream for the Rock
Tourist buses lined the carpark. They looked like caterpillars all in a row ready for a race. People swarmed like ants around the base of the Rock and a steady stream of them marched up and down the slope.
Dad slowed the Rover to a crawl and slotted into a space at the end of the carpark. ‘Well, there’s the tourists,’ he said.
‘And what are we?’ Mr B asked.
‘I like to think we are travellers.’
‘What’s the difference?’
‘Tourists come to a place like the Rock, they climb it, snap a few photos and then they move on,’ Dad said. ‘Travellers take their time. They explore. They get to know the people who live here. They appreciate the culture and history of the place.’
‘So we’re tourists then,’ Mr B remarked, his expression dead-pan.
Dad scratched his brow. ‘Oh, no, I wouldn’t say that.’
‘I’m climbing the Rock,’ Matt said and then bolted out the back door.
Richard and I chased after Matt. We scrambled up the slope following the painted white line. Further up several tourists inched their way grasping chain rails that were secured into the rock.
‘Hoy!’ Dad yelled. ‘Wait! We all go together.’
‘You forgot your water-bottles and lunch for the top,’ Mr B said.
‘Come on Matt,’ Richard called out to Matt who’d sprinted ahead, ‘better get our packs and stuff.’
Matt, Richard and I plodded back to Dad and Mr B where we collected our backpacks of supplies from them. Then as a group we recommenced our haul up the monolith.
The first part was treacherously steep. Before I even reached the rails, my shins ached from the gradient. We followed the broken white line. Deviation from the nominated path could be fatal. A plaque at the base of the Rock was a solemn reminder that several people had fallen to their deaths.
And yet, while climbing, I recall my mum telling me that when she climbed Ayers Rock back in the 1950’s, there was no white line, and not rail to clutch onto. Then she told me a funny story about an earlier time when a filmmaker took footage of the climb up the Rock with a local Indigenous guide. I have seen this film where at the top of the rock, there were pools from recent heavy rain, and the guide can be seen splashing in the water. Perhaps life and the way the Rock was viewed was different back then in the 1940’s and 50’s.
Richard and Matt scampered ahead of me. I puffed my way up the slope behind them and soon lost sight of them. Dad and Mr B laboured behind me. Mr B rested every few steps. He swore he’d die of a heart attack before he fell to his death. Dad stayed with him and encouraged him to keep on going.
Tourists passed me as they descended the Rock. They nodded and said, ‘G’day’ and remarked that the climb was well worth the effort.
Spurred by these recent Uluru conquerors, I took a deep breath and continued the climb.
The steep slope eased into endless ridges. Up and down. Up and down. At least my shins experienced some relief. But I seemed to be hiking over these rocky hills and dales forever, as if Uluru was the Tardis of distance. I glanced at my watch. I’d been hiking over an hour. Was the Rock that big?
I stopped, took a swig of water from my canteen and surveyed the plain beneath. The Olgas shimmered like mauve marbles above the land striped in sienna and gold in the afternoon sun.
‘You’re almost there,’ Richard called. He raced up to me and then pointed. ‘The cairn is just over there.’
‘Are you blind?’
‘I can’t see it.’
Richard led me to the pile of stones set in concrete. Half a dozen tourists plus Richard and Matt milled around the cairne, posing for photos and pointing at the various landmarks below. Richard, Matt and I conformed to the way of the tourists taking turns photographing each of us standing next to the cairn with Kata Tjuta behind us.
As we waited for our fathers, we admired the awesome scenery; the land below bathed in waves of pink, purple, blue and yellow. The boulders of Kata Tjuta changed from deep purple to blue with the movement of the sun as it travelled west. ‘Wow!’ I exclaimed. ‘This climb was well worth it.’
Other tourists summited, stayed a few minutes to snap a few shots and then trooped away down the Rock.
After Richard, Matt and I had eaten our sandwiches, signed the log book on the cairn, explored some bushes that grew out of the Rock and then watched the third lot of people arrive and disappear, Dad and Mr B staggered to the summit. Their faces glowed with perspiration.
Mr B clutched his chest and slumped down by the cairn. ‘I thought those corrugations would never end!’
Dad patted Mr. B on the back. ‘Ah, well, we made it.’
Mr B slurped water from his canteen, then standing up, he paced around the cairn while scrutinising the landscape with his binoculars. Dad pointed out the landmarks, Mt. Conner to the east, Kata Tjuta to the west and the Musgrave Ranges to the south, and so directing Mr B’s binocular-gaze.
After several minutes admiring the view, Mr B remarked, ‘Amazing! Certainly well worth the climb, ol’ boy.’ He then sidled up to Dad and put his arm around his shoulders. ‘I dare say, ol’ chap, the experience could be improved.’
‘What? A cable-car up to the top?’
‘Oh, hadn’t thought of that. No, I suggest there should be a fast food restaurant up the top here. The place needs refreshments. I mean to say, all these people have spent two hours climbing up here. They need some refreshments, don’t you think?’
Dad cleared his throat. ‘Er, um…’
Is this man for real? I thought. On the climb and also when we visited the cave, I sensed the Rock was holy, sacred. How could Mr B even contemplate building anything on its surface? ‘I reckon there should be less people climbing the Rock, not more,’ I said.
‘And another thing,’ Mr B was not finished, ‘the Rock needs a swimming pool halfway up. I’ve already picked out the perfect location. You see, while I was resting and contemplating during that terrible steep climb, I saw it, the perfect place for a pool. What do you say, ol’ chap?’
‘The Indigenous owners will never agree,’ Dad replied.
‘Well, I have some advice for the natives,’ Mr B said. ‘They need to get with the times. I mean, look at all the tourists. Look at all the opportunities.’
‘I doubt it,’ Dad shook his head, ‘come on, we better get down.’
After Dad and Mr B signed their names in the log book, we made our way down the Rock tracking along the white line. We nodded at the people climbing up and said, ‘G’day’ to them and advised them that the climb was well worth the effort.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016; updated 2022
*Feature Photo: Uluru Climbers Like Ants © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2013