It wasn’t actually raining on the rock during my visit but good falls a month earlier, on top of bushfires late last year, combined to encourage an abundance of native vegetation to do its regeneration thing. Charred trunks sprouted new greenery and colourful surprises awaited over every dune: carpets of tiny yellow daisies; bushes of golden honey grevillea; the rich deep pink of Gibson’s Desert Fuschia; olive-grey spinifex tufts and black-trunked desert oaks against rust red dunes like an Indigenous naïve painting springing to life.
The twisted beauty of a red river gum atop Kings Canyon.
Gibson’s Desert Fuschia.
Not sure what the yellow and blue flowers are, but they were pretty.
..and, of course, good old wattle.
Desert oaks, members of the casuarina family with their thin needle-like leaves, dominate the treescape. A naturalist has suggested the desert oak is the most photographed tree in Australia, but mainly because of the accidental “celebrity” of one specimen which stands between Uluru and the hundreds of photographers who daily capture sensational sunrises and sunsets with a series of frames, just as I did. I can see why Albert Namatjira was drawn to the red river and ghost gums. With their white trunks and branches twisted in intricate shapes they are aesthetically hard to beat.
Classified as semi-desert, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and adjoining Watarrka, home to Kings Canyon, support hundreds of plant and tree species – the former 400 and the latter 600. Many, including the ghost gums, are central to the food and pharmacopeia of the traditional owners. For example, the powder which creates the ghostlike appearance of C.aparrerinj, as it is known botanically, is a powerful disinfectant used in the treatment of cuts, sores, cramps and pains. An infusion of the bark was drunk for colds and used as a wash for sore eyes. Bloodwood trees have been described as a supermarket, pharmacy and hardware store for desert Aboriginal people. You can eat the green grubs from the gall, or “bush coconut”, and those that live under the bark; collect honey from the hives of stingless native bees; make a sweet drink from the nectar, carrying bowls from the bumps on the bark, medicine from the red sap and collect drinking water from hollows and the roots. And the flowers of the honey grevillea produce sweet nectar which Aboriginal people mix with a little water to make a sweet drink.
Who said the Outback was barren?