A pilgrimage to outback Australia


My pilgrimage and the simple call for a Voice, recognition, respect and truth telling.

Recently I went to Lake Eyre by boat! A large inland Lake it is more frequently covered by salt than water and surrounded by desert. So how could it be that I went to Lake Eyre by boat?

I was desperately in need of something to shake me out of a state of burnout. I needed a pilgrimage – to “cross my own Rubicon” – to find new land on the other side and to bring radical change to my life.

Sitting in my chair at home with my small alter in the foreground and my beautiful garden vista further out I called to my Angels, and all the unseen being who had accompanied me on my Metavision journey. I need something radical, nourishing and supported by others, where I am, not responsible for the outcome…. And there it was, a small ad. In the Sydney Morning Herald – “Lake Eyre by Boat”.

Rex Ellis, a veteran bushy and safari leader, was planning a trip to Lake Eyre in little ‘tinny’ boats, down the Warburton River to camp on an island in Lake Eyre, food and swags provided. 14 days. I was in.

We drove for two days through changing country, beautiful, stark, tender, sensitive country that responds to the weather like a lover to her beloved.

Up through the Flinders Rangers to the Birdsville track we went.

The track had recently been closed due to rain. The desert, responding to the rain with an abundance of life, soft to the eye. It was hard to imagine the hard unforgiving desert that lurked in this usual vista.

Our first night in swags on the banks of the Warburton River, tinnies launched but not yet packed, we waited for the dawn. Stepping from the swag, helping to load the tinnies to the gunnels, with no loo, no showers, the same clothes day and night for 12 nights, through a wide range of temperatures from cold nights to warming days, mud, flies and all, required a visceral shedding of ‘civilized’, pampered modern life.

As Rex rounded up his team paid, and us the payers, he said ‘this is no holiday’. I thought to myself, ‘it may not be for you, but it is for me’, as I shed responsibility, organising, and planning and became a passenger to another’s organisation. All able-bodied people jumped to, to load swags, bags, chairs, and food onto the waiting boats an off we went to reach Eyre.

The dawn chorus greeted us with the sun each morning as the routine of breaking camp and setting off on the next day of our journey unfolded.

Would we make it to Lake Eyre to camp on the little island people call Ellis (after Rex). It was not a given that we would get down the river and back. This was subject to the weather and what the Lake was doing. ‘Our’ river, one of only 7 wild rivers left in the world, Rex explained, is subject to the lake. If the water goes out of the lake it sucks water from the river like a bath when the plug is taken out. Then the river becomes too shallow for us to traverse. The water could be blown by the wind to the other side of the vast lake or could simply be drying out fast. Both events would cause the dramatic sucking event for the river. There is no predicting what might happen. Was this Rex’s way of keeping tension in the trip or was it a real threat?

The days settled into a routine of rising at dawn, packing the boats and tootling slowly down the winding river. This became a meditation, watching the changing array of birds and scenery. We all watched for Dingos catching the occasional sight of our oft hunted native top predator. They are a magnificent sight in the wild. At night we heard them howl. That mournful cry brought to me images of how our ancestors have hunted both the Dingo and the Aboriginal residents of this land.

Many wildflowers and carved stark landscape with Coolabah trees clutching onto life as the river carved away the earth beneath them, passed us by. It struck me that to live and survive in this land it was obvious that listening to the land and weather was essential. Being vulnerable, taking risks and stepping out of my comfort zone was part of this journey and was both a challenge and a gift.

We did reach Lake Eyre and camped on the island. It rained that night. This proved to be the next threat to our intrepid trip. It rained more upriver where we needed to get out of the boats and return to the vehicles. The rain had cut the roads. We might be cut off for a week, Rex said with tension in his voice. We will run out of food. The two young men of the trip started to hunt. They made spears to catch rabbits and tried fishing. All to no avail. Tension mounted among the payers.

We did get out. The roads cleared just in time and the river held up. Rex announced that this was his last trip. He is 81 after all. Indications suggest we are in for a return to the hot dry times when there is no water in the lake and way too little in the river. Rex said “there are fewer birds that usual. They must know something we don’t know”.

The flow of the river, the flow of each day, and the settling and soothing of my nervous system has been a signature of this trip. It is my Camino, my crossing of the Rubicon. On returning home I was not rested as it had been quite strenuous (‘no holiday’) but I was changed, deeply changed. Much more could be said of this adventure. I hope this has given you a small taste.

I was also not done yet in my desire find the refresh button. The power of the Australian desert was still calling me, so I took up an invitation to go to Uluru, the Red Centre.

In the desert lands the powerful presence of Uluru together with Kata Tjuta radiates out as far as the eye can see. Walking the base of Uluru, getting up close to where the men’s and woman’s ceremonies have been held for thousands of years, seeing the rock ‘art’ and hearing some of the creation stories of Mala and the Anangu people creates a feeling of sacredness and humbleness.

A wise teacher said to me that the energy emitted from Uluru as a result of the ceremonies and gatherings there for so long, cuts through to the truth. “If you listen you can pick it up”, he said. I did get some ‘truth telling’ messages for my life while I was there. Mmmm

The ‘Uluru Statement from the heart’ came from such gatherings. I hope as a nation we can hear the simple call for a Voice, recognition, respect and truth telling. While sitting in front of a cave full of paintings and spirits I got the clear message that all will be well eventually. It just may take quite some time. I also got the clear message for me to vote YES.

The work done at Uluru to integrate Aboriginal and Western cultures is good to see in employment of local people and in sharing of the cultural stories and practices. An example of this was in the stunning presentation of the Mala creation story told and curated by Aboriginal elders together with light, sound and drone technology of Western knowledge.

While I was there the referendum was hardly mentioned. Whatever the outcome, the call from the Elders is being heard. Their timeless wisdom, their patience and lack of angst surpasses the petty self-interest squabbles and disagreements we are seeing today.

From the experiences of bathing in nature, the beauty, power, and profundity of country is transformative.

I think it is our disconnection for such experiences that causes so many problems.

May we work together and build re-connection on every level.

Christina Nielsen, October 2023.

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