Connecting with the living country past and present.
It is an ancient truth that life will always follow water, and that water itself must follow the lie of the land. Nowhere is this more obvious than in very dry country. Everything your eye observes in the arid landscape around Mount Grenfell Historic Site is speaking to you of how the water moves. Where the rain runs off the bitumen road there is a strip of lush green grass; where the bees buzz in a crack between two rocks there is a small pool hidden within; where small rounded boulders tumble down a gentle slope it is water that has brought them there.
It is the water that sings so loud in this place that made it such an important part of the lives of the Ngiyampaa people. This water is the reason why, for thousands of years, they congregated here and left images of their world on the rock overhangs that follow the course of its flow.
As the crow flies Mount Grenfell Historic Site is 50km north-west of Cobar. To get there in a car you follow the Barrier Highway for 40km and then turn right and travel for another 33km along a very red and rocky dirt track. This track can be quite rough at times, so if you want to travel at a decent speed it is best for your vehicle to have a bit of clearance.
This road takes you right through the heart of the harsh but beautiful mallee scrub. The conditions here are too rough for sheep – you will instead see herds of goats feeding amongst the scrub. In spring the mallee blooms white, and its rounded curves blanket the landscape like desert snow.
There is shady a picnic area beside the carpark which has barbecues, toilets and tables. From here it is a short walk up a gentle incline to reach the waterhole.
“If you come through here at dawn or dusk the bush is just alive,” says Cobar’s Tourism Manager, John Martin. “There are all kinds of little creatures scurrying along the ground, and the kangaroos and emus will be feeding.”
As we walk in the heat of the afternoon we take our time and John pauses regularly to point out evidence of the life in the landscape. A long furrow and some small footprints in the sand are where a goanna passed through. A family of small brown birds with thick white eyebrows and a matching bib, which John says are Hall’s Babblers, chatter pleasantly to each other, making sense of their name. Flashes of near-fluorescent green reveal Mulga Ringneck parrots winging their way through the tops of the trees.
A flat path paved with the local stone leads you up beside the trail of boulders that marks the course of the water when it flows and over to the sandstone overhangs that would have protected the people of this country from the rain that caused the waterhole to overflow. John points out a shallow depression in the top of a football sized stone – made by hands of people grinding seeds or stones.
Using the pigments of ochre, white, yellow, and brown these people painted images of their world onto the stone. These figures of emus, kangaroos, and people are not an echo; they are a window that looks directly into the minds of those who lived in unknown ages past. The outlines of hands, some of them the tiny hands of children, are all that is left of people who lived and loved in this landscape. The viewer is reminded of the eternal human urge to communicate, and to mark their existence – to find and make meaning.
If the weather is kind, there is a 3.5km loop walk through the countryside; The highlight of the walk is the view from the rocky lookout at the peak at Mount Grenfell’s summit. This walk will take about two hours – giving you time to listen to the words spoken by the contours of this arid landscape and contemplate the art you have just seen.
Click here for more information on the Mount Grenfell Historic Site.