Thursday, December 08, 2011

Graveyard Bash

All the stories of European exploration in Australia seem to follow a strangely similar pattern.  A white man sets off on a surveying venture.  When time goes by and he doesn’t return, another white man is sent off on a search and rescue mission.  Some eight months later, he and five of his 30 men show up, having found a lot of dust, a lot of sunshine, several very large spiders, very little water and no signs of human habitation.

A couple years later, it all happens again a few hundred kilometres away.

Perhaps even more curious than the Europeans’ proclivity for misplacing their countrymen was their ability to launch a thorough search of an area and find absolutely nothing of note – no people, no gold, no awe-inspiring natural wonders.  This they managed even when these things were in relatively plentiful supply throughout the area they were tasked with exploring.

One might think these Europeans exceptionally unobservant.

Certainly the Australian Outback is not easy terrain, but considering how precisely the English, in particular, selected places like India and Africa to focus their imperial attentions, one would expect them to have realised that only a small fraction of the world’s surface is covered in lush grass and watered daily by Mother Nature.  They should have known what they were getting themselves into.  Who looks upon an endless expanse of red desert and says, “Reckon I fancy a walk”?  Who sets out across an endless expanse of red desert, notes a decided dearth of either plant or animal life forms, and decides to keep going?

I traveled to Perth last week.  Perth was used as a base for European exploration in Australia.  It was one of those places people set off from and never returned to.  While I was there, I did some exploring of my own and drove out to the Pinnacles.

The Pinnacles desert was among the natural wonders that several rounds of Europeans managed not to see while exploring Western Australia.  This presents an instance of such gross negligence that some historians have declared it flat out impossible and concluded that the distinctive rock structures must have been buried under a couple meters of sand at the time.

Equally unclear is how the rock structures formed.  A couple theories are explained at the park visitors’ centre, and one posits that the desert was once the site of a forest.  After the trees died out, roots remained and solidified as the ground eroded away.  The other theory I don’t remember; however, I’d like to propose one of my own that I think is a rather more likely explanation.

The Pinnacles are a graveyard.  A graveyard for all those lost souls who perished under the hot Aussie sun.  All those vanished explorers who are to be commended for their curiosity even if they lacked a certain foresight.  Good Mother Nature swallowed them whole, but look what she did in their memory!

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