Three weeks ago, I set off with 16 women to walk parts of the Larapinta. We didn’t do the whole walk and we didn’t carry all our food and tents. But we wanted to connect to Country and connect to the ancient beauty of Australia.

    The Arrernte are the traditional custodians of the land and they named the river that carved the valleys we walked along Larapinta. It’s colonial name is Finke River. The air was cold and crisp in the mornings and during the day it got quite warm with a very dry desert air that had us longing for a cool breeze.

    The land was breathtaking, making me itch to paint it to capture the visual poetry that my phone camera couldn’t do justice to. The reds, and greens, and greys and blue against the blue sky; I drank it in. It really brought the awe out in the word awesome.

    I started the walk with an injury but was determined after 4 months of preparing to still give it a go. I was after all not just going for a hike, but actually connecting with those walking with me, and connecting to this ancient place and its energy. I was going to the peace, the space, the experience of this place. But. It. Was. Hard!

    The women were mostly leaders in the sustainability and architecture fields. All mid to late career with a life of experience and passion to share. It was wonderful to talk to some of them, to get to know their journeys, hopes and fears. We all were on the trip to raise money and support the 1 Million Women program. A program that supports everyday mums and women around Australia, and increasingly globally, to understand the issues of climate change and what they can do at home to reduce their impact. It was a joy to walk together for a common purpose.

    So, what did I learn? Firstly, I wish I had gone with an intention a practice of reflection or deeper connection. Too soon it was over, and I was wondering where the big revelations were I was so hoping for. I was naively hoping for Country to speak to me, for some clarity about my future path, some sense of hope or purpose, some guidance. I didn’t get it, all I got was a quiet confirmation that I was ok, my path was ok, and I just needed to keep going. Drat!

    Secondly, I learnt that it is difficult to walk your own path in a group of ambitious people, it was ‘keep up’ or step away. I choose to step away one day and just sit and paint and read. Really connect with the essence and colours of Ormiston Gorge (Kwartatuma). It was a favourite day, and I learnt it was ok to step away and explore my own path.

    Lastly, the embarrassment. On the last day, as we started hiking at 3am in the morning up Mount Sonder (Rwetyepme), my tummy was queasy and rumbling yet I stoically started the walk. Seven hundred or so metres of steep, rocky, climbing for 4 hours to see sunrise. I made it for around an hour or so I think, though things became a bit hazy. I got hotter and hotter taking layers of clothing off. And then the world went black. I didn’t lose consciousness though I did fall down, lost all bodily control and lay there embarrassed and fighting to not pass out. It took about 30 minutes, I think, but finally I was able to sit up, and then when I could stand, I slunk off into the bushes. Long story short, the guide slowly helped me get back down to the bus, where I lay shivering for a few hours sipping electrolytes until I felt myself again. The lesson there is I should have listened to my queasiness, I should have listened to my body instead of desperately wanting to keep up with everyone. You would have thought at 50 I would have known this one, but no, it was a lesson in humility instead.

    The trip was wonderful, and I would do it again, but with more awareness, more mindfulness and more generosity to my body. I have wonderful photos, some nice paintings and a couple of great new friends. I connected to a wonderful part of Australia, and my deep respect for those that lived there for 60,000 or more years is hard to put into words. It is a hard, beautiful, extreme and yet wonderful place. 

    Dr Dominique Hes
    Dr Dominique Hes
    Dr Dominique Hes is the Zero Building Carbon Lead at the City of Melbourne. Dominique mixes theory and thinking, with doing and testing to discover how we can best contribute to the well-being and thriving of place, people and planet.

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