Surprising lines of low cliff
Rise abruptly out of arid flatness.
They stretch into the distance,
Orange in sunlight but purple in shadow.
Beneath the cliffs the scree slopes
Are dull with stone and desert plant.
In harsh, austere, forbidding ways
They are grand and strangely beautiful,
But the music here is not about grandeur or beauty.
This melody is uncompromising,
The tone discordant, the rhythms abrupt.
Listen! What is that sound?
What song echoes through these stern ranges?
From Wilpena Pound’s single exit
A trickle of water feeds a few muddy ponds.
Thickets of huge red gum, artesian feed
Stand sturdily upright or lie tangled
In patterns that momentary torrents of raging water,
Briefly and angrily tearing through the gully,
Have heaped along the now near dry river bed.
Here too is music but it is countermelody,
Lyrical, lush, quiet, secluded,
An interval of contrast before the main theme
Insistently and irresistibly sounds from the tumbled rock,
The thorny desert plants and the uncompromising lines of cliff.
I climb to St Mary’s Peak. Southwards,
The amphitheatre of Wilpena Pound,
Enclosed by its vast circle of quartzite walls,
Appears ageless, beyond change, save for
A few small patches of clearing the desert plants
Are slowly and inexorably reclaiming.
The thin ribbon of track winding into the Pound is
A mere tenuous scratch on the skin of this changelessness.
Northwards the ridged lines of rugged mountains
Run in parallel formation to the far horizon,
Their boundaries marked, their height and shape fixed
Long before Alexander or Sennacherib’s brief moments,
And now I hear and understand its song.
I descend, cross the saddle and walk
Beneath the orange cliffs. The air is pure;
The wind is crisp, the song of the Flinders now clear.
Soon the Evening Star will add its harmony
And later the stars will join in chorus.
The song is old; the great amphitheatre
And its circle of low cliffs, like many other voices
Tells of transience and timelessness;
It mocks pettiness, ambition, vaingloriousness,
And I, a speck in time moving through changelessness,
Lift up my eyes to those low cliffs and the towering sky
And see, at last, not defeat or transience or folly
But intimations of the grand timelessness of eternity.