An evocative picture of the Australian Outback hung on a lounge wall of my childhood home.
The print, a painting by pioneering Aboriginal water colourist Albert Namatjira, depicted crumbling escarpments in rich shades of red and ochre, distant hills in soft and hazy hues of blue and mauve and a dusty earth peppered with spidery mulga scrub and a grand, ghost-white gum tree under which I imagined a jolly swagman once sat.
The picture was my vision of the Outback and when I went there on my OE travels I found it exactly as Namatjira had painted it.
In Alice Springs I visited the art gallery of Namatjira's mentor, Rex Battarbee, who encouraged a school of Aboriginal Outback art at the Hermannsburg Mission. Among those who followed Battarbee were several of Albert's sons and for $3 I bought a small original by his youngest son Maurice Namatjira.
It's a typical scene of the MacDonnell Ranges with red escarpments and hazy hills rounded by erosion - and the destination for the Wilderness magazine-World Expeditions trek on the Larapinta Trail in Central Australia.
Alice Springs is barely recognisable as the dusty Northern Territory hamlet I visited 40 years earlier. The town like Alice is a modern thriving regional centre with about 30,000 people. But just a kilometre beyond the city limits we step straight back into a Namatjira canvas.
The land is among the most ancient in the world but the 220km Larapinta Trail along the backbone of the West MacDonnell Ranges is a recent development following the early 1990s creation of the West MacDonnell National Park. Stretching from Alice Springs to Mt Sonder, the trail is in 13 sections, each starting with 4WD vehicle access and a designated campsite - and water supply.
Hardy trekkers walk the Larapinta in 14 days carrying supplies on their backs. We are on our guide Charlie Holmes' luxury tour - four days of the best and most varied the trail has to offer with heavy gear transferred to the campsites by Liam Mulcahy, a Tasmanian environmental scienctist who prefers the life outdoors.
Holmes is a guiding veteran, a grandfather dressed like a throwback to the 70s hippie era. He's a regular Tasmanian mountain biking and river tours guide, pioneered cycle touring in Vietnam, guides "trekking peaks" in Nepal, and he's just back from a month-long tour on the trans-Siberian railway.
The peripatetic Holmes moved to Alice Springs nine years ago to set up the Red Centre operation for World Expeditions.
As we set off from the site of the old Alice Springs Telegraph Station, it's clear Holmes is the consummate professional, guiding with utmost care and a minimum of fuss.
The telegraph station, built in 1872 next to a permanent waterhole on the dry Todd River, is the reason for Alice Springs. From here, section one of the Larapinta is 24km to a campsite at Simpsons Gap but we are in no rush and so we cheat a little with a vehicle pick up at Wallaby Gap, a few kilometres short of the designated campsite.
The route climbs Euro Ridge, or Euro Dreaming, named by the Aboriginal people after the common wallaroo, or euro, found on rocky hillsides across Australia.
As we climb, the modern Alice Springs stretches out beneath us in the ancient flood plain of the Todd River, the buildings a mosaic of white dots amid a canopy of urban greenery nourished by a plentiful artesian water supply.
Heavitree Gap, a gap in the range to the south of town, becomes obvious as we top Euro Ridge. From the gap the Stuart Highway stretches in an almost unbroken line all the way to Adelaide.
That night we are introduced to the modern Aussie swag, originally the bedroll itinerant workers carried on their backs as they trudged the country looking for work.
The modern swag is far too big to heft and owes its existence to the 4WD vehicle and itinerant recreationalists.
Tents are rarely required to sleep under the Outback starlight but the ground is rocky and the dew heavy so a bivvy bag, must be water-proofed canvas. Inside is a thick and comfortable foam mattress, sheet and pillow and plenty of room for a sleeping bag and a very large Aussie.
You may nod off on top of your sleeping bag under an array of starlight so bright you can almost read by it. But come early morning when this vast continent has cooled, you'll be inside your sleeping bag and likely putting on an extra layer of clothing too.
On day two we walk section seven of the trail, a 14km trek from Ellery Creek to Serpentine Gorge through woodlands and spinifex following a spine of 800 million year-old dolomite limestone.
The most innocent of stumbles can lead to a lot of skin off hands or knees. The rock contains fossilised stromatolites, bacteria that was among the first life on Earth.
In the distance, across the flood plain of a river that last flowed hundreds of millions of years ago, is a range of hills uniformly eroded into a 10km wave formation. At Serpentine Gorge, where the afternoon sun vividly backlights a red canyon, we leave the inviting spring of water alone in deference to Aboriginal beliefs. After all, the Aboriginal people have lived here for 50,000 years and surely know better than us.
On the 16km section eight the next day, we walk over boulders high on a ridge, which are patterned with small ripples, signs that they were once sand lapped by a primeval sea.
From Counts Point on the heights of the ridge, we can just make out the buildings of the Hermannsburg Mission where Namatjira began his painting career, and in the far distance the highest peaks of the Dividing Range, Mt Sonder and Mt Zeil, and the comet impact crater of Gosse Bluff.
The crater and Sonder are linked in the Dreaming; when we get closer, the mountain is unmistakably a pregnant woman lying on her back.
Climbing Sonder, a 16km there-and-back trek, is our last day on the Larapinta. Reaching its 1380m summit is a highlight with the myriad colours of the West MacDonnell Ranges changing with the passage of the sun.
I am right back in the lounge of my old home, staring at the Albert Namatjira painting, and dreaming.
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- Detours, HoSBy Colin Moore