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When I was told about a temporal sea in the middle of the Australian Outback I was immediately intrigued because it sounded more like a myth than reality.
Apparently – the story goes – every decade or so when drought breaks (see recent Queensland floods) the rain and floodwaters slowly migrate throughout the continent via networks of newly formed rivers, basins and subterranean waterways. They end up in the country’s lowest point, located in arid South Australia. Somehow fish get inside this huge body of water. I’ve even heard some say that there are fish eggs in the desert waiting to hatch upon the water’s return. With the fish come bird migrations and colonies. And if it floods enough, the water sustains a brief ecological spurt; flower blooms erupt in the middle of the desert. All this talk about water and biodiversity in arid Australia was an image I had not associated with the Outback.
And so with my romantic inclinations, I looked into it.
This ‘sea’ is otherwise known as Lake Eyre. It is as real as it is mythologised, having been portrayed as a site of fascination and fear all throughout the national narrative of Australia. According to some aboriginal accounts, Lake Eyre is a Kangaroo skin laid out flat. In other accounts it is the site of death, with the salty remnants of tears shed by the Sky Gods. For explorer John Edward Eyre it symbolised disillusionment after failing to find the heroic prizes usually associated with territorial expansion – resources, drinking water, power. He then proceeded to name the lookout point upon which he discovered the Lake, Mount Hopeless. Prior to that Thomas J. Maslen drew a fictional map, featuring an inland sea in the middle of the Australian continent. The sea is shown as being connected by a massive river labelled “The Great River Or Desired Blessing”. He thereby set the agenda for a national ideal, for a reality, which was at that time yet to be explored. For geologist J W Gregory the Lake was branded as “The Dead Heart of Australia”. Charles Sturt unsuccessfully carried a nine meter long whaleboat into the Outback, in a failed attempt to discover an inland sea. Hydrologists lobbied to artificially kick start a permanently flooded Lake Eyre, as a means to irrigate the entire continent. The stories go on and on…
I had the recent pleasure of visiting Lake Eyre and it’s surrounding satellite towns. Here are some travel pics: