Tanami Desert Colours

From the air the Tanami Desert looks soft and inviting.

Sand dunes, running with the prevailing winds to heights over 70 meters trickle into the distance. Escarpments, worn by winds into animate forms, reign over a vastness that was once an ocean floor, and always land of the Walpiri and Kukatja people.

On The Bluff at Wirrimanu (Balgo Hills), Western Australia, looking out across the Tanami Desert, with Palya Art Tours.Covering 261,000 square kilometres, mostly in the Northern Territory, ‘The Tanami’ throws up all the colours of the rainbow, depending on the time of year, how much rain – as in none to deluges of it – and fires that may be burning.

Visibility flying across the breadth of the Tamami can be ‘CAVOK’ – as in clear skies – to minimal VFR conditions – visual flight rules; that is, being able to see where your going.

An example of not being able to, is due to billowing smoke from kilometres long running fire fronts.

After dry hot months, this country is red-brown with lashings of black from the fires scraping across the earth. Dried up age old spinifex meshes grey green into the scene. Overall, this reddish brittle sand country looks asleep, baking in the heat; the only life being birds, like the Brown Falcon, on the wing, snapping up free lizard meals tendered by the flames, and the living flames themselves, flashing orange.

But in 2003, after steady rains – whilst the south east of Australia burned alive – The Tanami wore her most beautiful clothing of renewed vegetation. Stunning greens as young shoots shot up through her pindan red petticoats; shimmering aqua blues from reflected sky on her soaked earth and, dotted delicately, pure white salt lakes, worn like jewels.

Last time I looked at my pilot’s log book I’d flown some 97 times across The Tanami. I count each and every one a blessing, a visual delight, a feast of colour.

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