OPINION: Carnarvon Gorge for contemplation

A SOLID rock in the middle of a fast-flowing stream is an ideal spot for prayer and meditation.

I took the opportunity to pause and breathe in the pristine goodness while hiking with the gang in Carnarvon Gorge this week.

It's not hard to bend the knee when deep in a vast primeval ecology, our feebleness exposed by time and this panorama of nature's power - and her range, an artist of infinite variety. The whole mind-blowing experience is given mystical texture by following ancient footsteps up to caves containing some of Australia's most immediate and potent art, adding a keenly human connection to the barely credible landscape, while confirming the sense that this is sacred country.

The cave illustrations date back more than 3500 years, though clans from the surrounding highlands have gathered here for much longer, peacefully sharing their respect for the uniqueness of the country, and to develop sites of ritual and ceremony that such expressive geology inspires.

Sandstone walls are covered in red ochre stencils, of hands mainly, including children's. Stylised nets, eggs, tools and weapons give way to walls of engraved vulvas - one gallery is a place for secret women's business; the men did their thing in an amphitheatre further off, a colossal misshapen cylinder in which the floodwaters surged and spun like a washing machine, heaving themselves at a 10-storey but absurdly narrow cleft in the rock.

Only its ruggedness has saved the gorge from industrial depredation - firstly cattle and forestry, now CSG exploration despoiling the land for miles around.

The drive here offers a disturbing picture of mining's infestation across the Darling Downs. But in one wet, cool side canyon palms grow that have been around for 300 million years; seeing them, the 21st century and its short-sighted and unsustainable cultures seem very far away.

I squat on my chosen rock and tune in as the creek continues to babble, as it has for thousands of millennia. The water carries all before it, its playful harmonies carving out new space in the psyche, refreshing mind and spirit.

I can settle in to the landscape, contemplate the wildlife, and the art. It is naive, with sophisticated spiritual purpose and significance.

The images are numinous, but nourishing in their humanity. Their existence also exposes how much we have lost - of culture, social unity, reverence for nature, humility.

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