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Home > Travelogues > 2008 Travelogues Index > Gosse Bluff Impact Crater

As the dancing became livelier, the dance floor rocked more and more.  Suddenly the turna slipped off and plummeted to Earth, hitting with such force that the Tnorala crater was formed, and the turna and baby were buried deep down under the rubble.  TheWestern Arrernte people have always known how Tnorala was formed.

 

We had intended staying in the spacious parking area, but on reading the above, we respected the wishes of the custodians and continued on. 

 

Aboriginal people say that a long time ago, before white man came, their ancestors lived at Tnorala. They hunted, camped and performed ceremonies here.

 

One day, early in the morning, a man climbed up the rocks, hunting for kangaroo.  When he came back, he found all his people, men, women and children dead, killed.  He knew that the kadaitcha men had done it. 

 

This man went off and told the rest of the family, who lived along the nearby ranges.  These people followed those kadaitcha men, who came from the desert country, to the south of here.  The kadaitcha didn't make it back to their community.  They were killed by the avenging family.

 

After the massacre, Tnorala became what Aboriginal people call a 'sorry' place: no-one has lived here since because of sorrow over the lost family.  It is out of respect for the people that passed away here that the Aboriginal custodians ask visitors not to camp at Tnorala. 

 

Signage at Tnorala Conservation Reserve

 

The Western Arrernte people knew, and this knowledge had been passed from generation to generation for many thousands of years. 

It was only in the late 1960s that scientists concluded that Gosse Bluff had been formed by the impact of a comet; a ball of frozen gases, probably around one kilometre in diameter when it hit the Earth.  These gases would have evaporated leaving no trace. 

The Western Arrernte people knew the origin of the crater.  In the Dreaming, the stars of the Milky Way were dancing; they were women and they were dancing a lively dance.  A baby lay asleep on a turna as the dance floor rocked up and down. 

Shatter cones, formed when the earth has been struck by a severe impact, were found, indicating it was a meteorite crater, but unlike other meteorite craters, no particles from a meteor were ever discovered.  Gosse Bluff as it became known was the most studied crater in Australia, as scientists from around the world tried to discover its true origin.

We drove further towards this huge crater and at first took a wrong track.  We met a group of feral camels.  These were the first of many we saw in Central Australia.  The track in to Tnorala was quite rough and a high clearance four wheel drive is recommended.  

Approaching Gosse Bluff, we were surprised to see blackboys (grass trees).  These are common in the south west of Western Australia and similar grow in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia as well as in other states, but we had not seen them before in the desert areas.  We now know that many species of Xanthorrhoea grow throughout Australia and in a very wide variety of climates, soil types and altitudes. 

We continued west from Redbank in the West Macdonnells, then turned south.  This section of Larapinta Drive had been recently sealed which was a very pleasant surprise. The lookout at Tyler Pass gave sweeping views all around.  To the north the higher peaks of the West Macdonnell ranges were visible beyond the rolling spinifex covered hills.  

The blast that formed this crater has been calculated as over a million times more powerful that the Hiroshima bomb blast.  All life for hundreds of kilometres would have been destroyed.  During studies undertaken in the early 1960s it was thought to be the result of impact from a meteor, but its true origin still remained a mystery for some years to come. 

The Mystery of Gosse Bluff (Tnorala)

Approaching from the north via Namatjira Drive, the first glimpse of the crater can be seen from Tylerís Pass.   It looks so out of place rising so steeply from the vast flat plains.  It is around five kilometres in diameter, and the original bed of the crater is now covered by two kilometres of eroded rock.  The outer rim is now completely eroded away, and is thought to have had a diameter of twenty two kilometres. 

It was no mystery to the Western Arrernte Aboriginal people who lived in the area.  They knew how Tnorala was formed.

To the south, the gentle hills gave way to a flat plain, with a bare range looking so out of place.  "What is it?"  I puzzled, before realising I was looking at Gosse Bluff. 

Rising sharply from Missionary Plain some 200 kilometres to the west of Alice Springs, this ring of steep hills was called Gosses Range by the explorer Ernest Giles in 1872.  These hills have been heavily eroded over the last 142.5 million years, but still stand starkly to rise 250 metres above the plains.  What caused this circular range had yet to be discovered.

Central Australia 2008.  The mystery of the Gosse Bluff (Tnorala) impact crater.
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Climbing onto a rocky knoll within the crater, we looked back to the track which comes right into the crater (picture on left) and saw the full expanse of the interior of the crater with the car park in the centre of the dark green scrub (picture on right). 

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