Devils Marbles

A devil not to be feared

Karlu Karlu / Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve is one of those mystical places you simply must experience.

“Ngalanya manu ngini Warumungu, Kaytetye, Alyawarr, Warlpiri kari. Kurtu apijirra angkinyi manu kina. Yingal mana.”

“This country belongs to the Warumungu, Kaytetye, Alyawarr, Warlpiri people. Welcome to our country. Don’t be afraid.”

“Don’t be afraid,” repeated my five-year-old son looking at me perplexed. “Afraid of what, Mum?”

Truth be told, I wasn’t quite sure.

We had just set up our camp in what we deemed to be the ‘best spot’ ever in the shadow of a gigantic red granite boulder. But my husband joked that we might need to be afraid of that monster rock tumbling down on us as we slept.

Instead of creating any more angst and potential nightmares disrupting our slumber, we went in search of why one might be afraid of the Devils Marbles in Karlu Karlu Conservation Reserve.

Located just under an hour’s drive south of Tennant Creek in central Northern Territory, Karlu Karlu / Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve, as it is officially named, has long been a meeting place for four Aboriginal tribes in the area – Warumungu in the north, Kaytetye in the south, Alyawarr in the east and Warlpiri in the west. For hundreds of generations this sacred meeting ground saw witness to secret ceremonies, heard the dreaming stories of these tribes, and watched the traditional owners hunt for food and search for water.

Today the precariously balanced boulders must grin with delight as visitors to the reserve marvel in wonderment at the poise and equilibrium possessed by such enormous spheres. Seemingly placed in varying degrees of dexterity, the rocks are clumped in heaps all around the 1,800 hectare reserve, located on both sides of the Stuart Highway. There are two main types of formations seen at Karlu Karlu, which literally translates to ‘round boulders’. Boulders stacked in pairs, the top one often defying gravity, are referred to as ‘cottage loaves’, while the flatter slab-like boulders arranged in towers are called ‘cheese-rings’ for their resemblance to cheese wheels stacked neatly in a cheese shop or delicatessen.

While we wandered along the easy tracks, we relished in identifying all the cottage loaves and cheese-rings. We also concurred with John Ross, who while leading an expedition in 1870 to survey the area for the Overland Telegraph line to connect communications between Port Augusta in South Australia to Darwin, and subsequently connecting Australia the rest of the world, described the area as “devil’s country” and that it looked like the Devil had “even emptied his bag of marbles around the place”. In that same vein, we let our imaginations loose to conceptualise what some of the other rock formations resembled. We discovered dinosaur vertebrae, a motorcycle helmet, and a lone ankle skeleton among the rock formations.

Parts of the track take you up close and personal to the rocks. If you rub your hand gently along the rock surfaces you will feel the coarseness of the granite. Examine the rocks closely for signs of weathering too. You might detect fine cracks, known as joints, in the boulders. The rainwater seeps into the joints and over time reacts with the rock’s minerals decomposing and weakening the boulder.

Back to blog