Devil’s Marbles

This is the Devil’s country; he’s even emptied his bag of marbles around the place! said John Ross of the Australian Overland Telegraph Line expedition in 1870. The name stuck until it was changed in 2011 to Karlu Karlu/ Devil’s Marbles Conservation Reserve. In 1982 it was registered as a sacred site by the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority.  Protected, there is now a joint management structure in place between the Traditional Owners and Parks and Wildlife Service of NT. 
Karlu Karlu, the local Aboriginal term for both the rock features and their surrounds, is one of the oldest religious sites in the world.

We had visited them over forty years ago on a road trip through the Red Centre. Back then, although well known as a natural curiosity, there was nothing in place to manage the flood of tourists that would inevitably flock to visit.  Now there is a car park, a long drop (bush toilet), information signs and walking paths. As well as  the usual guided tours unless you are doing your own thing, as we were.


This time round we had planned to stop there on the return trip home and walk around the area camera in hand. Photography is not permitted in some sections, but there is still plenty left for the camera enthusiasts. Karlu Karlu is 393 kilometres north of Alice Springs. We had left Tennant Creek in the morning having not been able to find anywhere open for breakfast. The only place serving takeaway food was a service station. None of what was on offer looked appetising. So we decided to head to Wauchope and the Devils Marbles Hotel. It was only about 100km away. Many had recommended the pub there as having  exceptionally good food. And it was only a hop skip and a jump over to the rocks from there.

Rumour proved to be true. The food was good. TRH (The Retired Husband) had a burger. With REAL beetroot! Best ever apparently. I had a steak sandwich. Again with beetroot and a good piece of REAL steak. I don’t know why beetroot seems to have disappeared from burgers….as far as I know there is no worldwide or local shortage of it.

Although much of the dreamtime storying related to this sacred site is not for public sharing, one tells of the creation of Karlu Karlu. Arrange, the Devil man, came from a hill nearby and travelled through the area. As he was walking along, he was making a hair-string belt, a kind of traditional adornment only worn by initiated men. He was twirling the hair around to make the string as he walked and dropped clusters of them on the ground.  The clusters turned into the big red boulders at Karlu Karlu. On his way back to his hill, Arrange spat on the ground. His spit turned into the granite boulders in the central part of the reserve. He finally returned to his place of origin, a hill called  Ayleparrarntenhe where he remains to this day.

The huge boulders are granite surrounded by large amounts of sandstone. Of course there is a whole lot more of them underground than can be seen by the naked eye.  What is visible has been exposed over aeons of time by weathering and erosion. Some of the boulders seem to be precariously perched on top of each other. There is a large area of them, seemingly scattered at random.

What happened next is they were exposed to water. Water, being water, caused the surface to decay and a layer of loose stuff surrounded the blocks. As they popped up completely, the loose stuff eroded away – wind and water will do that. It gets a tad more technical here. Apparently the rounding of the boulders is not just caused by weathering. It included a chemical process as well. Basically it exfoliates the edges of the boulders. Now, anyone who is familiar with exfoliating knows that gentle rubbing of the facial skin peels away the rough stuff. That’s exactly what happened to the boulders to make them round! Only it makes them look like they have layers, like an onion. The layers are just  on the outside few centimetres. We saw evidence of that ourselves.

For the more tecnically minded, here’s an explanation:

Spheroidal weathering is a form of chemical weathering that affects jointed bedrock and results in the formation of concentric or spherical layers of highly decayed rock within weathered bedrock that is known as saprolite. When saprolite is exposed by physical erosion, these concentric layers peel (spall) off as concentric shells much like the layers of a peeled onion. Within saprolite, spheroidal weathering often creates rounded boulders, known as corestones or woolsack, of relatively unweathered rock. Spheroidal weathering is also called onion skin weathering, concentric weathering, spherical weathering, or woolsack weathering.

The boulders are affected more deeply by the extreme temperature differences between day and night in the arid desert region where the reserve is located. During daylight hours the rocks expand slightly and after nightfall they contract slightly, repeating the process every 24 hours. These repeated cycles of expansion and contraction, called thermal stress weathering, create cracks which sometimes go so deep that the boulder is completely split in half.

It was an awesome place to visit. Except for the long drop…..

© Raili Tanska

Steps for Peace
Nature heals, soothes and grounds.

16 thoughts on “Devil’s Marbles

  1. Thanks for all the pic’s of the “Marbles” Raili. They are fascinating.. Yep, you’re right, what’s a burger without beetroot !!

    1. You should try it ! It’s THE best 🙂 No photos in some places because they are of particular sacred significance, only for the eyes of the initiated.

    1. There were lots of families milling around. I didn’t realise he was in the photo till I downloaded them. Gives an interesting perspective to the size of the boulders !

  2. What an interesting place to visit. Those rocks are both weird and beautiful at the same time. Loved the picture of you standing beneath some. Gives a good reference point for how big they really are. Nice post. Wouldn’t mind seeing that place.

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