Connecting to Country, Spirituality and Each Other on a Desert Retreat
About this story:
Sixteen Year 11 and 12 students from Coomera Anglican College joined Faith and Spirituality Coordinator, Mr Dom Fay, and Head of RaVE, Mrs Natasha Materne, on a journey to Alice Springs and Uluru in June 2023.
The Desert Retreat was an opt-in trip for students who felt a calling to deepen their sense of self and their spiritual lives.
Time was spent in guided reflections, encounters of awe and wonder in nature, and communal life shared together in the stunning surrounds of the Australian outback.
This is the story of the 2023 Desert Retreat in the students’ own words.
Upon arrival into Australia’s red centre, a short ten-minute drive from Alice Springs Airport brought us to Campfire in the Heart Retreat Centre. ‘Campfire’ is a beautiful space owned and operated by the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM), holding a main retreat house accompanied by a few smaller cabins on a breathtaking property backing onto the West MacDonnell ranges.
Our time at Campfire involved sleeping in swags, sitting around fires, and walking on the red dirt, and we very quickly developed a deep sense of ‘groundedness’ and connection to country.
While in Alice Springs, Mr Fay led the group through a series of guided reflections on the ancient wisdom of the four-fold path. This wisdom comes out of our Anglican tradition’s understanding of life as an ever-evolving and ever-emerging thing, with each of us moving through seasons of change, suffering, joy and growth all throughout our lives.
We sat on top of the hill behind the retreat centre to watch a sunrise and sunset, noticing how the cycles and patterns of the natural world are mirrored by the cycles and patterns in our own inner-lives. While on the hilltop, we reflected on times in our lives of endings and beginnings, and spoke about the love at the centre of everything that holds us through all of life’s ebbing and flowing. These reflections grew us closer as a group and deepened our sense of belonging.
Alongside visiting Simpsons Gap and the Alice Springs Desert Park, one of the major highlights of our time in Alice was a 10km hike around Ormiston Gorge. Throughout the hike we stopped to reflect, sitting and admiring the stunning views all around us. That sense of peace soon gave way to nerves, as we approached a waist-deep water crossing we had been warned about the day before. In the very heart of the Gorge, we stumbled over a path of boulders that led us to a quiet, peaceful body of water. This didn’t last long, though, with shrieks of fear and uncertainty quickly emerging from the group as we began changing into our swimmers and lining up, ready to follow our tour guide, Huss, across the passage. With as much courage as we were able to muster, we set off in a single-file line through the water, with temperatures that made out legs numb and bodies shiver. While it was far from easy, the sense of accomplishment and camaraderie the experience provided us made it all thoroughly worthwhile.
After three nights in Alice Springs, we set off on the four-and-a-half-hour drive through the desert to Uluru. The bus ride was filled with hours of deep conversation, fun times, and huge laughs. The karaoke sessions and road-trip games provided the perfect opportunity to bond and create long-lasting memories. In the end, the journey itself was just as enjoyable as the destinations.
This long journey through the desert ended with our arrival at Kata Tjuta. This was such a special moment. As we arrived through the rain on our minibus, we were all speechless in front of the valley of domes surrounded by patches of vivid greenery.
We were lucky enough to see the rocks with waterfalls cascading down them due to the wet weather, which was a rare and incredibly special experience.
On the following day, we made our way to Uluru itself. Following a dot-painting workshop in the morning, we arrived at the base of Uluru where a sense of awe and wonder came over the group.
As we began our walk around the base of this sacred landmark, we were all stunned by the sense of peace and presence that we experienced.
The final night of the retreat brought with it the opportunity to experience the Sounds of Silence outdoor dinner in the shadows of Uluru.
We were greeted by the mysterious sounds of the didgeridoo and the friendly staff who guided us down a red dirt path to where we would be dining. We were served unique food ranging from kangaroo to crocodile, and sat at tables situated in the perfect position to view the setting sun.
After dinner, a local Indigenous man led the group through a captivating tour of the night sky, telling us the stories of the stars and the meaning they have held to First Nations people on this land for thousands of years.
Coming from our light-polluted suburban lives, the beauty of the constellations was more breathtaking than words could describe, and was the perfect note on which to end our life-changing time in the desert.
Overall, the Desert Retreat created a family-like bond between both the students and staff.
Whether it was sharing a story around the fire, cheering each other on whilst we walked through freezing cold water, experiencing the awe and wonder of Uluru and Kata Tjuta, reflecting on the biggest mysteries of life together, blasting out karaoke classics on the bus, watching the sunrises that were like no other, or making breakfast together in the kitchen, the trip held within it the very best of life, depth, laughter, joy, connection, beauty, awe, and love.
We shared the deepest sense of belonging and community we had ever encountered. It was truly an unforgettable experience, forging bonds that will last a lifetime.
Charlotte, Poppi, Amelia, Courtney, Troy, Tamzin, Jessica and Matilda.