The Pinnacles Desert is deep within the Nambung National Park, in Western Australia. It is an other worldly landscape with thousands of jagged Limestone pillars piercing the desert sands, some over five meters tall.
The Pinnacles are an ever changing spectacle with desert and coastal winds moving sand dunes, constantly rearranging the face of this incredible site. Smaller pinnacles disappear, buried under the sand, only to re-emerge days later as the winds change direction.
In 1650 when the Dutch explored this part of Western Australia, they thought at first that these incredible spires were the remains of a lost ancient city!
Aboriginal History and Myths
The Aboriginal people of this region are referred to as Nyoongar ( Nyungar, Noongar) and the Nambung National Park itself belongs to the people of the Yuat and Wajuk language groups, The name 'Nambung' is an Aboriginals word meaning 'crooked', and this refers to the river which flows throughout the park in winter.
This area was important to the semi nomadic Aboriginal tribes because of water. They would come to this place when the seasonal Nambung River made a chain of waterholes through part of the park. The water then disappears into a cave system, and these waterholes and caves were essential to the survival of Aboriginal life.
There are many myths about this sacred place and it was said that Aboriginal people avoid the Pinnacles as they thought the standing stones were fossilised ghosts.
According to an Aboriginal legend, in ancient times some young men used to walk along a desert path to this sacred place reserved for women. The gods, to punish them, buried them alive. As death approached the young men asked forgiveness from the gods. They brandished their weapons through the sand, and are now stuck forever in the form of limestone spikes.
In fact for thousands of years, the area has been a sacred place for Indigenous women and 'women's business' as the Aborigines call it. Women gathered at this place to camp, give birth, hold ceremonies and forage for food.
Excavations in the park suggests that the Pinnacles desert was created within the last 80,000 years and covers an area of approximately 190 hectares. The raw material for the limestone from which the Pinnacles are formed came from seashells from the nearby ocean. These shells were broken down into lime-rich sands that were blown inland to form the dunes.
Unique circumstances produced the pinnacles. Rains fell on the dunes, leaching through the sand with calcium that solidified the lower levels of the dune into soft limestone. On top of the dune a layer of soil formed which allowed plants to grow, and this further cemented the limestone below. Gradually the lowest layer of soil between the surface and the limestone formed into a hard cap. Roots from the plants found cracks and grew down into the hard cap and limestone breaking them up. Drier weather in the eroded the top soil and gradually the pinnacles we can see today were exposed.
For modern visitors the best time to visit the Pinnacles is from August to October. At this time of year the weather is mild and an abundance of wildflowers bloom bringing spectacular colour to the desert landscape.
This is an extraordinary place with an life giving history which played an important part in the cultural life of local Aboriginal tribes. The area was relatively unknown to most Australians until 1967 when it became a Nation Park, but today,around 250,000 visitors a year come to the park to experience its unique atmosphere and learn about the history that make this place sacred to the Aborigines.
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