Mount Sonder (Rwetyepme)

Mount Sonder, or Rwetyepme, its Aboriginal name, is the fourth highest mountain in the Northern Territory, at 1380 metres above sea level. Mount Zeil is the highest at 1531 metres, 27 kilometres to the west. It is 130 km west of Alice Springs along the MacDonnell Ranges in the West MacDonnell National Park. It marks one end of the celebrated Larapinta trail, which extends 223 kilometres to Alice Springs.

The shape of the mountain is a double peak, the relative heights of which are somewhat ambiguous from the summit, although easy to identify from the surrounding plains. The mountain can be seen for the western half of the Larapinta trail, up to Ormiston Pound, which obscures it from then on.

A clearly defined walking track exists up the western side, taking about 12 kilometres. Water is available from a water tank 50 m beyond the carpark, and a direction plate can be found at the summit. This however is not the true summit, which is 750m away, but has been chosen for safety reasons. The view from the top boasts the taller Mount Zeil to the west, the West MacDonnell Range to the east, Glen Helen, a nearby resort, to the east and Gosses Bluff to the south west on a clear day.

During your walk keep an eye out for the termite tunnels on spinifex, the Grey-headed honeyeater, the delicate desert mouse, and the bright pink flowers of the Mountain Hakea. As you near the summit take notice of how the vegetation changes, the Round-leaved mallee prefers these high slopes and the stony cliffs provide the native pine the protection they require from fire.

Raptors such as the Wedge-tailed eagle and the Peregrine falcon, soar at mountain level scanning the ground for prey, and the wood swallows often circle the summit, riding the thermal updraughts and feasting on insects. For the determined walker who reaches the top, 1380 metres above sea level, the reward is an awe-inspiring view over the West MacDonnell Ranges and the surrounding plains.

Mount Sonder was named in honour of the German botanist Wilhelm Otto Sonder. To the local Western Arrernte Aboriginal People, the Mount Sonder area, or Rwetyepme (roo - choop - ma), is criss-crossed with the tracks of their dreamtime ancestors. The main story for Rwetyepme is the Man / Euro (Hill Kangaroo) 'dreaming', told on signs at Redbank Gorge. Mount Sonder itself, also holds significance to the local Aboriginal People, the shape of the mountain is said to look like the profile of a pregnant women lying on her back, sometimes called the 'sleeping woman' by the Aboriginal people. The meaning and significance of the story is not revealed. The traditional landowners believe the Dreamtime ancestors are still alive in the land today and the mountain.

Mount Sonder is 'Albert Namatjira Country' - the mountain was made famous by the paintings of Albert Namatijra (1902-1959). In fact Mt. Sonder features in the background of many of his paintings. His painting, "Ghost Gum, Mt Sonder, MacDonnell Ranges)" c1953, hangs in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.


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Albert Namatjira was born (Elea) on 28th July 1902 at Hermannsburg Mission, west of Alice Springs. He was taught to paint with watercolours by Rex Battarbee in 1936 Two years later in 1938, Albert’s first exhibition, held in Melbourne was an immediate success, and followed with exhibitions being sold out in every capital city of Australia. Albert’s fame became widespread, and his paintings sought after by state and national galleries and collectors in Australia and overseas. Today his watercolours and prints are still sought after by art lovers.

On 8th August, 1959, after a heart attack, complicated by pneumonia, Albert Namatjira died in the Alice Springs Hospital, and was buried in the Alice Springs Cemetary, on Memorial Drive. During his painting lifetime Albert taught his children and many of his tribal brothers the secret of transferring their love of the beautiful Central Australian landscape onto paper, leaving a legacy that is now available through his paintings, prints and the work of the Hermannsburg artists.

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