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Climbing Legends #10 - An Australian youth among desert Aborigines

Climbing legends
Series of posts celebrating climbers of Ayers Rock.
#10 Lauri Sheard: An Australian youth among desert Aborigines

Lauri E Sheard 1922-1942

Lauri Sheard was the son of Mountford's friend Harold Sheard, and was aged 18 when he accompanied Mountford on this Expedition in 1940. During the trip Lauri Sheard recorded his experiences in a diary, later published as An Australian youth among desert Aborigines, and took almost 1000 photographs of his own.

Lauri's account of his climb from his diary reprinted below:

Wednesday August 7, 1940
We packed our gear and lunch on the camels and set off once around the eastern end of the rock.  Proceeding to the climbing slope, this time the position reversed, I went up and Mountford stayed below taking photographs, , using the colour cine camera.  The climb was not terrifically steep, but it was jolly hard work, as for a part of the way we went on hands and knees, but once over the steeper pitches and with practice it was not hard to walk, taking slow short steps. 
I was quite unafraid, although we were a thousand feet high, the drop was not quite sheer. The surface of the rock is rough, helping the climber somewhat, although one has to be careful of the flakes of rock which look solid but break away in layers, and sometimes large sheets under weight of one’s foot. There is nothing to cling to and one is dependent on balance. Should one slip it would be impossible to save oneself as there is nothing to get a grip on. 
About half way up we saw where the mole, in the dream times, his home. It was a huge pound like place right in the side of the hill and quite hidden from the ground. We stood right on the edge of the slope and looked down into the huge hollow. This had been swirled out by water action. A little higher there was a cave in which we could see the back of the mole where he still lies sleeping. 
We continued on our way, the slope gradually becoming steeper and in places to make it more difficult, the rock surface was breaking away, making it awkward to get either hand or foot hold. After much puffing and panting and several stops for a breather we neared the top where the slope was less and walking quite easy. As we came to flatter rock we had to follow ridges about four feet high which rise above dry rock holes. These rock holes gradually became deeper and as one goes towards the east develops in to huge gutters in some places 30 feet deep. 
Walking towards the south we could just see our camp, a tiny speck, and many hundreds of feet below. There are hills practically all round the horizon. Sixty miles away, to the east is Mt. Connor, looking very tiny and covered with a purple haze. In the distance are the Mann Ranges with the smaller ridges near Oparinna. About is NW is Mt. Currie, very faint but clearly visible. Further north is a tiny speck, the Petermanns. Out west and only twenty miles away, is the purple outline of Mt. Olga.  It seems a very unusual place, there appear to be huge rocks some distance apart rising up out of the surrounding slopes. To the north there is a huge white expanse, probably a dry salt lake with vivid red sand hills in the foreground. After resting from our strenuous climb we wandered round the top of the rock following the ridges in an easterly direction towards the further end. We arrived at what is assumed to be the highest point of the rock. Here there was a little cairn of stones containing a bottle and tin in which were the names of a number of people who have visited and claim to have climbed the rock. The readings of the aneroid barometer registered the height at the cairn as 1050 feet being 28.425 and 27.3 on top. A couple of bloodwoods and a few clumps of spinifex were growing near here, apparently right out of the rock. Continuing in an easterly direction, the surface was pitted with rock holes which developed into huge gutters running from east to west. These were separated by ridges in some places about 30 feet high and often with a sheer drop necessitating much climbing as we were attempting to cross at right angles. I saw one place which had been scarred by lightning a huge blackened mark about six feet long lying across the ridge. We were searching for "Ularu", a rock hole which the natives say is never dry. Mountford could not find it yesterday, but I had the advantage of the experience as the two natives with me had both been with him yesterday and knew the direction he had taken. We came to even steeper gutters and at last found a couple of waterholes, until we came to a big pool of water about fifteen feet in diameter and a couple of feet deep, where the gutter turned at right angles, and after heavy rain would flow through two further rockholes and then sheer over the rock. At this time there was of course no water flowing. 
We had a drink of the crystal clear water then after warming ourselves by a spinifex fire I decided to follow this water course to its highest point. It was actually a deep river bed cut into the rock along which were a chain of rock holes about a dozen, of which contained water. Arriving at the highest point it was observed that the river would flow over both sides of the rock, but on the western side there were no rockholes and it was obvious that the water would simply cascade over the steep cliff leaving nothing on the top. 
On this side of the course, the "banks" of the river were about twenty feet high, rising up practically straight. In the rain season there must be oceans of water and I should say the river would flow for some time after the rain had actually fallen. Now right towards the end of the dry season there is still plenty of water. This water is said to remain after all the rockholes below have dried up, and the natives come up and pour the water down the cliff where it is caught below. 
Dickie was not over anxious on going down to the "Ularu" rock hole and said there was a "wanambi" lurking about in the stone, waiting to grab an unsuspecting native. After taking numerous photographs we returned to the spot up which we had begun to climb. The place is immense and it is difficult to convey an idea of the size of the rock, but it would be quite easy for members of a party to lose one another and not meet again in hours of wandering. The only signs of life are several places, where a few bloodwoods grow apparently out of the rock, and in a few places there are clumps of spinifex.
The descent was not terribly difficult and although very steep in places we were able to walk most of the way down. It was a hard morning’s work but well worth the effort. 
I should however hesitate to climb the rock again, not from fear, but because of the trememdous physical strain required.


During World War Two Lauri Sheard enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force as an airman. He was reported missing over New Guinea in 1942 following a flying battle and his death was confirmed in 1945. Sheard is remembered at the Port Moresby (Bomana) War Cemetery in New Guinea.

Lauri Sheard talking with an Aboriginal man. Source
Lauri E Sheard - climbing legend.

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