As I approach the austere beauty of Uluru otherwise known as Ayer's Rock and Kata Tjuta otherwise known as the Olgas, I take a moment to reflect on the conflict and the coexistence between the sacred and the profane.
How in the midst of hundreds of thousands of tourists per year, myself among them, can the fragile traditions and sacred acts and sites of the Anangu Aboriginal peoples of central Australia be truly preserved. Then, on further reflection, I have to wonder instead at how successfully they have done all of the above against a backdrop of persecution, genocide and theft. All of this said, I still wonder that the general public does not give more credence to them.
example, is the seeming rite of passage of climbing to the top of Uluru. This
is an act problematical at best. By this I mean how would a Catholic feel
about a group of thrill seekers trying to scale the outside of the dome of
St. Peters in Vatican City? I suspect this would not only be met with reluctance
but outright hostility and swift action on the part of the constabulary. Add
to this the fact that there have been at least 40 deaths attributed to this
practice at Uluru, eight of which involved chasing lost hats or other articles
when the wind caught them and you can see some measure of disconnect with
It is necessary to bring up a bit of history here . Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta were originally given to the Aboriginal peoples of the area in 1920 as an Aboriginal Reserve with the understanding that these were extremely sacred sites for them and they should have complete control over them. However, in 1958, when tourism began to heat up, these sites were removed from the Reserve with the rationale that there were no Aboriginal people living in the area. The fact that this is an extremely arid region prone to drought cycles and the peoples in question needed to move around finding new water sources and food to survive was ignored.
Meanwhile, the Aboriginal people finally were granted citizenship in 1967. Prior to this, they did not only not have the right to vote, they did not have the right to get passports, to even move around parts of their own country freely. A somewhat famous example of this was the case of Albert Namatjira. He is a world famous Aboriginal artist who was not allowed to leave the Northern Territories. He did have to pay taxes on the income from his art. However, when Queen Elizabeth came to visit the country she requested to be able to meet this artist. It was with some embarassment that he was quickly allowed to travel in his own country. In the end the government finally put the issue to a vote of the Australian population as a referendum. And much later than I think appropriate they were 'allowed' to become citizens. As an American I remember that even in my own country, the simple right to vote was witheld from many black Americans until the 1960s and the implementation of the Voting Rights act and the Civil Rights Act, but even they could move freely in their own country as could the American Indians.
The issue of Uluru and Kata Kjuta did no go away and on October 26, 1985, both were handed back to the Anangu people. This was not accomplished easily and took a great many meetings and hard negotiation. The land in question was leased back by the Anangu, as part of the agreement, to the Austrlian Nature Conservation Agency as a National Park and Anangu now have a majority of the board that controls the area. So it is that our park entry certificate looked like the following and I am happy to say it does.
All of this is subtext for understanding the mixture of sacred, profane and always present austere beauty of these sites. If one has any hopes of encompassing this vast and wonderful country and continent, you need to visit these extraordinary geological phenomena. To give you some idea let me show you some of the sights that we encountered while there. Uluru itself has a singular impact upon first seeing it. It rises 1,100 feet or 335 meters above the surrounding desert plain, is oval in shape, 2.2 miles or 3.6 kilometers long by 1.5 miles or 2 kilometers wide.
The rock formations to the left are Kata Tjuta, otherwise known more commonly as the Olgas or Olga Rocks. Covering 11 square miles or 28 square kilometers, you can get an idea of the arid beauty and singular impact they have on the new visitor. This becomes especially the case as one is exerting the effort to walk into them or around them.
The walk from the parking lot into Kata Kjuta was my first taste of several strenuous walks that I would be making over the next several days. The experiences made me quite glad that I was still on the tail end of the Australian winter and not in the blazing heat of summer in December or January here. Even at that, we were well advised to be wearing hats (note the dapper look to the left) and lots and lots of sun screen. Australia has some of the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world. Our timing was a bit bad given that the skies were overcast behind us and we were unable to get the awesome sunsets or sunrises that both Kata Tjuta and Uluru are noted for with brilliant red hues. Consequently, I was unable to get them photographed as well. I had to content myself with a book of awe-inspiring photographs taken by others who were able to spend the time taking the pictures of these places.
Beginning our up and close look at Uluru
meant an early morning ride on a tour bus. Being new to Australia meant that
a tour was perhaps the best choice for getting the most out of these sites.
It certainly avoided the prospect of trying to drive on the other side of
One of the points around Uluru that I found quite interesting was Maggie's Spring. There is an Aborigine name for this that I have forgotten at the moment. This is a site noted for both the location of water in and around Uluru and also for cave paintings. Unlike some other points around Uluru there is no prohibition on photography. So I felt free to photograph and share them with you.
We began our walk at a rest stop with a roof that looked something like chicken wire stuffed with hay, although I am quite sure it was another local plant that I am ignorant of. Still, it provided an attractive setting to begin the walk. And walk we did, with an interesting commentary provided by the tour guide, pointing out wild life, Aboriginal customs, myths and legends and other details historical, anthropological, biological and more. In particular, the wall paintings were of interest to me. You can see some examples of these below. They put me in touch with these special people from times long ago and far away.
After our tour of Uluru itself we were taken to the Cultural Center. We were asked and acceded to the request that no photography should be done within the Cultural Center itself or of the people there. If you ever do visit Uluru I strongly recommend a visit to this facility. Here you will get an account of the stories and knowledge that surrounds Uluru and Kata Tjuta from the Aboriginal point of view. Here you will find out why you should be discouraged from climbing Uluru and find examples of artwork and demonstrations of how the artwork is created. In closing, I leave you with a variety of pictures collected in our tour of Uluru and Kata Tjuta. I will add other images as I have time to capture additional images from the video tapes that I took from my exploration of Uluru.