It is the first thing that you see as you descend the steps out of the aeroplane at the tiny Ayers Rock airport. Your eyes immediately drawn by the beautiful red blip on the otherwise flat landscape.
Uluru is one of those landmarks which regularly features on those ‘things to see before you die’ lists and as such was one of those images which iconicized, in my mind anyway, the magic and beauty of Australia. It was one of those views which reminded me just how far away from home I was.
Named in honour of the Chief Secretary of South Australia at the time, Ayers rock was first discovered by European explorers in the 1870s during the construction of the overland telegraph line. Tourism in the area first began after 1936 with the first bus tours arriving in the 1950s. Since the first European arrivals there was tension between them and the indigenous people of the area. Although talks about stopping the Uluru climb eventually broke down, meaning that this is something tourists continue to do to this day, the land was eventually returned to the Pitjantjatjara Aborigines under the agreement that they would lease it back to the National parks, allowing it to be managed jointly.
The area is one of considerable tourism with a huge number of tour companies running various trips in the vicinity. I was joining one such tour. Due to difficulties in arrangements and changes of plans I was ushered straight through the one room of the arrivals and straight out into the minibus to join my tour. We then drove the 25 km before arriving at the rock itself. It was quite a shock to be immediately confronted by this towering lump of sandstone. The rock looked big from a distance but of course only gets bigger as you get nearer to it until you do have to crane your neck to see its summit. On the ride over our tour guide pointed out interesting features on the face of the rock and the traditional stories which accompany it. One story he told was about a blue tongued lizard man who one day came across an emu which someone had speared but not killed. Despite knowing that this was another man’s food the lizard man took it for himself. When the owners of the spear followed the tracks and found the lizard man they asked him if he had seen the emu but he lied and sent them off in another direction, he then climbed the rock and made a camp in a cave near the top. When the hunters realised his deception and found where he was camped, they lit a fire at the base of the rock to smoke him out. Awoken and blinded by the smoke, the lizard man stumbled and fell. As he fell he bumped into the rock which was so hot from the fire that it tore his skin and left its mark on the rock. This explained the bluey grey tint on one side.
There were many other stories to be told as we wandered around the base of the rock, as well as many other features of the history of this place. We walked past the cave known as ‘The Kitchen Cave’ and observed the smooth grooves on the base of the cave which show thousands of years of the grinding of seeds by the women who used the cave to prepare food in. We also observed a hole in a rock near the watering hole where the young boys were first taught how to hunt. The whole places oozes this kind of history and mysticism and as you walk around you can see this evidence of human history including the paintings left on many of the walls. But the place is also a haven for nature. Not the barren desert it looks like from far away, when you approach the rock you are engulfed by the grasses and trees surrounding it. You can also see the previously mentioned watering hole and the plethora of buffel grass, which having been introduced to Australia in the 1870s is now one of the most invasive weeds managed by the park rangers.
Although a generic bucket list trip, the visit to Uluru was not simply a box ticking exercise and a chance to take a few photos. A place steeped in a huge amount of history and spiritual significance there is much to marvel at. Not only in what it represents, but in the physical and natural beauty of the place too. Seeing the sunrise from behind the rock and crack the skyline with spectacular slashes of pink and yellow, highlighting the red of this awe inspiring landmark is an image I shall not forget in a hurry.