The Red Centre Way: Part 4

Uluṟu-Kata Tjuta

After some lunch we began the drive to Yulara. It wasn’t a particularly interesting drive. As we neared the end of Luritja Road we saw a structure in the distance. We got excited. It looked big. But it looked wrong, not like Uluṟu. It was wrong. It was Mt Connor. An impressive mountain. But not Uluṟu. A false alarm! On we went.

When we finally caught a glimpse of the surface of Uluṟu, and watched it bob up and down behind the the hills and slowly grow as we drove nearer, the conversation in the car was hilarious. I think Theodore has been saturated with natural beauty this past week or so, because he genuinely cannot understand what all the fuss is about. It’s a big rock. The end. What’s the big deal? Malachi thinks it’s like a giant’s pillow. I think it’s just incredible that something so significant can emerge so suddenly from the earth.

We didn’t drive to the rock on our first night. We pulled into the Ayres Rock Resort and booked ourselves a campsite for three nights. The arrival and check in was an interesting experience, but I did not expect my time in this ‘resort’ to continue to be more and more interesting, and in quite an uncomfortable way. The first uncomfortableness was when they put us on the tiniest site. It appeared to be a tent site. Here we are in the middle of nowhere, and literally living on top of our neighbours. Thankfully, our neighbours on both sides were lovely. For the first time this trip there was slight tension between me and Leon as we navigated the tiny site which had us feeling like we’d travelled for over a week to camp in a carpark so close to our neighbours we had no choice but to form quite the intimate relationship.

Monday morning it was clear that yesterday was a big day for the family. We visited Uluṟu, but the mood was not right to do the base walk today. I was extra irritable as I was fooled by the cool winds at Kings a Canyon and was horrifically burnt on my shoulders. We decided that today we would visit Kata Tjuṯa, watch the sun set at Uluṟu, and do the base walk in the morning.

I would say Kata Tjuṯa is just as impressive as Uluṟu, but difficult to get an iconic photo of. It’s enormous, and such an interesting formation. We did the Waḻpa Gorge walk. Next time I’d like to visit the Valley of the Winds. Unlike the Kings Canyon Rim Walk, I did feel like there was unnecessary human engineering on this gorge walk. In addition to just how busy it is, this really detracts from the natural beauty. In saying that, the gorge was beautiful. You forget you’re in such a grand formation as Kata Tjuṯa when you’re in it. Joey enjoyed the rock pools and the trickling water. The kids appreciated being able to ‘climb’ on the rock, which is really a walk up a sloping rock hill. There’s something special about immersing your face into the icy waters of these places, an idea I got from a friend on a retreat once. Leon has now joined me in this. On the way back to camp we stopped at the Kata Tjuṯa dune viewing area. It was beautiful. You can see Kata Tjuṯa in front of you in all her glory, and to turn to the right and see Uluṟu in the distance. We were lucky enough to see a cute lizard while we were there, perhaps a perentie.

Later that afternoon we headed out to the Uluṟu sunset viewing area to watch the rock undergo a mesmerising colour transformation as the sunset. On the way we stopped to top up with diesel and buy some beer. Diesel was 278.5/L and a six pack of XXXX Gold was almost $50, let alone something more enjoyable. We decided we didn’t need the beer.

As I said, this town is interesting. The longer I stay, the more I would say it’s just a bit ‘off’ rather than interesting. While the campground situation was less than ideal, I just can’t believe that the entire town is a privately owned enterprise. And you can tell. I feel like I’m on The Truman Show. Or in a cult. Or something equally as unnatural/unpleasant. I was perpetually confused while I’m the resort town, and each time I drove out of it I felt like a weight had been lifted and I breathed a sigh of relief.

There’s a town centre that houses a supermarket, restaurants, little art and souvenirs stores, a post office and tourist information centre. Outside of the town centre theres a police station, medical centre and fire brigade. Of course there’s the camp ground, and there’s apartments and cabins in what appears to be tiny suburbs. This resort town is outside the National Park. The NP is owned by the traditional owners and jointly managed by traditional owners and NP Australia. But the resort has to be private. It’s even named Ayres Rock Resort… not Uluṟu. It’s somewhat suffocating. I don’t like it at all and I wish I knew of a spot to camp somewhere outside of this place. 

After deciding not to purchase beer, we continued on to view the sunset. We had a great viewing point with some hysterical older women, sisters, in the spot next to us. They reminded me of my mum and my aunties which was a nice taste of home. We had a selection of nibbles for dinner, and the hopping mice came to help clean up anything we’d missed. They’re ere exceptionally cute for mice. We stayed until all sunlight had disappeared and were the last people to leave. The stars, they were magnificent. It was indeed a magical afternoon.

We were up early to catch the guided Mala walk at Uluṟu at 8am before doing the base walk. The tour was both informative and intriguing. It was also long and not particularly interesting for the kids. Some things I learnt included: 

  • When teaching rock art, more than one man is necessary. One man doesn’t know it all and can’t pass all the information on. 
  • Gaining a deeper understanding the pain, particularly in WA, when 40 thousand year old historical and sacred sites are destroyed in the blink of an eye to mine, including 40 thousand year old rock art. The rock art at Uluṟu is between 10-14 thousand years old. This art, is the only form of literary history that the indigenous people have.
  • Numeracy to indigenous people is one, two three… many. They don’t count beyond that.
  • Rock art is no longer being created in the Uluṟu area. It was created as part of ceremony, and now that the park is shared, it is no longer used for ceremony. 
  • Dot painting is contemporary indigenous art. It is not part of the ancient history or culture. Much like wire burning. They are contemporary art forms, however still carry significant meaning. Dot painting is not found in rock art.

While I learnt a lot from the local indigenous guide, I was left with many questions and wonderings. The culture is evolving. Hunting still occurs, but rifles are used, not spears. The animals however are still prepared in the traditional way, paying respect to the animal by cutting it using traditional methods. While some aspects of the culture are evolving, incorporating technology for example, the response when a tourist asked what the answer would be if a young girl wanted to go hunting was, ‘No. She cant.’ Our guide explained that this is not sexist. It’s the roles that have been played by the different sexes for generations. It’s about mutual respect and everyone playing their part. This is a very difficult concept for me to grasp, and I cannot help but think it’s potentially damaging to young indigenous people being raised in this hybrid culture. I worry there is significant opportunity for young indigenous people to feel a sense of disconnection or that their own culture is limiting. Considering the current youth mental health crisis, as well as the commitment to closing the gap, I can’t help but think this rigidity will hinder progress. In a want to preserve a culture that’s been all but decimated, is there a reluctance for progression? That I can understand. I am eager to learn more and deepen my understanding as I’m acutely aware that I come with my own experiences, assumptions, and views of the world. These wonderings come from a genuine concern for indigenous youth… but so did the thoughts underpinning the stolen generation. Hence my desire to listen and learn.

I’m putting a lot of effort into learning and understanding Indigenous culture, to use the appropriate words and say them correctly, to be respectful and to empathise, and to be an active agent of reconciliation. It is so incredibly difficult. Information is superficial at best, hugely inconsistent, and with significant gaps. In addition, I am learning that there is much of the culture and many of the stories that won’t be shared with non-indigenous people, which contributes to the difficulty of gaining understanding. And as I said, there are aspects of the culture, that with my current level of understanding, seem oppressive.

I am realising that, even if the heinous history of our nation is acknowledged, and even if there’s an authentic commitment to reconciliation, the difficulties of genuine mutual respect and living in harmony are incomprehensibly complex and while much closer than ever before, we are such an incredibly long way from achieving it.

I am glad we did the base walk; however, for a good portion of the walk you are a long long way from the rock, and I’m sure you’d get a comprehensive understanding of the experience by doing the walk from the Mala carpark to Muṯitjulu waterhole, and perhaps also the walk to Kantju Gorge. The rock is incredible. Its sheer size and the abruptness with which is emerges from the soil are overwhelming. A closer look, and the rock known as the heart of Australia, is strangely organ like. It has lobes. It has parts that look like the surface is broken and you can see deeper into the flesh and are given a glimpse into the vessels within. One of these parts interestingly resembles the profile of a stereotypical indigenous person, proudly overlooking the lands that surround the rock.

Theodore continued to exclaim that Uluṟu is nothing like he expected. He was expecting a baron landscape of nothing but red dirt surrounding, and I think he had assumed that the iconic profile of Uluṟu really didn’t have any depth.

The caves and lines of water trickling down the rock from the recent rain were interesting. The water hole was beautiful and hosted more rock art to view. The variance in the features of this enormous formation is incredible.

After the base walk we spent the afternoon preparing for the next leg our journey… The Great Central Road. We did groceries (which were exorbitant), did a load of washing, purchased our permits from the Central Land Council (NT) and Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority (WA) to enter an Aboriginal reserve and transit Aboriginal lands. There was uncertainty with our plans as the Great Central Road east of the WA border had been closed since the rain a few days earlier. We did not want to stay in Ayres Rock Resort any longer, but we also didn’t want to have to travel south through SA and across the Nullarbor to reach Albany. We decided that regardless we would leave tomorrow. If the road was open, we’d take the Great Central. If it was shut, we’d head towards Coober Pedy.

Once we got up and packed up, we saw that NT roads had updated the road report and it was open with restricted access. Interestingly the physical sign still said the road was closed. After a call to NT regional road reports and Ron telling us we’d be fine and that we’ll probably love it, we got on the road by about 11.

As we were filling the tanks at the servo we ran into another troopy driving couple, this time from the Gold Coast. They were lovely, friendly and up for a chat. There’s a real connection between we Troopy Travellers. Actually, one of my favourite things about my Uluṟu stay was the friendly tourists. Our neighbours from Bathurst on one side and Maitland on the other, and our fellow Troopy Travellers at the service station. 

Until next time…

One thought on “The Red Centre Way: Part 4

Add yours

  1. Another great read.…and so many questions to find answers to. Carry on listening, looking and learning.


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