The Mountain in the Middle
The English, when they came, called it Ayers Rock. But for the indigenous people, it has always been known as Uluru: a massive outcrop, no, outcrop doesn’t do it justice — a mountain in its own right, 348 meters high, rising incongruously, massively, from the flat red semi-desert that is central Australia.
Geologists tell us that it was formed millions of years ago, back before Australia began to drift techtonically away from Pangea, the earth’s original supercontinent. At one time it was part of a mountain range that eventually eroded, all except for Uluru itself. The sandstone layers formed horizontally, but geological forces shifted the mass so that now, as we can plainly see, the sedimentary layers are vertical.
Uluru is a UNESCO world heritage site. For the aboriginals, it holds particular spiritual significance, and it draws hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. Tourists used to climb it as a challenge, and the climbing railing is still visible. But nowadays, it’s is no longer permitted, partly because of the number of deaths (37 over the past 10 years) and partly because the aboriginals, who now share in the management and control of the site, have forbidden it.
Around the rock
Some tour the rock in air conditioned buses, some Segway or bicycle around it. I chose to walk it — a distance just shy of 10 km in heat approaching 40ºC. The rock changed colour and texture continuously as I walked around it and as the position of the sun shifted.
One of the dreamtime (origin) stories of the Anangu people, the aboriginals who live in this area, involves a half-man, half blue-tongued lizard, called Wati Lungkata. I won’t relate the story here: it is easily searchable. But the story did make me want to find that legendary blue-tongued lizard and photograph it, hopefully with it’s tongue extended.
The Red Desert
Life could only have been rough out here, but the aboriginals survived, and the did so by developing unique hunting technology, such as the famous boomerang. Here, an Anangu from a nearby cultural centre demonstrates the use of a modified version of the weapon.
Camels in Australia?
I had a little time to kill at Uluru so, since there happened to be one nearby, I decided to try my luck riding a camel. Camels were brought in by Afghans in the early 1800s for transportation and to carry heavy loads. After the road and railway systems were built, there was less use for them, and many were set free. Today, there are more than a million wild camels on the continent.