Sunday, 11 March 2018

The wonderful Uluru

I've been to Ayers Rock before in 1988 when I worked at Curtin Springs while travelling round Australia on my gap year. The owner and his dad, Ashley and Peter Severin brought us out on the back road from their station and showed us the old motel which Peter had helped build back in the 1950s.

Ironically, our coach driver on this trip told us more about the family than we learned in the 2 months we worked there! How they moved to the station and then had to endure 9 years of drought (which explains why Peter worked construction for a spell). How they lived under a thatched bower for years before they could afford to build their house and roadhouse bar. I was so excited to be back and see everything again.

It did not disappoint. When we were here in the 1980s, the attitude to the aborigines who live in this most harsh environment was pretty horrific. Disrespectful, downright racist and dismissive. It was like the people who had lived there for 40,000 years had nothing to do with the place.

The aboriginal tribes refused to share their histories and knowledge of the land and terrible breaches of human rights occurred daily.

As an 18 year old who had been raised in post-colonial West Africa, I was shocked but not enough to object or even address the issue critically in my own mind. Jenny and I discussed it but just figured it was what it was. I've often felt a little guilty, uneasy about my attitude back then, how easily I was led. (Although I would not say I personally did anything wrong or was anything other than respectful to the indiginous people I dealt with most days.)

Now though I was pleased to see that attitudes have undergone a sea change in the last 10/15 years. Our various guides told us the histories, shared aboriginal beliefs and stories and knowledge of the flora and fauna of the area. The 4 tribes of the Red Centre (their names are impossibly long and difficult to spell so I will spare you) now own the land and sacred sites are by and large respected. Climbing of the rock will not happen by next year and fewer and fewer people do it anyway. I climbed it back in 1988 but think this way is better.

Truthfully, while some of the information you're given could seem a tad earnest or politically correct, on the whole hearing it made the whole experience immeasurably richer than when I was there last. Then, we were visiting and climbing a socking great rock in the middle of nowhere. Now we were looking through a window into a different world; a 40,000 year old world where nothing we know makes any difference to life.  Amazing.

And it is a socking great rock. It takes your breath away up close. The colours and shapes, ridges and waterholes. Beautiful.

After a few hours hiking round part of the base, we headed over to the sunset viewing area and scarfed down wine and nibbles watching the sun go down over the rock.

Then up at crack of dawn (coaches left at 4.45am) to see the sunrise again.

There was a bit of hanging round watching things become slightly less grey, but eventually that light creeps over the horizon and the rock lights up. Despite hundreds of people, the desert swallows you up and it felt pretty private and very special.

So, if you get the chance, go to Uluru but also take the extra day and go to Kings Canyon too. We couldn't or we would have been arriving in Melbourne on Christmas Eve afternoon but I would have liked to have gone there.

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