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Uluru at Morning

AUSTRALIA | Friday, 27 July 2007 | Views [567]

Leroy, our guide for our four hour trip around the rock at sunrise, explained in graphic and entertaining detail the spiritual significance of Uluru to the local Aboriginals. The park in which the rock is located along with slightly smaller versions of the same, the Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park is actually a country owned by the Anangu people, speakers of the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara languages.

The park was returned to these traditional owners in 1985 according to an agreement with the Australian Governement, to whom the park was in turn leased back for 99 years. This confusing arrangement has led to a number of conflicting directions for tourists. For example, although visitors are allowed climb to the top of the 348m monolith (well, that's its height above ground - it is believed to stretch for an incredible 5000m underground - that's THREE MILES!), signs posted in the adjacent cultural centre provide a request from the tradiitonal ownders that you not do so. According to their tradition, the only legitimate climbers are elders in the clan who do so for deeply spiritual reasons.

The essence of the spiritual meaning, and the format and function of the rituals that take place at the rock are unknown to those outside the clan and are closely guarded secrets. According to the terms of the lease to the government, the Anangu can request that the park be closed to allow them carry out their rituals when required. For example, on the day prior to our arrival one of the elders passed away at an age of 90 years or so. As a consequence, the park will be closed to allow for his funeral in the next couple of days.

Anangu have no written language - in fact the word Uluru is just a representation in our script of the word which they've said for millenia - but record and communicate through heiroglyphs. Throughout the park and across the rock these pictures can be seen and quite easily understood with brief explanation. Where carvings in stone are insufficient - such as for maps to be carried on journeys - directions are recorded in song and learned by successive generations. There's a certain genius to the efficiency and sufficiency of their methods.

But let me tell ya, these guys understand economics. Everyone pays $25 to be admitted to the park - a visa into their country if you like. In the cultural centre you can pay vast amounts for their beautifully colourful art. We were fortunate enough to be able to buy one painting at a bargain price, but this still hits your travel budget pretty hard. That house of ours is slowly moving closer and closer to Sligo!

It was fascinating to learn so much about indigenous Australians - especially since so much of the news on TV and in the papers is about their troubles - from alcoholism to abuse to an awkward mismatch between their laws (eye for an eye and be done with it) and those imported to this country. The grotesqueness of the savagery inflicted upon these people by the arriving English - whose goal it was to civilise them - is something which one can hardly believe or stomach. How this changed in the last 200 years a people that had existed for 40,000 years is a question for the historians.

All said and done, we packed up our painting and boarded our plane back to Sydney - once again to be picked up by our ever reliable hostess and hit downtown Balmain for steak, wine and stories.

Tags: Sightseeing


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