On the third day of our central Australia trip, having already visited Watarrka and Kata Tjuta, it was time for the big ticket attraction; Uluru. Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site and visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year,the site is sacred to the Anangu people of the area.
At a hight of 348 meters and a circumference of almost 10 kilometres, the rock dominates the landscape of the red centre. Famed for its changing colours and glowing hues, Uluru is more than breathtaking.
We watched the sunrise over Uluru on a crisp outback morning and marvelled as the colours shifted with the passing of time.
Many people come to Uluru to participate in the arduous climb to the summit. From the 1950’s to the 1980’s schools, adventure groups and tourists would come to the area on camping trips and challenge themselves to undertake the climb. Many Australians see climbing Uluru as the ultimate challenge in their homeland. They enjoy the thrill of conquering a natural wonder that their parents or grandparents may have climbed in their youth. The climb is steep and as the temperatures soar, many people suffer from exhaustion, dehydration and heart attacks. More than 35 people have died trying to climb Uluru.
The Anangu people are the traditional owners and custodians of Uluru. For them the area holds great cultural and spiritual significance. They do not climb the rock. Every time someone is injured or dies during the climb the Anangu feel responsible for this. It causes them great sadness. They recognise that people may wish to climb Uluru but they respectfully ask that they do not:
ll of this information is freely available to tourists. There is a visitors centre showing a documentary with a strong message about choosing not to climb Uluru. A message is printed on the reverse of all national park tickets. There is even a huge sign at the gate at the start of the climb. Yet people still choose to climb. We were amazed to see a group of tourists listening intently to an Anangu elder as he explained to them how his people would prefer if they chose not to climb. As soon as he finished and thanked them for listening most of the group sidestepped him and began their ascent.
A lot of people have a lot of views about the Uluru climb. Our view is that we are guests in the home of the Anangu people. We will behave in the way our hosts think is right, if we can’t manage that we should leave. As global travellers, we adapt our behaviour to be culturally appropriate in the places we visit. We cover our shoulders and knees in temples. We wear hijabs to enter the grounds of mosques. We show respect in churches and synagogues. We don’t just do this because it is culturally appropriate or respectful. We do it to gain an understanding of other peoples lives, beliefs and perspectives. Uluru is a sacred site, it should be afforded the same level of respect as any church, mosque temple or synagogue. This is why we chose not to climb Uluru.
The Uluru base walk is a 10 kilometre walk in the shadow of the sacred rock, following paths that have been trodden by generations of Anangu on their journey through the lands. Ancient rock art sites tell the stories of creation and life in a time that can not be forgotten. Caves and waterholes open up to reveal areas where Anangu gathered to eat, hunt, live and dream.
Close up Uluru is different. No longer is it the mystical smooth rock sat idle in a featureless landscape. The caves and recesses reveal pockets of humanity that demand to be noticed. The rock is surprisingly cool to touch, with a texture of life running through it. There is an acute sense of connection to the land, the people and the voices that have been here before. Spirituality reaches out, grabs you by the soul and begs you to hear the message of the people who walked this land before you.