Descending from the clear blue skies, we could see the vast expanse below us. And the nearer we got, the larger it looked. And finally we landed and all around us was red as far as the eyes could see. We had landed at Ayers Rock Airport, conceivably one of the smallest ones you can find in Australia. Everything here is basic but the flipside is there is no congestion, no queues and no worries. It is also a mere half an hours drive to Uluru. The iconic monolith that we had come to see. Right here in the Red Centre!
No matter what you have seen, in photos or videos of Uluru, one thing is almost for certain. You will not be prepared for how immense it is. Rising 348m above ground, it is higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris and with a circumference of 9.4km, it can just about ring Central Park in New York. In short, it is simply enormous.
Today, all of Uluru is owned by its traditional owners, Anangu. But it is leased back to Parks Australia and jointly managed thereby making it accessible to all. One of the highlights of our trip here was surely the guided tour of Uluru. It was taken by one of the elders from the Anangu people and together with an interpreter, provided a colourful insight into Aboriginal culture and their world.
We started the tour on the south side of Uluru. Here the elder tells us one of the major creation stories of Uluru, Kuniya Tjukurpa. The story of Liru and Kuniya. Today we sometimes call them Dreamtime stories. But to the Anangu, there is such thing. There is in fact no equivalent word for ‘Dreamtime’ in the Anangu language. The story goes like this
” Long time ago, there was a young Kuniya (python) boy who was ambushed by a group of Liru (poisonous snakes). He had angered them by hunting in the area of Liru. The Liru hurled spears at him and some were thrown so hard, created marks on the side of the mountain at Warmala. Outnumbered, he eventually fell dead. Angered, his aunt raced along the side of the rock to the Mutitjulu water hole where she battled Liru (the poisonous snake man).
In the battle, she used her immense power and magic and struck him twice across his head, with her Wanna (Digging Stick). Upon the second blow, she killed him and he fell, dropping his shield near the hunters cave. Today, Kuniya still waits for her nephews return and you can see her coiled up near the water hole.”
Next, we were shown the paintings that recorded the events of their own lives. Symbols that are seen on aboriginal paintings are seen everywhere here. Here a home becomes a gallery and parents use these paintings to teach their children about their culture and history. Sometimes the wall art is covered and this is due to the fact that often new paintings are just painted over older designs.
And since the colour pigments used in the paintings are mixed only with water, they are really quite fragile and prone to wear and tear. And a new fact we also learnt was that unlike other parts of Australia, there are no paintings or even symbols of boomerangs here. We were told that the Anangu do not use boomerangs and had no knowledge of them! (In fact, as we found out later, up to a third of the aboriginal peoples used neither boomerangs or hunting sticks despite the popular misconception that all of them do.)
Another popular myth – There is no “Aboriginal language” with different dialects. In fact, there are over 200 different and mutually incomprehensible languages! They are as different as French is from German. Unfortunately, they are fast disappearing and most of them will die out well before the next century. (However this is now recognized and linguists are trying to preserve as much of them as possible with the native speakers.)
Finally, we were introduced to some aboriginal food and also serving dishes of the Anangu. And guess who was the lucky one chosen by the elder to demonstrate how you would carry it around. Yes, that would be your very shy and reluctant me!
I managed it though and did our little tour group immensely proud. All in all, it was an eye opening journey and despite it being a tour, having one of the Anangu show us around felt almost like being welcomed into his home. And Uluru is one of those icons that really does live up to its hype.