The Anangu people have lived around Uluru and Kata Tjuta for at least 40,000 years. In their culture, the land was created by the creation ancestors during the Tjukurpa (creation time or dreamtime). In their travels, the creation ancestors made marks on the land and made laws for the people to keep and live by. Each mark is associated with a story telling of its creation and the moral as it relates to the people. Not having a written language, these stories are handed down orally from generation to generation; women’s knowledge taught to the girls by the women and men’s knowledge taught to the boys by their grandfathers.
Then there is the “white-fella’s” way of seeing the creation of these magnificent structures. Around 550 million years ago, the mountains to the west were eroded dropping sand and rock in two big fan shapes on the surrounding plain. One fan was composed mostly of smoothed rocks while the other was mostly sand. Both became kilometers thick. At 500 million years ago, the whole area was covered by a sea. Sand and mud covered the fans compressing them into rock – the rocky one into conglomerate rock; the sand one into sandstone. Over the next 100 million years, the sea dried up and the layers were folded and tilted. The sand fan tilted 90 degrees so the layers stood on end and erosion eventually exposed what we now know as Uluru (aka, Ayers Rock). The rocky fan tilted slightly and erosion exposed Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). Both extend below the ground for possibly 5-6 kilometers (3-3.7 miles).
Europeans didn’t appear until the 1870s, and they immediately named it Ayers Rock and climbed it. They have been climbing it ever since. Uluru and Kata Tjuta are sacred to the Anangu and they prefer that no one climb them. To them it is equivalent to coming to your church and climbing the steeple for sport. Therefore, they request that nobody climb, but for now, it is not forbidden. Their goal is to eventually close it for climbing completely.
In recent years, the Australian government has been returning Aboriginal lands to the traditional owners. In 1985, the Commonwealth Government handed Ayers Rock (now Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park) back to Traditional Aboriginal Owners (the Anangu) with the proviso that it be leased back to the government for 99 years. It is now managed by a board consisting of four male and four female traditional owner representatives and four government representatives. Through the ensuing years, the resort and campground facilities in what is now Yulara have been developed by government and private entities. Finally, in 2011, the Indigenous Land Corporation purchased the resort and established Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia. One of their major commitments is to increase indigenous employment. To that end, indigenous staff members have increased from 2 in 2010 to 204 as of 2013, including 60 trainees.
We have spent four days here. We started with the Cultural Centre where we learned much about the life and stories of the Anangu people but were asked not to take pictures inside. That is unfortunate for us because we frequently bring those pictures back to solidify our knowledge and help plan our stay in the area. We were still able to see much and do much. We drove the perimeter road around Uluru. On a ranger guided tour we heard some of the Anangu stories of creation and saw the places and marks on the rock related to them. We walked the 10.6 km (6.6 mi) Uluru Base Walk which circles the rock and allows views of and visits to important markings and places relating to the stories. On the third night we went to the sunset viewing area and watched the sun set on Uluru – it is everything you see in the pictures only better because we saw it in person. Our fourth and last day we explored nearby Kata Tjuta by hiking some trails into the canyons between segments of the rocks.
Our only disappointment in our stay here dealt with cost. Most tours exceeded $100 per person and covered places and things we could go to and read about on our own. While we were there, Jon celebrated his birthday, so a nice dinner was in order. There was one offer for a multicourse meal complete with dessert and drinks plus entertainment and watch the sun set on Uluru – cost: $195 per person! We opted for a less expensive restaurant and watched the sunset on our own. As it turned out, we really had a great time reading and learning about this national park and exploring at our own pace. It was an experience we will savor in our memories of Australia.