Adjectives to describe Ayers Rock?
Majestic? Monstrous? Magnificent? Awesome? Spiritual? Magical? Exhausting?
All of those, plus - flyblown, hot, desolate and forbidding.
To stand beneath Uluru/Ayers Rock is simply humbling. The whole experience is overwhelming. The sheer scale of the monolith dwarfs everything and it stands like an island above the desert around it. This scarlet monster lies at the heart of Australia. A place like nowhere else on earth, and the whole area gives off vibes that feel aeons old. To come here is to travel back to pre-history where giant megalithic rocks dominated the landscape, paintings two thousand years old are daubed on cave walls, the only grass is the dry brittle spinifex and animal life consists of hawks, dingoes and goannas.
Uluru is 400 miles from Alice Springs so seeing it becomes an expedition in itself. The practicalities of reaching the national park are covered in an earlier journal. A minimum of six hours driving time is necessary and a trip out to see the epic monolith is to experience the outback in all its hot scorching ferocity.The Outback and Uluru demand respect. For it is also the home of the aboriginal gods, a place as magical and spiritual to them as any cathedral is to us. In 1985 the national park was returned to the aborigines who are responsible for its upkeep. Before then the Anangu tribe decided the park wasn't being well looked after, their sacred places were not used in a way that their ancestors taught them. Nowadays they ask visitors to respect the rock (to climb or not to climb?) and visitors are watched over by Anangu rangers who I noticed went barefoot as they moved around the national park.
Admittence is $16 per person and before parking and taking a look at the monolith it might be an idea visit the Aboriginal Cultural Centre built in its shadow. This is a kind of ochre "wattle and daub" building showing the "dreamtime" gods and how they mattered to the lives of the tribes who roamed this area for thousands of years. I found the exhibt on the wildlife very interesting with over 74 kinds of reptiles including the "thorney devil" and frill-necked lizards thriving in the vicinity. And since the tourists arrived in the fifties there is a sizeable population of dingoes as well.
Getting up close to "the rock" is everyones main objective. One side is a mile across, its streaked red sides soar into the air contrasting with the icy blue sky. Its the redness which draws you in - as you get closer you realise that it isn't so much continually russet red but hundreds of little orange pustules/platelets covering the surface of the rock. Also you are aware of the desert around it - spinifex, gum trees and red earth march right up to its angular sides. And the silence? The rock seems to absorb sound. Everything around Ayers Rock is as quiet as the grave.
Our group was allowed to circumnavigate "the rock" on foot with an Anangu guide. We started on the eastern side of the rock at a number of caves. The Anangu tribe throughout history used certain caves for different stages of life. We were shown birthing caves and caves for the elders. Certain caves were warrior initiation caves. Uluru was part of life for the aboriginals from the cradle to the grave - or as I called it "a one-stop shop". Cave paintings that were 800 years old were shown to us and the forms of men and kangaroos could be made out. I was stunned by how much the sexes were segregated, but that was the way of life. The aboriginals who lived like this for thousands of years realised the rigid role of each sex was essential for survival.
. As we moved around the northern side the guide pointed out specific contours and indentations. Until the eighties the northern side housed a campsite where you could stay literally within touching distance of the rock. This all changed when the Anangu took the rock back and was also where Lindy Chamberlain claimed a dingo took her baby back in the early eighties. This was made into a film starring Meryl Streep called "A Cry in the Dark". The entire walk around Uluru is about 8 kilometres and for the most part we were on our own. This enabled us to get up close to the 350ft towering walls and take our time in the 35 degree heat. We also got to see the culverts where water pours off the rock during storms and hidden billabongs amongst the gum trees.
Thanks to our guide "the rock" then became a living thing, with a history as strong as any building. I came as close as I could to discovering the ancient heart of Australia....