They parked their car beside ours about 50 metres from Uluru, and jumped out eagerly asking if it was open yet. I’m too non-confrontational to ask why they would want to know, so I only reply that I don’t know because we’re not going to climb it. My desultory reply did not seem to dampen them as they complained of having just spent over one hour at the cultural centre waiting for the climb up Uluru to open.
I walked away struggling to comprehend how somebody who had spent an hour at a centre that describes the importance and sacristy of Uluru to the local Anangu Aboriginal people could discard that so frivolously and eagerly climb Uluru. Anangu people believe that the climb follows the route taken by their Mala men on their arrival at Uluru during the time of creation. It’s also very dangerous with 30+ people dying due to falls and Anangu people feel a sincere responsibility to safeguard visitors to their land.
To climb Uluru, you have to walk past a big sign advising you that the local Aboriginal people would prefer if you did not climb Uluru. Disregarding that sign is not the same as walking over a bit of grass despite a sign telling you otherwise, it’s disregarding the importance of Aboriginal culture and beliefs to Australian society. You can stand and watch people walk right by the sign and turn into ants as they crawl up the rock.
Rather than climbing Uluru, there is a path that takes you all around it with free guided tours on some of the sections. Our guide for one of the parts was an Aboriginal man who, after being asked directly, advised that climbing Uluru would be like desecrating a church. Regardless of religiosity, when he goes into a church he understands the importance to Christians of behaving respectfully whilst in church. And so he follows the wishes of the church and at Uluru, the Anungu people are asking the same.
Uluru can be at its most dramatic during or just after rainfall when water streams down the crevices and folds of Uluru. Unfortunately, the dramatic waterfalls contain urine being washed down Uluru after people have had to relieve themselves during the climb. I remember as a child seeing a man peeing against the wall of the church my parents go to and the Minister understandably shouting at the man. It’s only a call of nature when up there, but putting yourself into that situation is sacrilegious.
The chain to help people climb the rock was first erected in the 1960s and you can see the path worn on the rock beside the chain. Since 1985, the park has been jointly managed by Australia National Park and Anungu people so I couldn’t work out that if it was jointly managed, why could the Anangu people not prohibit climbing. However, decisions that can be taken under joint-management are limited to procedurals things like maintenance of flora, fauna and paths. Other decisions are retained by Government and in the case of climbing Uluru, Government have said that they will not close the climb unless fewer than 20% of visitors climb Uluru. In other words, they will stop it once it’s already stopped.
Formed at a similar time and from similar origins to Uluru, Kata Tjuta stands about 45km down a road that few seem to tread. Uluru has cervices, gouges and holes but the skin of it looks smooth with a lack of jointing and bedding formations in the rock. A single impenetrable rock in the middle of Australia. Kata Tjuta is like a teen bedeviled by acne. Gravel, stones and mud are all clumped together to make the beautiful round shapes of the stone mountains that lose their prettiness the closer you get.
Kata-Tjuta does not have the colour or simplistic magnificence of Uluru but rather than trying to climb on top of them, you are invited to walk in amongst them. You walk inwards and over a narrow pass from which you look into the previously unseen heart of Kata Tjuta with stone mountains encircling you. From the outside, you see stone mountains but from the inside you feel as though you’ve stepped through a door into a secret landscape where the outside world can’t see you. You walk with your neck craned and your head wanting to spin 360 degrees; yet it’s still impossible to take it all in.
On top of Uluru, I imagine that you feel tall as you survey for miles around, forgetting that the most memorable part of the landscape is that which you can no longer see beneath you. In Kata Tjuta, you feel small and dwarfed by the landscape which is all around you. Despite the cities, Australia is still a country where man is a dot on the surface.