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Rock Tour! Part 3!

Uluru!! Please don't climb it!

sunny

The moment we had all been waiting for had arrived, we were going to visit Uluru (Ayers Rock).

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This was the reason we had come to the Red Centre and the sights we had seen so far had been an additional bonus. We left Kata Tjuta behind and you could sense the build up of anticipation in the van as we got closer to Uluru.

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Other than this being the iconic image that springs to mind when you think of Australia and the outback, we didn't really know much more about it. So we all gathered round to learn more...

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Uluru is a place of great significance to the Anangu people. When the white settlers came to this area they proclaimed it their own and in 1950 made it into a National Park, despite the fact that the Anangu and their ancestors had lived on this land for thousands of years. Myles put into perspective for us just how recently when he told us that there is an indigenous woman he has met who remembers the 'first contact' when white men came to the area. When she saw the white man sitting on his white horse she thought she was seeing a two headed monster, having seen neither before she thought they were joined as one animal. Taking this timeframe into consideration and that as little as 25 years ago it would have taken 4 days to travel here before the train brought the tourist boom, you can see how dramatically and quickly this area changed. It has taken years of negotiations before the Australian Government gave back the deeds to this land in 1985 to the Anangu on the condition that it was leased back to the government for 99 years.

An area of controversy is whether to climb or not climb Uluru, which is not something we had thought of before.

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We learnt that there are several reasons not to climb Uluru...

1) Showing respect for the great spiritual significance this place holds for the Anangu, who ask you not to climb. It would be the same as someone clambering over a temple or church.

2) Safety, this climb can be very dangerous. In some places it is really steep, more than 60 degrees in some places and its sandstone surface means that there is not much grip. In fact all the people who have climbed it before have worn the surface down not only scaring the side of Uluru but making it more slippery and treacherous. It has been 18 months since the last people died on Uluru, one died from a heart attack at the summit and the other died whilst making a grab for his hat that had blown off his head, letting go of the rail and falling off! They do close the climb when its too dangerous and today was one of them.

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3) To look after the environment. As you can imagine there are no toilets or rubbish collectors on Uluru so any food wrapping or human waste left up there gets washed down into the waterholes when it rains. This pollution as resulted in less wildlife in the area.

It is up to you whether you climb or not but I don't think any of our group would have climbed if it had been open after we had found all this out.

The climb should eventually close but apparently certain stipulations need to be met before this happens.

The first is if 12% or less of the tourists visiting Uluru climb it. At the moment 25% of tourists still climb. We were told that one of the reasons that this figure is still so high is because of the tourism from Japan. There is a famous Japanese film that follows the journey of a man who travels to Uluru to forfil the dream of his high school sweetheart who passed away before she could climb it herself. Many people want to come to climb Uluru to relive this moment from the movie for themselves, even though this moment in the film wasnt actually filmed on Uluru!

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We found out that all the local tour companies apart from one (which mainly has groups from Japan) have agreed to show the information signs and flag up that the Anangu people ask you not to climb. This company quickly shepherds people passed the signs and so many are climbing without knowing what they are doing.

The second stipulation for closing the climb would be when 40 people have died on Uluru. At the moment 35 people have died on Uluru, however to be included in this figure the person has to pass away on Uluru itself. Once you add the people who have died away from the site from accidents/heart attacks that happened on Uluru then this figure goes up to 185!

When the climb eventually closes the handrail that was built will still remain. This because it was built when the area was made into a National Park and anything that was there at the beginning has to remain even though it is a blot on the landscape.

As we learnt all this the moon slowly risen behind Uluru a great contrast to the blue sky and red rock.

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It was time for us to do the Mala Walk. The Mala people are the ancestors of the Anangu. A Mala is a type of rock wallaby. There are no Rock Wallabys left here now as they have all been eaten by the feral dogs and cats in the area. Recently 250 were released to try to rebuild the population but none have survived. The Mala Walk takes you passed rock formations which are believed to reflect the activities of the Mala people during Creation Time.

The teaching cave is full of paintings that have been painted over generations by the elders to teach the boys how to hunt and track animals and how to survive here.

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This is where they would study before starting their quest to become initiated into a man, known as walkabout. Depending on the conditions this could be anywhere from 2 months to 2 years where the boy would have to hunt and survive on his own before returning for an initiation ceremony.

When they return they would wait in this cave before the ceremony would begin, the men would be in their sacred area and the women would be in their area... now this has set the scene I will try to tell the Mala story...

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At Uluru an initiation ceremony was about to begin for 4 boys. The men had climbed to the top of Uluru to place a ceremonial pole to people from surrounding areas would know a ceremony was taking place. At the same time the Wintalka people over at Kata Tjuta were also preparing for a ceremony and wanted to invite the Mala people to attend. They sent messengers to the Mala people who did not notice the ceremonial pole and interrupted the ceremony. This angered the Mala people as once a ceremony has begun no one is allowed to enter or leave. They turned the Wintalka messengers away and declined their invitation.

When the messengers told the rest of the Wintalka people they were very offended. They made a fire which they fuelled with all their anger, unleashing an evil spirit, the dingo devil dog called Kurpany, to destroy the Mala ceremony. As Kurpany travelled to Uluru he took the form of other animals and plants so not to be noticed, such as snake, lizard and kangaroo. He peered over the sand dunes to scope out where everyone was.

He saw that the women and children were in their area, the kitchen cave, and took the opportunity to attack them without the men to protect them. You can see his claw marks in the cave wall where he took an almighty swipe...

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The women and children ran screaming into the mens area, so the men knew something was wrong. On realising there was real danger the Mala people fled south. The 4 boys were left behind waiting in the mans cave, if you look back closely at the first photo of this cave you can make out the outlines of where they remain standing waiting to be initiated into men!

This is a children's story which is why it can be shared with us. It was through stories like this that knowledge was passed down. For example from this story we now know information of the lay of the land (sand dunes) and that food can be found (the animals that Kurpany turned into).

The Mala walk ended with Kantju Gorge which was the main water source during the Mala ceremony, its sides are so steep and it would be incredible to see it when water cascades down.

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It was time to make our way the the viewing spot to watch the sunset at over Uluru. Be prepared for a lot of photos of the same rock.

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We managed to get there just before all the hoardes arrived on the larger buses and grabbed a great table. We marked our Eski full of beers as a sacred water source with our new knowledge of sand drawing and settled in to take in the view.

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We had time to kill before the Uluru started to change colours and so of course silly photos had to be taken...

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The other buses that pulled up brought out tables with white table cloths,, wine glasses and gourmet food. Very civilised! We were definitely the budget group with our tinnies and music, but we were having fun. This was also the point I managed to completely stacked it infront of everyone. Its not a trip until you trip :)

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We enjoyed another great dinner as the sun went down over Uluru. With the moon high in the sky we headed to camp for marshmallows round the campfire. We would be up really early to come back to see Uluru at sunrise...so more pics of this great monolith to come!

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Everyone managed to wake up, we had had another great night of stars and were pleased to see a few clouds around Uluru which would hopefully make the sunrise more dramatic. We set up for breakfast as its sihouette started to appear on the horizon.

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Waiting for the sunrise it got a bit chilly so Dan had to borrow my scarf to keep his legs warm

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It was a gorgeous morning and I love this pic Dan took

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All buzzing from the amazing sunrise we were keen to take on the 10km walk around the base of Uluru. It was only 7am and so we would be making the most of the cooler morning temperature before it got too hot. Before we set out Myles pointed how that there are several places on the walk where you are asked not to take photos as these are sacred areas. Theses are marked along the way.

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It was great to get up close to Uluru, is it just me or does this part look a bit like Darth Vader!

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To us these are just markings of erosion but to the Anangu they represent the activity of their ancestors during Creation Time which is known as Tjukuritja. Here is an example with a pic of number 5.

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This is Kapi Mutitijulu. Kapi means water and this is one of the most reliable sources of water at Uluru. Water sources are very sacred given their significance to survival in the desert, so we all took a quiet moment just to listen to our surroundings and take it all in.

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Animals are attracted here due to the water source and the steep sides around it make it a good place to trap animals and an ideal location to teach how to hunt. There is a small cave where the boys could hide and observe how the men would hunt kangaroo or emu that would come for a drink.

Nearby there is also the family cave and the walls are full of markings that show the stories that have been shared here.

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It took about 2 hours to complete the walk, the group had split up a bit to take it at their own pace so there were moments when Dan and I were on our own taking it all in which was a fantastic way to experience this place.

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Fortunately for us we had managed to avoid the flies for our whole trip, right up until the last 10 minutes of waiting for all the group to come together. Just from this we could tell that if you were there at a time when there were lots of flies, definitely the fly head gear would be worthwhile having, which you can get in Alice for about 10 bucks.

Next stop was the airport as half of the group needed to catch a plane from here rather than going back to Alice. After saying goodbyes and mucking around with the window pens we were off for our final stop of the trip, Stuart Wells, to check out some camels. On the way we caught up with the other tour group who had a flat tyre on the side of the road. We pulled over to help and had an impromptu game of pictionary... Must remember how useful window pens are!

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Afghan Camels were introduced to Australia in the 1800s because horses were not able to cope with the desert conditions so the camels were the solution.

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When the train and motor vehicles came to the Red Centre people stopped using the camels and 200 were just released. They thrived in this environment and there are now more camels in Australia then anywhere else in the world!! To control the population people go out and shoot camels which do not have an ear tag, we were advised this was necessary otherwise the camel population would double every 9 years. However one thing that can happen is that shooters will shoot mother camels but leave the calf, who on its own would die a slow and horrible death, so the owners of Stuart Wells have turned their land into a sanctuary where camel calves and a variety of other animals can be brought to to get treatment and help. From wild ponies that have been attacked by dingos to dingos, kangaroos and even galas that have been hit by cars no animal is turned away.

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Dan and Gizmo!

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On the way back to Alice we spotted two huge Wedge-tailed eagles tucking into some road kill. These majestic birds are the largest eagles in Australia with a wingspan of 3m...

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But even these guys can have a bad hair day!

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As we came back in to Alice we stopped for the obligatory tourist photo

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What an incredible trip!! Huge thanks must go to Myles for making it so great. At our leaving dinner when we were chowing down on peppered kangaroo wraps we found out that the other group had got yet another flat tyre and were still trying to make their way back. So glad that wasn't us!

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On our flight home the next day we finally got to see the Birdseye view of the Red Centre we had missed on the flight out.

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Back in Melbourne we had our own tyre problems, when one came off the Skybus we were on when we were on the highway!!

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The driver handled it like a pro safely steering us to the hard shoulder and miraculously no other cars got hit by the flying tyre too.

The whole trip was definitely one to remember!

Sxxx

Posted by doyledan 04:53 Archived in Australia

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