Journey to the centre
The Red Centre remains one of the heartlands of Aboriginal Australia. But today, Uluru is as much an epicentre of global tourism as it is of native culture. While my first experiences of the iconic red rock were memorable, they were also profoundly Western in character. I had a delicious meal of kangaroo pies and fine wines seated on the upper deck of a bus parked close enough to Uluru to nab great sunset photos. I had another, even posher meal in an al fresco restaurant at the top of a sand dune – a more distant view, but with the bonus of a fantastic panorama of the night sky.
While perched on my dune, a native Australian man pointed to where the Great Emu spread out in the Milky Way, punctuating his story with didgeridoo blasts. He even mentioned songlines while recounting an Aboriginal story about the Seven Sisters – represented in the heavens by the pleiades star cluster – but the late hour and the mellow ambience meant it wasn’t the moment for quizzing him.
On a series of short mid-morning walks around the base of Uluru, Lachlan, a non-native guide, took me to see rock art and to visit a waterhole. The former, he said, was used ‘by the elders to pass on knowledge to later gene rations”. The native Anangu “had survived in the semi-arid landscape thanks to an intrinsic connection with the land”.
The small waterhole would have been sacred, he added, because water was essential but also because it attracted animals the Anangu could hunt. While the aborigines have a profoundly spiritual tie with the land they’re also very utilitarian when it comes to exploiting its resources.
One of the most common motifs of the rock art, amid the animal forms and boomerangs, was a circle representing a wateringhole. These, said Lachlan, would have been important pit-stops on desert hikes. Uluru, possessing few waterholes, was likely a pilgrimage site, like Mecca or Santiago de Compostela, visited once or twice in a lifetime.