I’m walking on orange to red soil and the red-colored Uluru mountain is already rising in front of me, which I could see from the car for tens of kilometers. There is nothing around, only bushes and grass. The nearest town, Alice Springs, is about five hours away by car.
Despite the fact that the rock is on almost every postcard from Australia, there aren’t that many tourists here. Maybe it’s because it’s cold by local standards, plus it’s raining and blowing. A few tourists are here after all:
Uluru was formed about 300 million years ago. From the ground to the highest point, the mountain measures 348 meters, tourist guides inform|photo:Marcel Faltys, Czech radio
“I want to show my wife the red center of Australia. We wanted to go to the Simpson Desert, but the roads are closed due to the rains. We came by car from Sydney, it’s almost three thousand kilometers, more than thirty hours of travel. It’s a long way, but we’re enjoying it! It’s a special place,” Pram tells me from Sydney.
Rock as heritage
Uluru is also a special place for the Anang tribe, for whom the rock has been home for 30,000 years. The Anangu believe that the red colored rock in the middle of the Australian continent was created by their ancestors and they, as their descendants, are responsible for its protection.
That’s why the Australian government banned tourists from climbing four years ago, following the insistence of local communities.
“I respect the decision of the local community that they do not want Uluru to be climbed. But it would be good to look at the surrounding landscape from the top,” admits Pram. If he could, he would climb up immediately.
According to Jenana from Denmark, the ban is fine: “Uluru belongs to the indigenous people, it’s their land, so I think the Australian government made a good decision to ban tourists from the mountain.”
All the way round
Instead of climbing the rock, tourists can walk along the nature trail, which runs along the foot of Uluru and is about ten kilometers long. There are several waterfalls and lakes along the way. At one of them, I come across a group of schoolchildren standing quietly and listening to the sounds of nature.
“The guide told us to just get up quietly and think about why we’re here, what we want to get out of it. I believe it can be instructive for my students…” explains teacher Marie from Sydney.
Uluru was home to Aboriginal people as recently as the 1930s, before European Australians drove them from their land|photo:Marcel Faltys, Czech radio
Aboriginal history is a big topic in Australia and I meet many school trips along the way. Marie is here with a class of twenty children. “We travel to places that are connected to the original inhabitants. We want the children to learn about Aboriginal history and their country,” says Marie.
The energy of the place surprised her: “It’s bigger and more colorful than I expected. Full rooms.’
Drawings of the original inhabitants are preserved on the walls of the cave. The Anangu used them as tablets on which they passed down knowledge from generation to generation.|photo:Marcel Faltys, Czech radio
Other tourists are guided directly by one of the Aboriginal people and they learn about the rich history of the place. “Uluru was formed about 300 million years ago. From the ground to the highest point, the mountain measures 348 meters. But what we see is only a fraction. The rock reaches six kilometers deep underground,” he adds.
Mountain on fire
We stand with the guide in one of the caves, of which there are several hidden in the red mountain. Aborigines slept in the caves or sheltered from the rain in them. At the same time, they served as classrooms.
Drawings of animals, plants or dancing people have been preserved on the walls. The Anangu used the walls of the cave as blackboards on which they drew with ash or animal fat and passed down knowledge from generation to generation.
But Uluru is mainly known to tourists for its beautiful sunsets. Today, however, it is under a cloud and the guide tries to encourage visitors who have traveled thousands of kilometers even within Australia:
“The best sunsets are on days like today when it’s cloudy and the sun is hidden. But it can peek out unexpectedly, and then the rock is so unbelievably red that it doesn’t even look real.”
The energy of the place is almost palpable|photo:Marcel Faltys, Czech radio
The memory of generations
Even though things don’t look promising with the sunset today, it doesn’t dampen the spirits of the tourists.
“When you stand here, you are moved. People here were able to adapt to the environment and live in harmony with it. There’s a special energy when you know that this rock was a home for people,” says Alicia from Spain.
Uluru was still home to the Aboriginal people in the 1930s, before European Australians drove them from their land. They renamed Uluru Ayers Rock in honor of the Prime Minister of South Australia.
Although the rock is now called Uluru again and the federal government has symbolically returned the territory to the original peoples, the Anangu no longer live here.