Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Uluru frequently unanswered questions

by Roy Broff


Swim between the flags!

Beauty, bans, fines, nonsense & superstition... National or Aboriginal park? Aboriginal culture ? the invisible side.... Is it really worth a visit?

After nearly 2 decades of listening to other people's contradicting stories I finally decided to hop on the car (alternative options such as fly + car hire + .... seemed well outside of my budget) and find out what it really is.

Like many others I happened to live on the east coast and had to allow for 1 week driving (return, driving alone), 3 drums of petrol and topped-up credit card. The roads are OK and the drive was fun. The desert is boring and monotonous but at least easy to steer ... Please remember ? stay safe! Just hundred meters from the road, hidden behind the bushes we found several stolen & torched cars! The Wolf Creek film is a grim warning to those who forget about the dark side of our convict origins...

If you can, time your arrival for the sunset (if you're lucky to get a good one) ? the rock is really impressive in red!

$25 gets you 3 days access to the park, and you follow the crowds into the stylish cultural centre (I didn't forget about the information centre ? there is none...) Besides some astronomically priced souvenirs/aboriginal art, boomerangs & the likes, the rest of the building is devoted to stories. Unless you are expert stone-age historian it is very unlikely that you'll get any sense or wisdom out, nor you'll be able to read, memorize or pronounce any of the names...

The best thing about the centre is that it has TOILETS (please note - they are of non-aboriginal origin)! You may laugh at me, but they are the only ones in the park (except for the Olga's ones which are about 40 km away). If you think that you can do it in the bush (after several hours walking or climbing) ? think twice! The walks are heavily patrolled by an army of rangers, not to mention the crowds of other tourists desperately looking for the same thing! Before you decide to hop over the fence and disobey the hundreds of warning signs at least make sure that the site is not sacred (most of them are) and not already an excrement minefield...

True to his explorer genes my son happily ignored the signs and climbed on one of the so called sacred sites ? a rock feature about 200 m above the track. After a while he came back laughing... He discovered some mysterious artifacts: a broken beer bottle, used condom & bikini... No carbon dating was necessary.

If you are serious law-obeying tourist ? please leave your CAMERA in the car (never leave any valuables anywhere else in Aus.). Huge areas of the rock are declared sacred and penalties for photographing such areas ($5000 or 6000) can make you broke in no time.

The same rule shall apply to your climbing BOOTS ? the climb to the top is seriously discouraged and frequently banned for a range of often ridiculous excuses/conditions (e.g. high winds or temperatures at the summit where there is obviously no anemometer or even a simple thermometer). Failure to comply with the ban shall get you another $5500 fine... SAFETY is very convenient excuse, although the climb to the top is not a big deal for any fit person (I'm 53 and did it "hands-free" ? this is no use of hands or chain). Please note ? this is only so during the (southern) winter months ? I wouldn't advice anyone to go there any other time!

If you're lucky to win the obstacle race and make it to the top ? the Olga's views aren't too bad and there is a lot to explore off the marked path. We spent a whole day discovering heaps of interesting plants, herbs, animals, birds, bugs, holes, mini-caves, views, waterholes, crevices, rocks, etc. Believe it or not my son swam into some of the waterholes ? depths can be more than 2 m. but the water is quite cold!

If you take your binoculars/zoom lenses and go to the far end you may see some real/contemporary aboriginal culture not mentioned in the cultural centre or even marked on the tourist map. This is Mutitjulu ? the aboriginal settlement right next to the rock. Do not waste your time trying to see it any closer ? tourists are not allowed (another $1000 fine). If you think you may get a permit ? prepare yourself for a fair bit of writing, 4-6 weeks waiting and 99+% chance of SORRY answer... This seems to be the modern Australian version of apartheid...
The glamorized aboriginal culture described in the cultural centre and so many other places around this country doesn't seem to fit the reality we are not allowed to see just a few kilometers away...

So, what are our options?

Have a 3 hour walk around the base (it is not bad but there isn't much else to do now) and then get back home trying to work out why the aboriginal culture or this park never stepped out of the stone age? (think of superstition and isolation)

Or make a real National (as opposed to the current aboriginal) park & attraction where millions of people from all over the world can worship &/or enjoy whatever they like - nature, Australian (aboriginal & other) culture, lifestyle and have serious fun.
How about removing all ridiculous signs & bans, allowing free access, camping, hiking, photography and so much else. Building tourist facilities such as chair lift or tube (so everyone can get on the top), toilets, shades & shelters, climbing, abseiling, hang & paragliding sites, mountain/BMX bike tracks, water slide, roller coaster / toboggan rides, kid's playground, mini/desert open range zoo, etc. None of these shall spoil the natural beauty or endanger the rock in any way (well, not more than most other national parks) Would such option bring much more visitors & joy, and much less disappointment? How good such modern park would be for our struggling tourist industry?

What you think?

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