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Journey to the Red Centre

Friday 7th of August 2015

sunny 28 °C

We were certainly up early this morning, but perhaps not feeling quite so bright. We knew we were due to be picked up from the hotel at about 6am so wanted to be up an hour before. We needed to leave our large rucksacks at the hotel and only take small packs with us to Uluru, so we had to do a bit of shunting stuff around in order to make sure we had the right things with us. My walking boots were needed on my feet for only the second time since we had come away so that freed up a bit of space in my day pack. The minibus arrived spot on the agreed time and Bez, our guide for the next three days, introduced himself. There were already quite a number of people on board and we were told that we would be picking up a few more in Uluru. We were soon on our way and had about an hour or more drive before our first stop. This was at Mt. Ebenezer's Roadhouse which is owned by the Imanpa Aboriginal People and is on on a camel farm.

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The owner/ manager has won numerous trophies for camel racing all of which are proudly displayed in the roadhouse. There would have been time to have a quick ride round the paddock on the back of a camel had we wanted to, but no one seemed inclined to take that offer up. Instead we settled for a bacon sandwich and a cup of coffee! The roads in Australia are amazingly straight with very little traffic, so much so that one can often quite safely stand in the middle of the highway happily taking photographs. At this point we were still impressed by these roads particularly the major ones that we would be travelling on today such as the Stuart and the Lassiter Highways.

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I was sitting next to really nice French/ Dutch young woman who'd had spent some months in Australia after studying for three years at a Swedish University. She spoke impeccable English as well as a number of other languages and she was very easy to chat to. Half an hour or so up the road we stopped to collect firewood. It came as a bit of a surprise that this fell to us, but we were to learn quite quickly that there was quite a lot of 'do it yourself' on their trip. The wood was all dead and also quite charred so it was relatively easy to break branches off.

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Bez was quite fussy about what he wanted, insisting that it was trimmed of spindly branches and that it was spread out on the ground rather than heaped in a pike. I managed to scrape my leg at one point but a couple of French guys had some antiseptic liquid that they kindly dripped onto it. Once we had collected enough wood we all helped Bez load it onto the top of the bus all ready for offloading when we got to camp. We continued to make our way to our camp near to Uluru, stopping to pick up a Korean guy from the airport and an Indonesian/ Dutch family up from one of the Uluru resorts. Once we arrived at camp we were quickly shown around, firewood was unloaded and then we sat down on stools and introduced ourselves whilst eating some cheese and ham wraps that had been preprepared for our lunch.

There was to be no sitting around for long and within half an hour or so we were off on the road again to make the short drive into the Uluru National Park. Our first stop was at the Cultural Centre which was at one of the local Aboriginal sacred sites which meant that we were not allowed to take any photographs inside or in the immediate area of the centre. It was interesting looking at some of the artefacts and also hearing a bit more about the Aboriginal culture. After we had finished there we drove to the base of Uluru to a place called the Mutitjulu Cave where there was some Aboriginal art painted on the walls. Bez explained how the elders would teach the children about the stories of their culture, how to read the signs that would indicate where food or water could be found.

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A couple of times while we were in the red centre we were told one of the golden rules relating to catching animals, particularly Kangaroo was that you never went to a water hole and killed the animals when they came in, to do so would mean that they wouldn't return there. Rather you would only kill an animal that was weak or old and was left there after the others had left. That way you were more likely to sustain your food source and protect the future of the wildlife. We were to learn how important it is for Aboriginal people to maintain the balance of the land. No one owns it, they are merely custodians, something exploited by the white settlers who made the convenient assumption that if the Aboriginals didn't own the land then it was theirs for the taking. We then walked the short distance to the nearby waterhole, said by the Aboriginals to be protected by the spirit of Wanapi (a water snake) a joining of the spirits of Minyma Kuniya and her nephew who was killed by a poisonous snake. For this reason the water hole is considered sacred and must not be swum in, polluted or damaged in any way.

Most of us then went back to the minibus, but three people decided to do a longer walk around about two thirds of the base of Uluru. So it was agreed that we would pick them up at our next stop. The rest of us where then driven part way round the rock. We walked to another beautiful waterhole at Kantju Gorge and then went a short distance along the base of Uluru looking at some caves and further paintings as we went.

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It was very confusing as to where we could and couldn't take photographs. Generally there were signs explaining this but on our way back it was less clear and there was one place where I was taking a picture not aware that a short distance in front of me, pointing the other way, was a sign prohibiting photography. There happened to be a park ranger nearby who told me off and pointed angrily at the sign which I though was a little unfair as I couldn't see this from where I was. There was nothing I could do about it at that stage, but feeling a little hurt we carried on. The place we had arranged to meet Bez was the part of Uluru where some people are still climbing to the top. There is a chain to help people up the steepest part which has been there for a number of decades. These days people are strongly discouraged from doing so, and there are clear signs to that effect.

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They also point out how dangerous the climb can be. Despite this the Dutch family from our group walked part way up with their children which I thought quite disrespectful given what we had been told. I don't know whether it was for their benefit but when they came down and we were back on the minibus Bez spoke for a while about the number of people who die climbing Uluru, usually several each year. It surprised me that this didn't put people off, even if the cultural insensitivity didn't. I was left hoping that they stop people climbing altogether very soon, but this decision is up to the custodians of the rock, a group made up of four aboriginal men, four women, and four white people. I got the sense that this change is coming but that it is felt that politically the approach should be through social pressure rather than legislation.

The overall impression of Uluru is that it has quite a magical feel about it, that there is something almost spiritual about the place. It is also physically and geographically a very remarkable place and the colours of the rock contrasted against the deep blue if the sky and the green of the winter vegetation all makes for a very dramatic visual place.

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From the base of Uluru we drove to a place specially designated for watching the setting sun reflected on the rock. We helped Bez set up a table with some nibbles and bottles of 'champagne' and as we ate and drank we watched the shadows lengthen and the colours of Uluru change from deep orange, to glowing vibrant red to a dull rust colour.

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Once the sun had set behind us we packed up and returned to our camp. Bez told us what was needed in terms of cooking our stir fry and got a number of 'volunteers' to get this underway. There were vegetables to be prepped and the table to be laid and fortunately nearly everyone mucked in and did their bit. The food was simple but good to eat. I was catered for slightly separately because of my garlic intolerance and there was also a girl from the UK who was a vegetarian. There was fruit to follow and then the washing and drying up to be done and this took a little longer as we had to boil kettles in order to get hot water. Once all the clearing up was finished, we needed to get our swags laid out round the camp fire Bez had lit earlier, and showers to have before we got tucked up inside our sleeping bags and swags. It was very chilly by the time we went to bed, probably around -1, so in order to keep warm I wore t-shirt and leggings, a fleece and had a jumper handy with Kathy's hand knitted socks to keep my feet warm. My shoulders felt a bit cold so I made sure I was tucked into my sleeping bag as far as I could get. The swag also had a canvass flap that could be pulled over the face but I didn't much fancy that. There was some time to look up and admire the stars before falling asleep, aware that we would be needing to get up just after five the next morning.

Posted by Gill's Travels 01:24 Archived in Australia Tagged uluru australia aboriginal

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