You would have to be living under a pretty big rock, (Did you like like that? See what I did there?) not to know that there is some controversy these days around climbing Australia’s most iconic attraction.
Since the 1940’s “The Rock” has been a worldwide destination and until only recently, climbing it was marketed as the thing to do, the whole point of visiting it. Well known as being a very difficult climb, it has attracted visitors from far and wide to come and “conquer” it.
These days it is very different. Whilst you are still allowed to climb it, it is not encouraged, in fact, it is beginning to err on the side of being frowned upon, socially taboo if you like. (The badges and stubby coolers available in the souvenir shop now state ” I didn’t Climb Uluru”)
You would be hard pressed not to take two steps once inside the national park without being presented with sometimes subtle, sometimes downright confronting (37 people have died climbing Uluru) information attempting to give you a different reason for visiting other then trampling over the top of it.
Let me try and give you an insight into the journey I have taken over the last few days at Uluru.
I am a sceptic, I’m more a believer of the sciences then the spiritual so when people say things like “there is something magical/mystical about that place” or, “I took a piece of it home when I visited and we had 3 flat tyres and a breakdown on the way home, nothing but bad luck since I took that piece home” I smile and nod and walk away, discreetly calling the people with the nice white jackets with one sleeve to come pick them up.
I came to Uluru to do one thing, test some more of my photography skills and try and get a keeper that would go straight to the pool room. Jack was interested in climbing it, so I also figured if he didn’t chicken out once we got here, it would be a fun thing to do with my little man.
On the first sighting, approx 40klms out from Yulara (the campground/resort you have to stay in, still 20klms from the rock itself) I was impressed. As we got closer it became apparent just how big it is. I guess growing up in Australia I have seen so many photos of it, I was probably a bit desensitised. We pulled in, set up right on dusk, and walked up a little hill to a look out and watched the sunset on the rock. Again, I was impressed.
The next day we went into the park, and with every kilometre closer, it simply got bigger and bigger until we were at the cultural centre (this is where every piece of information about the park recommends you begin, to the point that there is actually nothing giving clear directions on how to even get to the rock itself) This pretty much ensures that any first timers are almost guaranteed to see the cultural centre before the rock itself.
Jess and I have travelled a bit, we have walked through our fair share of “interpretation centres” good and bad. This would be the best I have seen. It was so natural, so symbiotic, so unobtrusive inside and out that it was easy to assimilate into the surroundings, become immersed.
The overwhelming message here is about respecting the traditional owners “Tjukurpa” or Law. I’ll try not to offend here, but in the interest of documenting my journey, this will be honest. My experiences (and therefore opinion) thus far with the Aboriginal people has not been positive. Throw a word like “Tjukurpa” at me and it might as well be a made up word the B(ig)F(reindly)G(iant) uses. I had always dismissed all this “frogscollop” about rainbow serpents creating river systems and Goanna men dying on the coast line creating the dividing range as complete bollocks.
This cultural centre, in these surroundings, done so naturally, depicted the aboriginal stories that would be told to their children, boys preparing to become men specifically, stories relating to Uluru in such a way that I began to understand them, believe them? Each of the stories outlined a character or group of characters, a problem or conflict, a solution or result, and the underlying message was about right and wrong, cause and effect, morals by which to live by, all of which were no different to the lessons I was taught as a child, and that I attempt to instil in my children…… so was it really all frogscollop? As with everything we encounter that is unknown, we try to relate it to something we do know, we are simple beings…. I began to think about our bible (let’s just stick with general Christianity for the moment). Did some bloke with a wicked beard really build a boat big enough to fit two of every animal and then go on a round the world cruise for 40 days and nights as the planet turned completely aqueous?
So as the stories continued throughout the centre, solidifying the understanding of how sacred Uluru is, tossing in a bunch of good ole fashioned science (the fact that Uluru really is a giant water catchment in an otherwise arid landscape, with many waterholes, sustaining life, plants and animals as well as shelters that so perfectly protect their inhabitants from the elements) my respect for “The Rock” and how for at least 50,000 years it had supported life, made me wonder…… there really is a hell of a lot more to this place then simply rocking up in my air conditioned 4wd, lacing up my “Made in Bangladesh” Nike’s and trampling my way up the side of an equivalent 95 story building.
So, this brings me back to my original question, to climb or not to climb…..
Well….. Jack and I climbed Uluru, and you want to know why? If this place has been the life blood of generations of the oldest living human race on the planet, a place of learning, a place where boys became men, then “conquering it” with my little man, teaching him along the way there is a time to talk and a time to be silent and concentrate, when it gets hard….just keep going, nothing great is easy, and a little science along the way (discussing the erosion, formation of the grooves, the geological make up) then the way I see it, Uluru has and will continue to play it’s role today, and for many more in the future.
By the way, call in the white coats with one sleeve, there IS something rather special about this place.