Monday 8 April 2013

The Red Rock

Here's my confession.  Sometime during the five-hour drive from Alice Springs to Uluru, I became thoroughly grumpy.  I decided that the rock was probably overrated - I mean, it was just a rock, right?  (It's true that my grumpiness may have had something to do with lack of sleep, but I was still very disinclined to be impressed by anything.)  And my first sighting did nothing to disspell that thought: yep, there it is, a big red rock in the middle of lots of red desert and scrub.

It is in fact an inselberg, an isolated sandstone rock formation standing in the middle of a flat plain.  Its fame comes not from its height (it's not particularly high - 348m) but from the fact that it is, literally, monolithic.

Still, picture me looking out the bus window, unimpressed.  And then, THEN, we got off the bus and up close and personal.  Despite the 40 degree heat, this is when I started to understand why the traditional owners refer to Uluru as a living thing.  Because it isn't just a big hunk of rock - it's full of life.  And it isn't just monolithic - all its nooks and crannies and crack and crevices are full of interest and colour and delight.

From the long black tunnels carved by rainwater (which, during the rainy season, is supposed to pour down the rock in sheets),

to the cave paintings adorning its multiple surfaces,

Uluru has many stories to share.  One of my favourite of all the things I learned was that the rock art is virtually undatable because it has been continually added to over hundreds of years.

One of the most surprising things about this legendary red rock is that it's actually quite green, in places.

Tjukurpa is what the traditional Anangu owners call the creation period, but it also refers to the spiritual and cultural laws they use to guide their lives.  One of the creation stories relates to Kuniya, the sand python, who did a ritual dance across the rock.  You can see her eye at the top of the ridge here, and her body moving across the rock.

Another story recounts how Uluru was formed by two mischievous boys who were playing in the mud.    First they piled it high (forming the rock) and then they climbed on it.  If you look carefully, you can see a foot- and a handprint in the photo below.

I've subsequently noticed that the patch of blue in this next photo looks like a small boy doubled over while he crows with laughter ...

One story I had heard about Uluru before I visited is that the rock changes colour throughout the day.  This proved not to be a myth - and I was so enchanted by the different colours that I regretted I wasn't staying over so I could see the sunrise the next morning.  But still, the journey proved to be anything by disappointing.  I think the problem with Uluru is that words don't really do it justice; I'm not sure if photographs really do either.  But I'm going to finish with three, taken at different times during the day.

Oh, wait - one more thing.  It's Ul-ur-ooo (BIG emphasis on the final syllable) or Oo-lu-roo (emphasis on first and last syllables).  Any other attempt at pronunciation rendered me unintelligible to Australian listeners.

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