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When I visited Australia a few years ago, I was excited to take a trip to Uluru, a 500-million-year-old sandstone wonder in the middle of the country. Uluru, the Aboriginal name, is also known as Ayers Rock, and is considered a sacred Aboriginal site. Aboriginals have populated the area for at least 30,000 years and associate the rock with ancient legends and rituals. Once you stand next to it, it’s not hard to understand why.

This overhead view is from the Ayers Rock Resort, which is the only place to stay in the area, offering lodgings that range from campgrounds to luxurious retreats.

My sister and I flew from Sydney to Alice Springs, then spent a day exploring the gorges and valleys of the West MacDonnell Range. The arid landscape, with its rough terrain and unexpected watering holes, is stunning.

The next day, we drove 4-1/2 hours to the Rock. Do not adjust your screen. The earth is a deep sienna red. The Red Centre is the heart of Outback Australia.

Experiencing Uluru is hard to explain. It’s overwhelming. It gave me goosebumps. It’s so deeply foreign in its massive size, its pitted, ancient surface, the myriad caves disappearing into its depths, its almost incomprehensible age. The surface has been worn smooth by millions of years of rain. It seems to have landed upon the earth from another planet, yet 90 percent of it is underground.

See those trees at the base of the rock? Those are big trees, not little shrubs. The rock is almost 350 meters high.

We visited the afternoon of our arrival, then returned the next morning at sunrise to view its legendary red glow.

We walked the 9 km track around the base, skirting the sacred sites off limits to tourist photography, trying to take in the details of this beautiful place. Later, I recorded our walk in my sketchbook.

Tourists were few at this early hour, and we often had the track to ourselves. I don’t know if it was the light, the location or the ancient spirits, but some photos from that day were especially eerie.

After our trek, we visited the Walkatjara Art Gallery in the Cultural Center. I had searched for authentic Aboriginal art on our trip without satisfying results, but here I found the mother lode, gorgeous work sold by the local Mutitjulu Community artists who owned the gallery. My catch: a beautiful original sculpture of a turkey, constructed out of wire, dried grasses, turkey feathers and red yarn, a fantastic abstract concoction. She’s about 40 inches long. Here’s her beautiful head.

Strangely, I had no problem getting her through U.S. customs, despite the native grasses and feathers.

The Aboriginals have a strong tribal culture of story telling and art, their spirituality based on a close relationship between humans and the land. They believe that their ancestors rose from below the earth to form animals, bodies of water, rock formations  and the sky. They do not place humans apart from or above nature. Their art is stunning. I’ll be posting more about Aboriginal art in the future.

If you’d like to visit, here’s the site for Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, where Uluru is located.

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