Uluru (or Ayers Rock), the gigantic sandstone monolith in the heart of Australia's Outback which is sacred to indigenous Australians, is clearly recognizable from a distance of 20 miles or more.
The colossal red mass rises so unerringly, so majestically and so alone from the surrounding flat plain, that once you stand in front of it, the impact of its five-mile perimeter is one of overwhelming awe.
“Some of the things that tourists tend to do, like climbing the Rock, upset the local population,” says one of the park rangers the next day. “It’s very difficult to maintain a reasonable balance between the interests of the locals, who live here, and the visitors, who just pass through, because there are so many of them.”
Long rows of tourists still climb Uluru, day after day, despite the local elders’ belief that clambering over Uluru is tantamount to raping a sacred and all-important place in their mythology. They have nicknamed the daily procession of climbers: “Human ants.” But there are also plenty of visitors who do pay respect to the sacral aspects of the landscape, listening to explanations of the guides about Uluru during the various tours at ground level, without scaling the mountain at all. The number of visitors who climb has dropped from three-quarters in 1990 to about a third today.
In so doing, those being respectful are introduced to the fascinating thoughts and ideas behind the Aboriginal belief system and the interwoven relationship between man and nature that is so central to their philosophy. These nomads lived a simple life as hunter-gatherers, yet they developed a complex social system and a highly expressive and captivating religion – feats which were ignored or underestimated by those who rode roughshod over their world. Uluru remains an obviously impressive geological monument, dating back to the days when the earth was still ‘searching’ for its present form.
That evening hundreds of Outback tourists witness the natural light show of the last sun rays playing on the rock. The solar performance doesn’t take long, but the rock changes in a few minutes from a pale blueish grey, through pinkish to a deep red, like a full-blooded glass of beautiful wine, while the last light colors the grass at its feet a golden yellow.
It is fascinating to realize that this gigantic rock was once hidden under a towering range of mountains that has since been pulverized. This unique land jewel did not surface before untamed tectonic forces pushed it into daylight from its hiding place under the earth’s crust. Secretly, I hope that the same happy future may await the philosophical foundations of the Aborigines.
Then, darkness falls. That night, the stars flicker more powerfully than before. I feel strangely moved. Maybe Uluru has told me its wisdom without the need for words.
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