Our destination was, of course, Ayers Rock, or Uluru, as it is now more commonly known. Perhaps because this was where I first fell in love with the Red Centre, it seemed to be more wonderful to me than it might be to others. Still, it is imposing–far more imposing than you would guess from most photographs, which are usually taken from miles away, to take in the whole rock.
My heart sang as I saw it again. I was only a few weeks away from the end of that first, grand, six-month trip, and so I was moved by more than just the sight of the rock. My love for Australia, and the knowledge that I would soon be leaving, seemed to weigh more heavily on my here.
However, there was more rejoicing than sorrow. I was delighted to see the Rock again. Back then, during that first trip to Australia, we could still climb it. No one is actually forbidden to climb it now, but climbing is now discouraged. There are many reasons, many of them tied up with Aboriginal beliefs about Uluru, but many also tied up in people’s bad behavior.
Sadly, a lot of people over the years have shown, how shall we say it, a lack of sense. People wandering off the designated path or climbing while not adequately fit have increased the number of deaths on the Rock to more than 30. Another major issue is people who feel that it is appropriate to relieve themselves when they reach the top of the rock. Aside from considerations regarding what defecating on the Rock says to the traditional owners, it has created a serious health problem, as E.coli levels have increased in the watering holes around the rock, as rain washes poop down the sides of the imposing monolith. The water is often unfit for humans or animals to drink–and in a land that relies heavily on every water source, that is a big problem.
Unfortunately, the actions of some mean The Climb will no longer be one of the goals to be pursued when visiting the Red Centre. Before long, it is likely that it will not simply be discouraged, but will be illegal. So if you read of my climb in my book, know that it predates these recent concerns — and that I showed the utmost respect to the Rock when I did climb.
There is still the goal of walking around Uluru, a walk of about six miles, with many fascinating things to see, especially if you have a good guide book and can recognize features from Aboriginal stories. The images below show a few sights I saw as I circled the Rock that last time. Of course, the presence of so much water was remarkable, because of the recent rains. But “The Brain,” shown at right, can be seen whenever you visit. As much as it looks like a skull/brain to us, it is Ngoru to the Aborigines, the ritual scars on a young man’s chest.