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Sunday, March 1: Day 314 – Uluru

We stayed at the Atura Adelaide Hotel. It had the coolest decor and design. When you walked in, it looked like reservation desk at a restaurant.

It was a very open setup. Here is the restaurant right next to reception.

We were even able to play a round of pool while viewing arrival and departure times. By the way, Rob won easily.

Here is the bar area with big screens visible showing movies and sporting events to the restaurant and pool table area.

The decor was sleek, urban and modern. Here is the hallway to our room with exposed ductwork.

Our room was long with the bed placed under the windows.

I thought that this was an odd placement of upholstered chairs, but hey, one can watch the airplanes landing.

This was the quickest trip to the airport as we left out the sliding doors of the restaurant right onto the airport escalator.

Our flight landed in Alice Springs, and we were surprised to see familiar faces. Christine and Tony from the UK were on The Ghan with us from Darwin to Alice Springs. They had planned to fly out of Alice Springs to spend a much anticipated day at Uluru. However, our late train arrived after their scheduled flight had departed. There was no Internet in the outback on the train, and their travel agent in the UK was closed overnight. The airplane engine on the next flight would not start, so their flight was cancelled yet again the following day. The airport was deserted.

They were on our flight to Uluru en route to Cairns, their next stop. They were only able to see Uluru from the airplane. How sad! Their flight back to the UK was on Friday the 13th! YIKES! Note: allow plenty of time around important events and do your own bookings.

We arrived in Uluru where there was a hotel transfer bus waiting for us. We learned that one liter of water per hour of activity is required. Fortunately, the water is drinkable.

What’s It All About, Alfie?

Palya (pronounced pahl-yah) means hello, goodbye/thank you/welcome. It’s kind of like Aloha!

Our informative guide is named Alfie. Uluru has the emphasis on the “ru” like kangaroo.

Uluru is home to the Anangu people consisting of three families called mobs. They have been here around 40,000 years. Anangu means people of the western dessert.

Uluru is a gathering place and a ceremonial place. There is a story called Mala the serpent. The story starts in western Australia with the head and Uluru is the body with the tail lying elsewhere. The local families are direct descendants of the great ancestral caretakers.

Nearby Kata Tjuta means “many heads” and consists of 36 domes. It represents the elder men and is culturally sensitive.

Tjukurpa (pronounced chook-orr-pa) is a code of conduct which involves religious, political and familial conduct. Tjukurpa stories were all rock art paintings.

The Anangu people have stories about creation time which have been told and painted onto the rocks. We don’t know much about these stories as the more sacred they are, the more secret they are.

In 1860 John McDouall Stuart was the first to travel successfully through the center of Australia. His route was used to plot the overland telegraph. Before this time news for one end to the other end was by ship. He did not use a compass but established a route from waterhole to waterhole. He used horses and even brought a boat.

Earnest Giles sighted the Uluru and the domes of Kata Tjuta in the distance which were originally called The Olgas named for the Queen of Wurtemberg. He headed west from Alice Springs during the summer, crossing the giant salt lake which he named Amadeus after the Spanish king. However, the hooves of heavy horses sunk into the salt lake, and he turned back to Alice Springs.

The next year William Gosse used Afghan cameleers in the winter and successfully reached Uluru which he named Ayers Rock honoring the chief secretary of South Australia, his chief benefactor. Gosse was the first European who encountered central aboriginals.

Uluru is 1,141 feet high and Kata Tjuta is 1,791 feet high. These are like icebergs in that they continue over 3 miles into the ground. Rock icebergs are called inselberg which is a German word.

The Great Depression of 1929 hit Australia hard. They were trying to earn money. There was a bounty on dingo dogs since they were killing the sheep and cattle that had been brought in to graze on the land. One could collect money for turning in a skull. The white people who tried this were called doggers.

The white people were bad at tracking and had no knowledge of survival skills. The pastoralists started to “hire” the Anangu as they were good trackers. They had no use for money. They were “paid” with clothing, axes and knives. Non-traditional foods were introduced which adversely affected their diet which previously consisted of seeds, fruits, vegetables, and meat. These foods, or more correctly drugs, were coffee, tea, sugar, and alcohol.

In the 1930s, the Aboriginals were pushed out of their native land near Uluru onto reserves out of this area.

Next came well-meaning but wrong in their Western approach missionaries. By 1939, the first time that the Pitjantjatjara language had been written down was translating the Bible.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, tourism took off due to advertising. The tourists came by car or vans. They would erect their tents right next to Uluru. The first resort was built on the east side.

There were access roads and climbing on top. Lodges and campgrounds were built inside the park. An airstrip was built on the flat area at the northern base of Uluru. To keep the dirt down, they would “wet” down the airstrip with diesel many times a day. The land is still trying to recover from this practice. Also, so much activity at the base sped up erosion.

The Anangu voiced concern of environmental impact and desecration of the sensitive sacred site.

In the 1950’s one third of the park was destroyed by fire, and the resort was moved 14 miles from Uluru.

In the 1960’s Anangu were discouraged from traveling to Uluru. However, they kept organizing ceremonies. They became more mobile. They started to fight for land rights.

In 1966 two hundred Garringi indigenous stock workers at a cattle station in the Northern Territory walked off the job. It was called the Wave Hill Walk Off. The cattle station thought that they wanted better working conditions, but they wanted their land back. This inspired other indigenous people throughout Australia.

Aboriginals were recognized as human until 1967 and not counted in national censuses before that time.

In 1976 there were two huge fires that destroyed 75% of the park. This is also the year of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act which recognized original ownership, but only if you could prove ownership of the land.

This was no easy task as Aboriginals are an observing and listening culture. They have no written language or documents. This made it difficult if not impossible to prove. By 1979 land claims continued with 104 traditional land owners submitted for Uluru. Kata Tjuta had 57 traditional land owners. And some lands were determined as crown land public belonging to the Australian government.

In 1980 the town of Yulara was born. This new town farther from Uluru is where the people live, and there are police and doctors. We are sure that they stock antisera for many of the poisonous animals found in the Australian desert.

It took ten years but there was Hand Back Day, so on Oct 26, 1985 the land was returned to the traditional land owner. This was also the same day, they were required to lease back the land for 99 years.

October 26 is celebrated each year. It is no wonder that access to climb Uluru has been discontinued this year on October 26.

Today a Parks Land Council is made up of eight Anangu indigenous people with their traditions and environmental knowledge and eight National Park personnel with their technology and maps. Jointly, they manage the park.

Fire

Fire is important to seed dispersal of many plants in central Australia. The Anangu people have known this for thousands of years. However, the Europeans did not understand how to have controlled cold burns.

If one could draw a patchwork, one out of ten squares are burned each year in order to maintain a healthy ecosystem.

The first thing that happens after a burn is the rain. Then fresh new shoots of grass. Then the insects come, followed by the small mammals. Burns are only done in the winter months when the small animals are under the ground. The grass called spinifex makes the fire burn easily.

The low slow burn takes into account the wind direction. One side is burned like firebreak in order to stop the fire from burning out of control.

Today, the Ananu have been brought back as the traditional owners of this land and the ruling board is made up of equal numbers of Ananu and the National Park Service.

Australian Animals

The wild dog called dingo can be domesticated if one raises them from a puppy. The term two dog night and three dog night applies as these puppies are good heating blankets for the children and the elderly.

There are three types of mammals: monotremes, marsupials, and the largest group, placental mammals. Monotremes are mammals that lay eggs. The only monotremes that are alive today are the spiny anteater, or echidna, and the platypus. All three types are found only on this continent.

The echidna has no teeth. It has two grinding plates that move one against the other. The echidna has strong claws for digging in the dirt. She has a backward facing pouch to avoid the dirt getting in her pouch. Her spikes are dangerous and there is no antivenom.

Puggle is a baby echidna. It breaks out of its shell and moves into the pouch. There is no teat, but only a bare spot in the pouch that secretes milk.

Aves are birds that fly. An emu is a flightless bird. It used to have feathers but now has plume. Emu is not the traditional name.

Someone put a GoPro on an emu. His masculine legs can give him a speed of 37 miles/hour.

If a human disturbs the nest, he can be disemboweled by the emu.

The female lays eggs and then runs off and the male looks after the eggs and young emus. A male spends one third of his life looking after eggs.

The emu and kangaroo are on the coat of arms of Australia because these Australian animals cannot retreat or go back.

A kangaroo has large ears for heat to escape. He licks his forearms so that the blood vessels will come to the surface and cool him off. It is his personal air conditioning.

Many people view the kangaroo as a boxer, but he is better described as a kick boxer. He can be seen at dawn and dusk. He can travel at a speed of 37 miles/hour. He has an 26-foot vertical and 10-foot horizontal hop.

It isn’t unusual for a kangaroo to have three children in her care. One under foot, one in the pouch and a developing embryo. She can pause her pregnancy up to two years based on water and climate conditions. The fat of a kangaroo is in the tail. It can break the leg of a dog with its tail.

The perentie is source of food for the local indigenous people as are its eggs. This large lizard has sharp teeth and will bite its prey. There are dangerous bacteria in its teeth as the perentie eats rotting flesh. Also, his mouth has an anticoagulant venom. He doesn’t need to hurry to find the prey. They will die of infection.

Butcherbird

They get their name from their habit of impaling captured prey on a thorn, tree fork, or crevice. This “larder” is used to support the victim while it is being eaten, to store prey for later consumption, or to attract mates. They line up their victims like a butcher shop display.

Long-nosed lizard known locally as the tata lizard

This lizard is very well camouflaged. Can you find him?

He poses and allows you to get very close.

Then he runs away on his hind legs, it looks like he is waving goodbye.

Did you know that there are legless lizards which begs the question: What us the difference between a legless lizard and a snake?


Digeridoo

The Digeridoo is an Aboriginal instrument originally fashioned out of bamboo and more recently eucalyptus. It is in the key of F sharp.

There is no gender restriction. One must just respect the culture. It is difficult to learn. So many people buy them and never learn to play them properly. It is known as least played instrument in the world.

It resembles throat singing and the breathing used while swimming the butterfly. The breath is the rhythm and the sound comes later. Rob didn’t get to play one but that is probably ok due to coronavirus concerns and the fact that he is wearing a fly net!!

If one turns the digeridoo around and listen to the bottom end it sounds like a seashell.

Here is recommended film about preserving the age of the digeridoo.
Westwind: Djalu’s Legacy tells the story of Djalu Gurruwiwi, an aging Yolgnu elder who is running out of time to pass on the Yidaki (didgeridoo) songlines entrusted to him – his clan’s knowledge, culture and country.

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