History of Uluru (Ayers Rock)

Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is 9.4km if you walk around it, and about 345 metres high if you climb it (and is thought to be the tip of a mountain which extends 2 -6 km below the surface).  It's 3.6km long, 2km wide, and is roughly oval in shape.  It's made of arkosic sandstone, and is renowned for the way it changes colour in the light and is particularly spectacular at sunrise and sunset.

Uluru is located in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park about 465 km to the south-west of Alice Springs in Northern Territory, Australia. The Park is 132,566 hectares in size and is World Heritage listed.

Uluru is the homeland of the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people (also known as Anangu) and was returned to their care and ownership in 1985. The area contains carvings and paintings by Aboriginal people and is also the location of a number of sacred sites which are closed to the public.

Uluru was named "Ayers Rock" by European explorer William Gosse who sighted it in July 1873. It was named by him for the South Australian premier of the time, Sir Henry Ayers.  In 1995 the name of the National Park was changed from Ayers Rock-Mount Olga National Park to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to acknowledge Anangu ownership and their relationship with the area.

In the language of the local Aborigines 'Uluru' is simply a place name which is applied to both the rock and the waterhole on top of the rock. 'Yulara', the resort located 21 km from the base of the rock, means 'crying' or 'weeping' (which is what happens when most people see their accommodation bill) in the language of the local Pitjantjatjara and Yunkunytjatjara peoples.

There is some scientific disagreement about the origins of Uluru. The most widely held theory is that both Uluru and Kata Tjuta are remnants of a vast sedimentary bed which was laid down some 600 million years ago. The bed was spectacularly tilted so that Uluru now protrudes at an angle of up to 85. The rock is actually grey but is covered with a distinctive red iron oxide coating.

No one is sure when the first Aborigines moved into the area but the best evidence suggests that it was at least 10,000 years ago. The notes on the history of Uluru National Park explain the Aboriginal understanding of Uluru in the following terms: 'In the beginning the world was unformed and featureless. Ancestral beings emerged from this void and journeyed widely, creating all the living species and the characteristic features of the desert landscape you see today. Uluru and Kata Tjuta provide physical evidence of feats performed during the creation period. Anangu are the direct descendants of these beings and are responsible for the protection and appropriate management of these ancestral lands. The knowledge necessary to fulfill these responsibilities has been passed down from generation to generation from the Tjukurpa.' 

The arrival of Europeans in the area was part of the exploration of the centre during the 1870s. Ernest Giles traveled through the area in 1872 and named both Lake Amadeus and Mount Olga. His original names, Lake Mueller and Mount Ferdinand in honour of Baron Ferdinand von Mueller (Giles' benefactor) were changed by the Baron to the names of the reigning King and Queen of Spain.

Giles returned to the area in 1873 but was beaten to Uluru by William Gosse who sighted the monolith on 19 July and named it after the Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers. Giles also was the first European to climb the rock which he did accompanied by an Afghan camel driver named Khamran.

The inhospitable nature of the terrain ensured that few whites ventured into the region. Pastoralists were defeated by the lack of water and the only whites to pass through the area were trappers, quixotic miners like Harold Lasseter, and the occasional missionary. The area was declared the Petermann Aboriginal Reserve in the early 1900s and this existed until the 1940s when road access (the first graded road was built in 1948), the possibility of gold in the area, and the tourist potential of Uluru, all showed how fragile the original reserve had been.

Ayers Rock was created a national park in 1950. In 1957 Bill Harney came to the area and in 1958, when the rock was combined with the Olgas to form the Ayers Rock National Park, he was appointed the first official curator. In 1959 a motel lease was granted near the rock and soon after an airstrip was built. In 1976 the Commonwealth Government set up the lease at Yulara and in 1983-84 the old tourist locations near the rock were closed down. In 1985 the title to the rock was handed back to the traditional owners who, in turn, granted the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service a 99 year lease on the park. Today over 30 local Aborigines work in the park and the Board of Management is dominated by the traditional owners.

Climbing The Rock  
The decision to walk to the top of the rock is one which should be based on fitness (it really is only suitable for healthy people) and your level of respect for the Aboriginal notion that this is a sacred site. The traditional owners have resigned themselves to the inevitable despoliation of the rock. You have to decide if you want to be part of that despoliation. There are now signs around the rock which make it perfectly clear that the traditional owners, the Anangu people, would like the 400,000 visitors to the rock to 'respect our law by not climbing Uluru'.

It is worth noting that the average tourist stays at Uluru for 1.6 days, only 10% of all tourists actually climb the rock, and the number of people who have died from heart attacks as a result of climbing the rock is now quite substantial. A lot of people die some days later and consequently are never part of the statistics for heart attacks on the rock. The current estimate is that, on average, one person per month dies either directly (quite a number wander too far and fall off the edges) or indirectly as a result of climbing the rock.

Aboriginal Art
The caves around the base of the rock abound with hundreds of paintings which depict Aboriginal life. These paintings were still being done as recently as the 1930s. The technique was to make a brush from the chewed end of a piece of bark and to paint the predominantly abstract designs with a combination of red and yellow ochre, charcoal and white pipe clay. The caves to the left of the car park have quite a lot of interesting paintings and can be reached by an easy ten minute walk around the base of the rock.

Uluru (Ayers Rock) at Sunset:

2 miles long, 1 miles wide and 348m high, Uluru is made from a single piece of sandstone which extends a further 3 miles below the desert surface. It is composed of sedimentary rock with its layers surprisingly running vertical with the oldest layer on the left and the youngest on the right.

Barker Souvenirs

This aerial view of Uluru shows its real shape and gives you a better feel for how steep the sides really are. The famous sunset profiles are taken from the left (Northwest) side. I've highlighted the path to the top

Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)

This rock formation is one of the only features that break up the monotonous landscape visible from the top of Uluru but you have to drive up to it to get a view like this as it is around 25 miles away. Kata Tjuta is another sacred Aboriginal site. Its name means many heads as it is composed of many eroded sandstone domes. There are a couple of walks which tourists are allowed to go on including the valley of the winds which we went on. Its geological era.


 Walking down Uluru (Ayers Rock) 


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