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Ayers Rock, Australia: The Sandstone Mound of Uluru

Featured image: Ayers Rock, or Uluru, under an approaching storm at sunset. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons CC0 1.0

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Featured image: Ayers Rock, or Uluru, under an approaching storm at sunset. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons CC0 1.0

 

Ayers Rock, or officially, Uluru, is a large, 1,141 feet (348 meters) tall sandstone monadnock (or inselberg, an island mound) located in the desert of Northern Territory in central Australia. Considered as one of the natural wonders of the world, this strange bulge in the Australian desert is situated inside the massive 515 square miles Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (which is larger than Hong Kong).

Uluru was ‘discovered’ in 1873 by William Christie Gosse, the Deputy Surveyor-General of the Crown colony of South Australia. He promptly named the sandstone protrusion Ayers Rock in honor of his boss, Sir Henry Ayers, the Chief Secretary of South Australia at the time.

However, the history of Uluru stretches back far longer in time – 20,000 years, to be precise, which is the length of time the area has served as the home of the Pitjantjatjara Anangu aboriginal tribe. The term Uluru is believed to have originated from the Yankunytjatjara dialect of the Anangu language. There is some debate over the actual meaning of Uluru. Archaeologists and anthropologists are convinced that it has no meaning and is merely a given name, but there is some claim that the term means great pebble in the Anangu language.

The Geology, Geography, Climate and Flora of Uluru

Uluru and the entire surrounding region once lie at the bottom of a large inland sea about 500 to 700 million years ago. The sea eventually vanished owing to massive climatic and elemental activities, leaving behind scattered ranges of arkose sandstones and rocks, of which Uluru is one. Further natural geological and environmental landscaping is believed to have eroded the highlands surrounding Uluru, bequeathing the world with a unique oval-shaped sandstone mound measuring approximately 2.2 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. Many speculate that as much as two-thirds of Uluru, designated as a World Heritage Site in 1987, is actually buried underground.

The top layer of the mound is dominated by gulches, sinks and ravines which store and channel water down its slopes after rain. The bottom of the mound, meanwhile, features shallow caves containing ancient carved pictographs depicting local legends.

Uluru possesses a sparse population of flora and fauna. Of the over 70 species of animals observed here, reptiles and bats constitute the majority. The flora here consists mainly of ukiri grasses, puti shrubs and punu trees.

The shifting colors of the geographical and spiritual heart of Australia is caused by the oxidation of iron content in the sandstones. Sunlight, especially during sunrises and sunsets, can change its usual brownish-red color to a dark red or brilliant orange.

Rock formations at the base of Uluru. Image courtesy of Pixabay
Rock formations at the base of Uluru. Image courtesy of Pixabay

Aborigine Universe Creation Myths

There are numerous aborigine universe creation myths, but the single common denominator is that mystical beings known as Waparitja and Tjukuritja walked outside of their realities into the Dreamtime, a process which lead to the creation of our universe. During their voyage through our plane of existence, they touched or created about 52 known geographic landmarks, including Uluru.

These locations are considered extremely sacred to the local tribes, and as such, restrictions are placed on visitations and ceremonial rituals. At Uluru, sacred locations are sometimes limited only to male or female aborigine elders, who must perform specific songs, hymns and dances to properly uphold the purity of the sites.

Visiting Uluru

The Australian government actually returned territorial control of Uluru to the Anangu tribe in 1985. The decision was greeted with joy, as the aborigines consider Uluru a sacred site that has been touched by the Dreamtime immortals. The Anangus have, however, given the local state government a 99-year operating lease on the area, chiefly for tourism-related activities. Nevertheless, the Anangus have inserted several restrictions to the agreement, such as, a ban on climbing during high heat or bad weather. The Anangus can also close down the site to perform religious ceremonies on sacred days or when an elder dies.

It is thus crucial that you speak to local guides before confirming the dates of your visits as Uluru shutdowns sometimes exceed a hundred days annually. It would be a shame to travel all the way down here only to be denied the chance to experience the magic and splendor of Uluru, the most visited location on the entire continent.

Song of the day: The Wiggles: Waltzing Matilda (feat. Troy Cassar-Daley)

 

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