Uluru National Park
Uluru National Park is officially called the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park
Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park is a World Heritage listed park and is one of only a handful of World Heritage Listed areas which is listed for both it’s Natural and Cultural qualities.
It is located very close to the center of Australia, is surrounded by red sandy deserts and is rich with Aboriginal Culture, it is estimated that Aboriginal People have lived in the area of Ayers Rock for at least 40 000 years.
The park is a Federal National Park, which means it is administered by the federal government, most National Parks in Australia are managed by the State Governments.
Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park Facts
The ownership of the land on which the park is located is by a group of Aboriginal People who are identified as traditional owners, that is they are descended from the original people who lived in the area before Europeans came along and messed everything up.
The traditional owners come from the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara groups. The traditional owners lease the land to the Australian Government to be run as a National Park.
Both traditional owners and nonaboriginal government officials sit on the board which manages the park.
It wasn’t always this way. It is estimated from Archeological findings that Aboriginal People have lived in the area for approximately 10,000 years. About 140 years ago, the first non-Aboriginal people arrived on the scene.
In 1872 Ernest Giles sighted the Kata Tjuta from Kings Canyon and named Mt Olga. While exploring in 1873, William Gosse came across Uluru, climbed it and named it Ayers Rock.
In the late 1800s, there were attempts to set up pastoral enterprises in the area and interaction between white people and the aboriginal people became more frequent and sometimes violent due to completion for food and water.
At this time there was no interest in the area for any tourism potential, no doubt if at the time you had proposed that in 100 years there would be a large hotel complex serving half a million tourists a year you probably would have been pronounced insane!
As with much of the central Australian land which was seen as useless for pastoralist activities, in the 1920s the area around Uluru was set aside as an Aboriginal Reserve.
The first vehicle track to Uluru was built in 1948 and bus and tour services began operating in the 1950s. The tourism potential of the area began to be realized and as a result in 1958 the government excised the area which is now the National Park, from the Aboriginal Reserve and it was named the Uluru – Mount Olga National Park.
On 26 October 1985, the Australian government returned ownership of Uluru to the local Aborigines, on the condition that it be leased back to the National Parks for 99 years and that it would be jointly managed.
Aboriginal Culture Australia
Aboriginal people in Australia have a unique spiritual belief system and culture which is heavily related to the natural environment, you often hear of a natural feature of the landscape, such as a river, water hole or rock formation, etc, as being a “Sacred Site”.
The Aboriginal culture Australia is a mystery to many non-Aboriginal people and I hope to be able to provide some basic information so that people interested in this culture who are visiting Central Australia and Uluru can have some insight into how it works.
Aboriginal Culture History
In its basic form, the culture consists of many stories, sometimes the stories are not only verbal but also have song and dance component, sometimes they are long and complex, sometimes they are short.
The stories relate to the creation time and often also hold moral and law values as well, for example, a creation story may include the information on how to deal with someone who doesn’t share food, or how to ceremonially prepare a Kangaroo prior to cooking, etc, the stories set out where a groups land is, where it’s boundaries are, if they have the right to hunt or collect water from a neighboring group etc.
Importantly, the land which the aboriginal people occupy, (a hot issue in today’s society) has been allocated to them in this creation time, it is not negotiable. The stories are not only their religion, they are also the constitution, the law book, and the school books
The Creation Time. Aboriginal people believe that in the beginning, the world was a flat and featureless place, void of life and light, although the potential for life has always been there.
At some point, in the beginning, creatures, which often took on the form of supernatural animals and humans, rose from this barren landscape and began to create everything, plants, animals, mountains, rivers, etc.
The method used to create the landscape was through song and dance, as these creatures traveled across the landscape, they “sang it” into existence.
Sacred sites are more often than not, places where something important happened in the creation story, a hill may represent the creature resting, a crack in a rock may represent where someone was hit on the head with a stick in a fight, a waterhole may be where the creature emerged from, etc. Messing with, or doing the wrong things at these places, can upset the creation of the world.
This creation period is sometimes referred to as the “Dream Time, or “Creation Time, the Anangu at Uluru call it “Tjukurpa”. The routes this creature took as they crisscrossed the country are sometimes called “Song Lines”
Aboriginal people believe they are descended from these creatures, and the stories that modern day Aboriginal people are taught as they mature, are the stories of the creation time.
The really interesting thing is, that the Aboriginal People believe that when the story is retold, it has to be done exactly right, remember this may also incorporate a song and dance.
The reason it has to be just right is that the act of performing this story has the power to actually preserve this creation if the story is not performed correctly, the creation may alter, sometimes the punishment for incorrectly performing a story was death because you have actually uncreated.
The stories followed songlines, which as discussed sometimes crossed the entire country and passed through the territory of many aboriginal groups.
Each group would hold the part of the story which happened in their territory, and perhaps bits of other territories, so no one actually knew the entire story, it only existed as the collective knowledge of many people.
You can understand then what happened when Europeans started to travel around, killing aboriginal people, rounding up others and moving them to reserves, etc, this culture, which relied on every link in the chain being there, in a complex web, simply fell apart.
In the areas like Central, Western and Northern Australia, where contact with Europeans was minimal and happened a lot later, much of the couture survives and communities do their best to continue with storytelling etc, although with modern day distractions and widespread health and substance abuse issues, it is a massive challenge and it has to be assumed that a vast amount of information on which the culture is founded, was lost years ago and can never be recovered.
Ayers Rock Geology
Both Ayers Rock and Kata Tjuta share a similar geological story and were created at the same time.
The first step in the geological creation of Ayers Rock and Kata Tjuta was the creation of the actual rock substance, and both Ayers Rock and Kata Tjuta are created from sediment which washed down from a large mountain range, called the Peterman Ranges located to the West, it is estimated that these mountains were huge, perhaps even as large as the Himalayas. The Peterman Ranges are still there today, although a lot smaller!
When sediment erodes and washes down from a mountain onto to a flatter landscape it forms what is called Alluvial Fans, as viewed from above they form a fan shape.
More than 500 million years ago, before there was any plant life to slow the erosion process down, two alluvial fans were created to the east of the Peterman’s, one mostly consisted of sand material and eventually became Ayers Rock, and the other one was made up of a whole mix of sand, and rock, called a conglomerate, and eventually became Kata Tjuta. Both fans were huge and very thick, up to several kilometers.
About 500 million years ago, the whole area was covered within the sea and other sediments and the alluvial fans were buried, the weight of the sediment and ocean on top of the fans put then under great pressure and eventually, they turned into rock.
Both rocks remained underground for a long time and were subjected to a number of forces which cracked, folded and tilted the fans
The fan which now forms Kata Tjuta has cracked and tilted at an angle of around 15 degrees, water has got into the cracks over time and has started to erode the rock, creating the current domes.
If you have a close look at the rock which makes up Kata Tjuta, you can see the layers of sediment at 15 degrees, and you will see that the rock is made up of small and large smooth rocks and boulders, just like river stones, all cemented together with sand and pebbles, the fact the rocks are smooth indicated that they themselves have been subject to erosion prior to creating the alluvial fan. Most likely this happened as the rocks where being eroded from the Peterman ranges.
The alluvial fan which now forms Uluru when through a more severe folding process and the part of the rock which now sticks out of the ground is vertical if you look closely you can see the layers running in a vertical direction up and down the rock.
The rock’s self is made up of predominantly a sand material unlike to conglomerate of Kata Tjuta. Like an iceberg, most of the uluru rock in Australia is still under the ground. perhaps going down 5 or 6 kilometers!
Over the last 300 million years, the softer rock surrounding the fans has eroded away leaving what we now recognize as Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
Why is Uluru Red?
The natural color of the actual rock which makes up Uluru is actually grey, it is only a thin skin which covers Uluru which is red, you can see this when you get up close to Uluru where the skin has flaked off.
The rock contains high levels of iron, when iron is exposed to the air, it oxidizes, or rusts, so as the natural grey rock is exposed to the air, a thin layer of the rock starts to rust, this causes it to turn red, the longer a section of rock has been exposed, the redder it seems to get, it also gets brittle.
After some time the skin gets so brittle that it begins to fracture and flakes and eventual fall of bits at a time. Once a flakey bit of rusty rock falls off, the new grey rock underneath is exposed, and the whole process starts again.