The two Aboriginal holy places in the Australian desert are known to white Australians as Ayers Rock and the Olgas and to the Aboriginals as Uluru and Kata Tjuta. While they remain sacred sites for the Aboriginal people of Australia, in recent years they have also taken on importance for New Age practitioners.
Uluru is a sandstone dome that rises out of the flat plains as a giant rounded outcrop. At sunrise and sunset it glows with a bright red reflection that gives it a supernatural aspect. A thousand feet high, it stretches for 2.6 miles with a width of 1.6 miles. Uluru is the largest isolated rock in the world. It is bare without the least hint of vegetation, and this starkness adds to its arresting beauty and mysterious bearing. The base of Uluru is a contrast; runoff from the rains leaves pools around the base, nourishing a fertile circle of rich greenery and supporting a variety of wildlife. The oasis conditions have made Uluru a ceremonial place for the Aborigines, who camp in its caves and around the Rock, sustained by the waters and available food.
Aboriginal myth begins with a period called Dreamtime, in which ancestral beings roamed the earth, creating the traditional ways the Aborigines followed and the shapes of the earth itself. The physical marks that the ancestral beings left on the earth hardened into rock, and the features of the land are believed to be their dead bodies. Thus, outcrops like Uluru are considered forces that can still give life. The record of Dreamtime is found in the rock, its fissures, cliffs, and caves. These meanings are expressed in chants passed on to the youth in songs at initiation ceremonies conducted in the caves along the base of Uluru. Various outcrops represent different spirits, and by touching the rock, an Aborigine can invoke the ancestral spirits for support and blessing and put himself in communication with Dreamtime.
There are many legendary tales to account for the physical features of Uluru. Some provide mythical explanations for things that are considered gifts of the ancestral spirits, such as the hunting boomerang. Others recount fierce battles between groups of ancestral heroes, resulting in curses such as the creation of the dingo, a wild dog that has been known to kill or carry off babies. In Dreamtime, two tribes were invited to a feast but became distracted by a group of beautiful Sleepy Lizard Women and dallied at a waterhole where Uluru now stands. Angry at having their hospitality rejected, the waiting hosts sang evil into a mud and wattle shape until it came to life as the dingo. A hideous slaughter followed, and then a great battle, ending with the deaths of the leaders on both sides. Then the earth itself rose up to mourn the bloodshed—this rising up in grief is Uluru.
In the initiation cave are ancient wall paintings recounting this lore for the teenage initiates. Each clan has a protective animal, its totem, whose spirit oversees its affairs. The cave of those with the hare wallaby totem (mala), for example, is marked with dark stains, the blood of their hero ancestors who died in the great battle before time. Mala men cut themselves during cave ceremonies in unity with their ancestors.
Uluru was under government administration until 1985, when it was returned to the Aborigines. The government manages it under an Aborigine board. But the increasing pressure of 300,000 tourists annually has presented a serious problem, since Aborigines consider it sacrilegious to climb the rock. By tradition, only Mala males may climb the rock face. Despite this tradition, the government has established a regular route to the top as a hiking path for tourists. New Age practitioners often use it, since some of them have appropriated Dreamtime into their religious theory.
In 1987, the Uluru-Tjuta National Park was entered onto the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites. The park receives about 400,000 visitors a year, which has deepened environmental and safety concerns. In 2009 the government proposed a plan that would forbid all climbing.
See also: Mountains, Kata Tjuta, New Age, Ubirr
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