Rocking Downunder

4 04 2008


Uluru sunrise

The Black Sea is not black, except at night when there’s no moon and you’re wearing sunglasses to look cool. Despite Global Warming, Greenland is still largely white while Iceland is mostly green. Blondes are often brunettes; a mug of green tea and milk is only bright green when it’s been sitting in your cupboard forgotten for several months; and the only time I’m actually blue is when I am choking on a gobstopper and not when I’m depressed.

But Australia’s Red Centre really is Red.

Bright, ochre red. Sunset, sunrise, tomato soup, chilli powder, poppy, blood orange, mail box, clown nose, bull’s-eye…red.

From the very heart of the Red Centre rises Uluru. The legendary monolith of sandstone that soars from the arid ground and levels into a muscular plateau that seems to pulse with other-worldly energy, glows silver and purple during electric storms, neon-red as the sun dips, and then disappears completely against the night sky. It is more of an epic statement than a mere natural phenomenom and is every bit as sacred and spiritual as any flying-buttressed, minaretted edifice in Christendom, Judaism or Islam.

As we huddled in the bitter darkness of a pre-dawn winter morning, a park official asked that we do not scale their site. Sadly, for far too many, the fact that Uluru is there is reason enough to climb it despite the objections of those for whom it means the most. In years past, when the wishes and sensitivities of the aboriginal people were largely ignored, many thousands hauled themselves to the top of the rock by way of a chained path that crossed a sacred traditional Dreamtime track and continued up its steep and precipitous slopes. More than a few slipped off to their death or died of heart attacks along the way. These accidents caused enormous grief and heartache for the local Anangu people.

Respecting their wishes, a small group of us instead set off to trek the 9 kilometres around the base of Uluru. We began in pitch darkness and soon became staggered along the narrow track leaving each of us alone in contemplative silence.  The wind gusted down the slopes, across the plains and rustled through the grass and bushes. A billion stars scattered overhead and a splinter of red light knifed along the horizon and quickly seeped skyward, illuminating the rock and the dry grass. As the sun climbed, the wind dropped and we removed the jackets and fleeces that had warded off the earlier chill.

With every step the mountain changed colour. It varied from an inky blackness that was visible only by the sea of brilliant stars it blotted out in the cathedral sky, to browns, yellows and finally a rusty red. We passed sacred spots that went unexplained but which we were requested not to photograph, and saw ancient rock paintings.

We finished our trek back where we had begun and gathered again in silence. There was nothing to say. It had been an undeniably spiritual experience and one that none of us would ever forget.

Too often in life places that you have seen only in photographs or film fail to meet your expectations when seen in person. Uluru is not one of those. There is a magic to that monolith that no photograph properly captures and which is best appreciated in early morning solitude.

If you open your mind, amid the rustle of the grass and caress of the wind on your face, you may just feel the spirits of the land.

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008




2 responses

4 04 2008


29 04 2008

As explorer William Christie Gosse wrote in the late 1800s, after his second trip to the monolith, “This rock appears more wonderful every time I look at it, and I might say it is a sight worth riding over eighty-four miles of spinifex and sandhills to see.” Nice to hear from someone else who found Uluru magical.

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