26 May Big Rock Tour: To climb or not to climb?
Today was Big Rock day. A day devoted entirely to Uluru. At the ungodly hour of 4am we all packed away our sleeping bags and stumbled around in the dark to the bus to go and watch the sunrise over Uluru. Although not as mesmerising as the sunset because essentially it just gets lighter and lighter, it was still spectacular to see this big rock in all its glory. In the freezing cold I ‘made lots of photos’ with the Germans and watched as the big rock came to life.
When you visit Ayers Rock you will be faced with a very difficult dilemma, to climb or not to climb. The aborigines prefer it if you don’t climb- it would be like climbing on a church roof for a Christian. I would personally reccommend you don’t climb out of respect for their beliefs, but I must say it is ever so tempting to see the view from the top. It’s not for the faint hearted though, our guide told us you must be exceptionally fit. If anyone was still thinking of climbing it they were soon put off. “Around 35 people have died climbing it” our guide Azza said. Some people have had heart attacks and died and some have just simply fallen off. It’s a steep climb and you have a rope to help pull you up. It’s even more tempting to climb when you are told that the climb is barely ever open- if there’s the slightest bit of wind or bad weather they don’t open it. Azza informed us that that the last 20 times he had been there the climb had only been open once. “If anyone wants to do the climb you stay on the bus, if not then come with me.”
So we did the base walk instead, which is actually just as satisfying. It takes around 2 hours to walk around the base and in the heat that is plenty. I wasn’t prepared for how lush and green the base was, I had imagined it to be this big red dusty rock that rises from the ground, but in fact there are lots of trees and shrubs which makes it more beautiful. There are specific ‘mens‘ and ‘womens‘ areas as you walk around the rock; aboriginal men aren’t allowed to visit the women’s sites and vice versa. There are also sacred areas where you aren’t allowed to take photos and if you do there is a hefty fine from the park ranger. It became a subject of much debate as there are no sign-posts to tell you where one sacred site ends and another begins. It became a matter of guess work as tourists tried to decide where they could and couldn’t take photos. Up close the rock looks quite different, with large craters as if someone has taken a big bite out of it. It became clear that there had been some misunderstanding with the Japanese tourists. About half way round the walk one of them said to me, “Is this where we do the climb?” I told her that you were supposed to stay on the bus if you wanted to do the climb “Oh, we wanted to do the climb but we thought he said you get off the bus.” It was probably a good job they had misunderstood. When I saw people coming down with big grins on their faces holding their thumbs up it really did seem so disrespectful- any educated person would no that you don’t trample all over people’s beliefs.
The cultural centre contains lots of information about the aborginal ‘dreamtime‘ stories but what is most fascinating is the ‘sorry’ book- a book filled with hundreds upon hundreds of letters from people saying how sorry they are that they climbed on the rock or that they took rocks from it. There are countless stories of people who have had terrible luck after taking rocks from Uluru– deaths, cancer, illness, failed marriages….Below the book are rocks people have sent back in the hope that their luck will change.
After a while at the cultural centre we went back to the rock to do the Mala walk, where we were taken to various sites and told about aboriginal culture and customes. Our guide told us about the complicated tribal marriage laws amongst aborigines. Who they can marry depends on skin colour, and the complex system of skin colour groups determines who can marry whom. While it may be determined at birth who you would marry, love marriages were not uncommon as long as you married within the right skin group. It is taboo to marry within your own skin colour group. Like a typical girl, someone piped up “So was there ever a Romeo and Juliet story?” Well yes in fact, there was. Azza told us of two starcrossed lovers, who fled into the outback because tribal law forbid them to marry. For 40 years Warri and Yatungka lived in the bush off kangaroo meat and bush fruits. They lived a poor existence, but were happy and in love. In 1977, however, a severe drought meant they were close to starvation, and they had to leave. Tribal elders sent out a search party, and they eventually agreed to come back to town. However, they yearned for their nomadic existence, and in 1979 they died within weeks of each other.