Monday 5 July 2010


There's a stunning photo in the Herald today with a story about a 5m croc in Kakadu chomping into the 3m bull shark it caught in the mis-named South Alligator River (a story, incidentally, broken two weeks ago by the inimitable NT News: Shark Meets the Real Jaws).

But I'm going with the report last week about the silly French-born stripper who was filmed dancing topless on top of Uluru, claiming afterwards that "what I did was a tribute to their culture, in a way". Pft. She meant because the indigenous people didn't wear clothes before white people arrived, it was culturally sympathetic to cavort about in bikini bottoms and high-heeled boots. Yeah, as they say, right.

When I mention that I've just been to the Red Centre, the first question I'm asked is if you can still climb the Rock. The answer is yes, officially - although in reality, it's highly likely that when you get there, it's closed to climbers because of high winds, extreme heat, fog or whatever. Certainly the weathered CLOSED sign at the entrance of the national park looks pretty permanent: the reason behind it being that the traditional owners, the Anangu people, don't like the rock to be climbed.

Understandably, Uluru is a huge part of their culture and has great spiritual significance. They don't climb it themselves except, I believe, in some areas for special ceremonies. It's offensive to them to see people clambering up it, and relieving themselves on it, fouling the waterholes underneath when it rains; and when someone dies, as 35 people have, they feel responsible. There's big pressure in the park literature not to make the climb.
Back in 1975, though, when I first went there, it's a harsh but true fact that nobody was sensitive then to Aboriginal feelings, and I did go up it. It was a long and tough climb: it's about 350m high, and the track is so steep that in one place I had to haul myself up a chain. It's smooth rock with nothing to break your fall if you lose your footing, and there's no shelter from the sun or the gusty wind. And when I finally got to the top, what could I see? Well, nothing much really, apart from the clustered domes of Kata Tjuta and a vast expanse of pretty empty desert. To be honest, it was a bit of a disappointment: rather like going up the Empire State Building in New York - there's lots to see from the top there, of course, but the main focus of the Manhattan skyline is missing, because you're standing on it.
You go to Uluru to see this amazing monolith: 3.6km long, 2.4km across and like an iceberg in that it extends 5km down into the ground. You go to see how it blushes in the sunset and sunrise, to walk around it and see the side that, like the moon, is hidden from most people because photos of it are forbidden. You go to experience one of Nature's marvels that is guaranteed not to disappoint because it's just so amazingly big and sudden, surrounded by miles and miles of flat desert. You don't need to climb it. Take my word for that.

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