The Outback Made Personal

Uluru: A Troubled History
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Symphony in Red: Another of Uluru's mesmerizing profiles (courtesy, Tourism Australia)

Part of Uluru's personality crisis is rooted to its previous incarnation as Ayers Rock, the name that William Gross gave the formation when he "discovered" it in 1873, in honor of then-governor of South Australia, Henry Ayers. Though the Anangu Aborigines—who have always called it Uluru—have admired this edifice for over 20,000 years, once the Brits found out about it, everything changed. "The Rock" (as it became known in typical tourist shorthand) instantly attracted legions of mouth-agape foreigners anxious to climb it, circumnavigate it, and stare in awe at its light-dappled glory. Things reached fever pitch in 1984, when the nearby town of Yulara was established solely to accommodate the influx of camera-toting travelers.

The indigenous population eventually reclaimed the land today known as Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in 1985 as an extension of the 1976 Aboriginal Land Rights Act. The westernized "Ayers Rock" was dropped for the Anangus' original Uluru, the Aborigines leased the land back to Parks Australia, and a cultural center was established to explain both the cultural significance of Uluru and the Aboriginal way of life in the Outback's seemingly unforgiving semi-arid environment.

But word on "The World's Biggest Rock" was already out. Legions of tourists still flock to Uluru. Some—notably the Japanese—have been known to fly into Yulara, take a gander, and then hop on another plane bound for the Great Barrier Reef. Others arrive via Alice Springs, once the main telegraph station in the central Outback and today the region's major tourist hub, and either hire a 4x4 or join an Outback safari tour.

And yes, despite the Anangus' polite requests to the contrary, a good portion of tourists still choose to disrespect the sacred site by clambering up Uluru like a motley collection of ants raiding a picnic. Another incident of "see what I can do" tourism instead of immersive travel...

Take Uluru's tumultuous history, mix in an aversion to tourist traps, and my uncertainty about the Uluru experience seemed reasonable. Turns out, the company of those seven femme travelers and our Wayoutback guide Jason, an earnest bloke from Sydney with a cherubic, deeply tanned face and fiercely chapped lips, offered an ideal antidote to the antiseptic haze of worldwide tourist hype.

Nathan Borchelt is the lead editor for

Published: 15 Sep 2005 | Last Updated: 6 Nov 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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