28th January – Another early start to the day and the irony of it was that after a week of waking at 2am with the residue of jet lag this was the first night had slept through. However, the sunrise waits for none so on the bus at 445am to the viewing area to witness Uluru come awake with the first rays of light. When we arrived the first golden yellow colours of dawn were already brightening the sky and the residue of last night’s clouds gave extra dimension with pinks, lilacs and oranges seeping into the dark blue.
And then a gasp of awe from all around as there was the realisation that the sun was only the support act when behind us Uluru began to awaken with the curtains of shadows moving aside to reveal the hues of the sandstone beneath. As the sun rose the rock glowed quietly with light chasing the shadows into the curves, caves and crevices.
The purple clouds of night were slowly tainted with the morning glow as Uluru yawned and the light stretched into all but the very deepest fold.
Now the rock was awake the surrounding landscape began to take on the morning glow with trees and bushes highlighted as the sun once again stole the night from the moon and stars.
For those of us who were now going to learn more about Uluru and it’s significance to the native Anangu peoples breakfast was a welcome sight. Within the cultural centre where photographs are strictly forbidden ‘for cultural reasons’ in one of the snake shaped buildings we ate with a view of a the now wide awake Uluru. Her highest point is 348m and is described by geologists as a smooth inland island mountain. The first European to view this island mountain was William Goss who named it after Sir Henry Ayers. It is made of pure grey sandstone which, due to it’s high iron content, has oxidised forming a red protective layer. Today it lies within the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park which has been recongnised by UNESCO for both it’s beauty and cultural significance. The ‘ownership’ of the whole area has now been returned to the Anangu who have in turn leased it to the parks authorities. Our Anangu guides gave our small group of six a guided tour of the hunting and gathering tools that have served their people for what may be 30,000 years. In many ways it was like stepping into a time machine and looking back on stone age life where only those materials available to you were your only option. The environment has changed during this time span with the climate much hotter and drier. Yet the availability of fruits, roots, game and water made this a harsh but sustainable life for this deeply spiritual community. Uluru has many stories related to the ancestral beings who created shape out of a flat world so long ago. From the shapes of the rock formations to the hollows and caves there are links to times gone by. Creating stories with moral endings form their oral history which they do still adhere to but allowing some of the benefits and comforts of modern life to seep in. The young guide spoke very passionately about his parents and grandparents experiences and his own hunting adventures – all this while puffing on a cigarette, sipping coke and checking his phone. As we walked around the base of the rock tasting the desert figs and plum swatting away the moisture hungry flies the calm and quiet was almost oppressive. The feeling of awe and majesty is tangible and it is easy to imagine how such a structure could influence a peoples belief and culture. Around Uluru there are areas which are sacred to either men or women. In Anangu culture men and women are equal but have distinctly different tasks to fulfil. From the very basic hunting and gathering to the preparing of medicines, making tools and performing ceremonies. In these sacred areas the plants and materials for these ceremonies are to be found such as the Mulga Acacia which provides the hard wood for hunting sticks and the world renowned epitome of the Australian Aboriginal peoples: the boomerang. However, contrary to common belief, not all boomerangs come back. As it was explained, there are different boomerangs for different jobs. For those Aboriginal people who live at the mouths of rivers and hunt ducks were a low trajectory and less of a hit is needed then a returning light wood boomerang is just the thing. However, for knocking out a kangaroo a much heavier boomerang is needed and you don’t want it coming back! It was a lovely morning full of sights and sounds. To spend time with the Anangu itself was an honour. They are friendly, keen to share their culture and some of the secrets of the surrounding environment yet are somewhat aloof and in some ways are bewildered by our travelling of vast distances.
If you haven’t flown to Australia from Europe or the Middle East then you have not experienced jet lag. Despite the real treat of being upgraded to first class and all the pampering one receives (perhaps the vintage champagne may have played a small part) I still felt as if had been hit by a truck when I arrived in Brisbane. It was early morning when I arrived and pouring with rain with rain forecast and more rain hanging around. Perhaps if the hotel had not been able to give me a room at 730am I might have adapted quicker or more likely I would have been asleep in their foyer – I had already noted some comfortable chairs in a secluded area. However, they did have my room ready and I was asleep by 8am and did not feel human again until late the following day. Not that the residue of travel had left as despite staying up late and dozing off I was wide awake at 2am. This was actually a bonus when it was time to leave Brisbane as I was on the 630am flight with a pick up of 4am. I set the alarm just in case but I was wide awake and ready to go.
Flight was to Ayers Rock Airport in Australia’s Norther Territory. A dream destination for I don’t know how long. From that first glimpse from the plane coming in to land I was in awe. I did not meet Uluru up close and personal until the following morning, early morning. First it was time to look up into the sky and to the stars above in the unpolluted night sky.
Look through the open eye...
There was still a lot of cloud around when the sun set and the astronomer was dubious about how much we would see but the cloud stayed away enough for the panorama of sparkling suns, planets and nebula to stun us with their collective beauty and individual wonders through some very nice telescopes. The moon, stunning as it was, did have an impact on the viewing as it’s reflected light outshone some of the objects in the sky. However, the iconic Southern Cross was clearly visible just above the horizon with it’s to pointer stars, Alpha and Beta Centauri drawing attention that this was the real cross amongst the many pseudo crosses in the heavens. Alpha Centauri at such a low angle above the horizon displayed the rainbow spectrum of the atmosphere visible when such a interrupted view is possible. Much to my surprise there was Orion’s belt, the whole formation upside down but there non the less. I had expected a whole new vista of stars here in the southern hemisphere but in reality there is only 15% of the night sky which is different. That is at this latitude, it may all look different again at the tip of New Zealand’s south island. Within the consolation of Orion we were able to see the Orion nebula where stars were once born and looking at some of the newest celestial bodies in our visible universe. The red super giant Beetle Juice shone bright reminding us of it’s immense size despite being so far away. Jupiter looked incredible with bands of colour and her four moons all in view. The just visible glitter effect of another distant galaxy was a reminder of just how far we are looking into the past, the very distant past where in this present moment these very stars with their planets and moons may no longer even exist. The thought of just how far space goes has always made my mind go into a panic of lack of comprehension. After having seen the movie of Stephen Hawking’s life I have started reading his book about time which talks about space, the formation of the universe and singularities. Seemed fitting that I should be standing looking at time itself here in the middle of the Australian outback.
I was lucky to have the opportunity to attend a silk painting workshop with Ayers Rock Resort’s resident artist Heather Duff. Inspired by the colours of I had seen around me my local design scarf tells the story of sunrise to sunset over Uluru and Kata Tjuta and the landscape surrounding these incredible geographic and spiritual landmarks.
Transfixed on the sunrising and the colours of the light as it hit the remaining clouds over the red centre of this vast continent drawing attention away from Uluru as she came to life.
The gasp of awe as the shadows and light played with brilliant golden reds and scarlets took away from the sun rising itself. The reds to bright oranges as the shadows began to change shapes hiding in curves and retreating into crevices as the angle of light increases. And then all is light, glowing a bright orange, shimmering in the early morning glow. Shadows of trees shorten, shrinking. The colours of the surrounding landscape begin to show: a myriad of greens and browns against the blood red sands. The sky still pale reflecting the rose reds gradually fading into the palest blue.
The early light shows off the yellow greens of the lush new grasses, the product of the recent rains against the bleeding sands. Contrasted against the darker leaves of the desert oaks and the silver grey of the spinifex. Splashes of different greens come alive as the sun continues to rise bouncing off the many facets of Uluru.
The blinding reflected light of the gorge lowers and the shadows of the oaks lengthen around Kata Tjuta and attention turns back to Uluru which is a warm deep red soaking up the last rays of the day. As the sun drops the colours deepen, deepen into rich reds and browns.
Glowing agains the deepening blue above. As the sky looses blue tinges for delicate lilacs and purples with no clouds to distract the eye Uluru burns in the final rays before succumbing to the black night.
As I read more about the development of the amazing country that is Australia learning about some it’s key figures and their legacy in the names of cities and bays I wondered how the country itself got it’s name.
In an attempt to map our world, early geographers used the term ‘terra australis incognito’ in reference to an unnamed southern land which at that time they could only surmise existed.
In 1605 the Spaniard Pedro Fernandez de Quiros set sail from South America in search of these southern lands and landed at Vanuatu naming the surrounding islands and all lands south Australia de Esparto Sancto – Australia of the South of the Holy Spirit. ‘Australia’ was a clever combination of the Greek ‘Australis’ and Austria in tribute to the then King of Spain who was part of the Austrian Hapsburg dynasty.
In 1642 the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman circumnavigated, at some distance it appears, around this southern land and named it New Holland. When The First Fleet arrived at Botany Bay in 1788 it was not yet know known if this newly claimed land of New South Wales and Tasman’s New Holland were part of the same land mass. However, in 1802 Matthew Flinders, a distinguished British navigator and cartographer, successfully circumnavigated the continent proving they were one in the same and it was then marked as Australia on future maps. It was not until 1817 that the then Governor of New South Wales, Lachlan Acquire proposed that the name Australia to refer to the vast island be adopted.
So was it the Spanish or the British?