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Friday, February 09, 2007
Foto Friday: Uluru
Uluru is the politically-correct name for the Formation Formerly Known as Ayers Rock. It's a local Aboriginal family name. I had never heard of the name "Uluru" until I moved to Australia in '99.
In his book In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson rhapsodizes over the great mystical throbbing that emanates from it. But no. It's just a big rock. It's a lot more interesting up close than from far away. There are petroglyphs, and caves which hold "secret men's business" which tourists are not supposed to photograph, or even glimpse (the trail shies away from the Rock at these points), and places where captured rainwater has made little oases in the desert at its base.
There's also a path you can climb up the rock, but you have to be fairly athletic, and willing to ignore the fact that the locals don't like it. This, they believe, is the path their ancestors, the Mala (a type of wallaby) took, and they don't like outsiders tromping on it. So far as I know, they confine themselves to frowning about it, not having progressed as far as fatwas or jihad.
More impressive than Uluru, in my opinion, is Kata Tjuta, which means "Many Heads". The name the imperialist white oppressors gave it is The Olgas -- which no doubt leads the immature to much sniggering speculation over the original Olga's attributes. I have some nice pictures of them I'll post one of these days.
In truth it was named after Queen Olga of Württemberg. Ayers Rock was named after the then-Chief Secretary of of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers. You see that a lot in Australia; explorers didn't name things after themselves, or their loved ones -- they tended to name them after some remote bureaucrat. (Or, in the case of Katherine, NT, after the loved one of some remote bureaucrat.)
We saw busloads of tourists toasting the Uluru sunset with champagne. It turns out that this is an ancient custom -- handed down from tour guide to tour guide -- whose roots go all the way back to that far-off day when a tour operator realized he could squeeze an extra few bucks out of the punters by ginning up a rummy champagne tradition.
Which, down under, is known as Down Under. Newsgroup speculation at the time was that Americans were not familiar for this designation for Australia, and a phrase from an obscure poem (or possibly song; I'm too lazy to google it up) was considered so much clearer.