FIELD TRIPS, EXPEDITIONS
Uluru excursion, Northern Territory, AU
Nothing prepares you for seeing Ayers Rock live, with your own eyes, no matter how many photographs or films you have seen of the place before; its beauty hits you when you see it first. This is just one of those places where you stand astonished by the view. It is not only breathtakingly beautiful, and changes its colour by the minute but its physical features are of great significance to the Anangu people. They believe that the caves and rock formations of Uluru relate to the activities of the ancestral Mala people (rufus-hare wallaby) during the Tjukurpa (“Dreamtime” or “Dreaming”, that is the “creation time”, which is the basis of their knowledge, law, religion, social structure and moral values.). Other than the natural formations, the animals, the plants and the people are also believed to be the descendants of these ancestors, which are revealed in the Anangu’s stories and inma (ceremonies).
According to the Tjukurpa, the Mala people came from the north and could see Uluru. It looked like a good place to stay to make inma. Men raised Ngaltawata (ceremonial pole) and commenced the ceremonies. In the middle of the preparations, two Wintalka men from the west approached and invited the Mala people to join their inma in their country. The Mala people refused explaining that their ceremony had just begun and could not be stopped. The disappointed Wintalka men went back and told their people. They summoned up an evil spirit, a huge devil-dog called Kurpany, to destroy the Mala inma. As Kurpany travelled towards Uluru, he changed into many forms, from mikara (bark) to tjulpu (bird) and different grasses. He was a mamu, a ghost. Luurnpa (kingfisher woman) was the first to spot him. She warned the Mala people but they did not listen. Kurpany then arrived and attacked the men in their Men’s Cave. Some were killed and turned to stone. The remaining Mala people fled to the south with Kurpany chasing them.
One of the other creation stories regarding the Uluru’s caves is about Minyma Itjaritjari (marsupial mole woman) who built the shelters (visible on some of our images in the slide show) in the rock to create a yuu (windbreak). These natural formations were important to the Anangu because they used these caves to teach younger generations as well. Some of our photos were taken at the so-called Teaching Cave (we did not take photos in some of the other caves where signs indicated it would not be appropriate), which for many generations served as a classroom for the nyiinka (bush boys). The Anangu elders taught these boys about their country and how to track and hunt kuka (food animals) via these rock art paintings like a teacher uses a school blackboard. After the classes the nyiinka would then be taken into the bush to practice and explore the natural formations such as waterholes, and identify woods that can be used for making their tools and weapons. Some of the these boys were separated from the rest of their families during this learning period, which could last several years until a boy proved his hunting skills, self-reliance and discipline. With regard to the rock art images their colours come from a variety of materials: tutu (red ochre) and untanu (yellow ochre) were iron-stained clays that were very valuable and traded across land. Burnt kurkara (desert oak) provided purku (black charcoal) and tjunpa/unu (white ash). The dry materials were then placed on a flat stone, cursed and mixed with kapi (water).
After exploring Uluru in great detail, we spent another day trekking in Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), about 25 km away from Uluru, which was truly breathtaking experience. Highly recommended for geologists and nature enthusiasts.
Date: July 2013