Way Outback: The Red Walls of Uluru

In the noon day sun Uluru glows a deep orange red. The combination of blue sky and shadow on the rock's speckled surface creates an intense mixture of line, color and pattern. Much like Monet's Rouen Cathedral this landscape evolves dramatically based on the angle of the sun. I had the pleasure of visiting Uluru when I was flying into the local airport, which served as my entry and exit point into the outback.

Uluru, named Ayer's Rock by settlers in the late 1800's, is a massive sandstone feature located in Australia's Northern Territory. Long seen as a sacred site by the local Anangu people, it has become one of the most heavily visited tourist sites in Australia. I was tempted to follow the long line of adventurers that were climbing the outer spine of the formation but I realized this would be like climbing around Chartres cathedral. Beyond the spiritual disrespect, the rounded edges of the rock are also very dangerous. Peaking at a little over 1100 feet over 30 people have died trying to reach the summit in recent years. From the top you would have a clear 360 degree view of the flat landscape. From that vantage you could see Kata Juta, a large rock formation 50 km away, that belongs to the same geologic group.

We drove around the rock to a site with easy access to the Mutitjulu waterhole. After a short hike we came to a pond that regularly collects water that has trickled down from the top of the formation. The semipermanent water source has been attracting animals and the nomadic Anangu for thousands of years.

About 100 yards away from the waterhole a cave is filled with paintings that hint towards this site's use as a ritual ground and place of learning. The graffiti-like paintings reminded me of the images that happen after you shake an etch-a-sketch drawing.

The rock itself is the location of many aboriginal Tjukurpa, or creation stories. Here is an exerpt about Kuniya, a Python Woman who's struggle with the Liru Poisonous Snake Men is believed to help create the shape of the rock.

A long time ago, Kuniya the Python woman, travelled to Uluru to lay her eggs where she herself had been born. There she heard that her nephew had been killed by the poisonous Liru snake men. Enraged she travelled around the rock to the Mutitjulu waterhole, where she come across a Liru man laughing at her.

Kuniya began a powerful dance. She took a handful of sand and threw it to the ground. Where it landed bushes and plants became poisonous.

The Liru man kept laughing and Kuniya took her digging stick and hit him over the head. Kuniya’s anger was so great, that she hit the Liru again and this time she killed him. The deep cuts Kuniya inflicted on the Liru can still be seen in the rock today.

Kuniya and her nephew were transformed into Wanampi, the rainbow snakes. They are still living at Mutitjulu today and, if the waterhole ever dries out, they make rain to fill it again. 

This will be the last post in the Way Outback series. Click below to read the other posts about my time living in Ernabella, South Australia.
Way Outback: The Road to Ernabella
Way Outback: Night Writing
Way Outback: Chasing the Light
Way Outback: A Story for the Eyes
Way Outback: Animal Kingdom
Way Outback: Paint, Money, and Land


  1. Love the cave paintings, amazing! A little piece of the past there to be discovered. I saw 'The Cave of Forgotten Dreams' documentary lately, theres something so primal in early art!

    1. Thanks for reading the blog. I need to check out that documentary. I have heard many good things about it.

      Just yesterday I ran across an article dating a set of Spanish cave paintings to Neanderthal times. They think around 50,000 years ago. Amazing. http://www.npr.org/2012/06/15/155009945/famous-cave-paintings-might-not-be-from-humans?sc=tw&cc=share

      Enjoy your weekend.