We’ve been really enjoying our time here at Yulara with Cathy, Audrey and Violet.
Yulara is a relatively new town with a permanent population of around 890. It’s right in the middle of nowhere. Its name is derived from local Aboriginal words for ‘howling’ and ‘dingos’. Around 18 kilometres by road from world heritage site of Uluru (Ayers Rock) it is mainly a resort town and has its own police station, fire service, medical centre and school. In the early 1970’s, the pressure of uncontrolled tourism facilities (including motels) near the base of Uluru (Ayers Rock) was having a highly detrimental effect on the environment. A Senate Select Committee recommended the removal of all development near the base of Ayers Rock to this new resort outside of the boundaries of the national park. The Commonwealth government agreed and in 1976, the Governor General proclaimed the new town of Yulara.
On Thursday, we had a second sojourn around the ‘Rock’, this time by car along the ring road. This gave us a wider view of the landscape and a more expansive view than we had from our walk. We could see the rock in more context of it surrounding environment. The colours, textures and features were quite fascinating.
In the afternoon, the girls participated in a dot painting session in the town square. Although this form of aboriginal art is generally associated with all Australian aborigines, it is really specific to Central Australia. Elsie, from a local aboriginal community, led the class. She spoke very quietly in her local language which was interpreted by the young woman organising the activity. Elsie began by explaining the use of traditional implements. She would study each one intensely and then comment on its features and use. She also explained the tracks and signs aborigines would use in the desert to find food, as well as the symbols used in aboriginal artwork.
The girls then went on to create their own paintings based on their experiences. Violet’s showed how the sun lit uo the the solar lights in the Field of Lights and Audrey used aboriginal symbols to describe her walk around Uluru with the flowers that we found.
The desert flowers are at a 25 year peak right now. Significant rains have resulted in meadows of subtle desert flowers across the landscape.
In the evening, we were compelled to attend the sunset viewing of Uluru at the defined sunset viewing site along the main road. It drew people from everywhere. We arrived early and found a good spot, clear of bushes and trees, that I had sussed out on the previous day and set up my camera on my tripod. By the time the sun was low on the horizon, the area was packed. Sunset here, acts like a magnet, drawing people from everywhere.
Uluru is composed of coarse-grained arkose – a type of sandstone. When relatively fresh, the rock has a grey colour, but weathering of iron-bearing minerals through oxidation gives the outer surface layer of rock a red-brown rusty colour. It’s remarkable how the colours of the rock change during the day. I took the first of these photos during the day when it looked purple. The second, art sunset, show just how red the setting sun lights up the rock. In some photos I have seen when it is raining. The rock seems to take on a colour that is close to silver.
Yesterday, Friday, we drove through the national park to Kata Tjuta. Kata Tjuta, once known as the Olgas, is a group of large, domed rock formations and are located about 25 km to the east of Uluru. The 36 domes that make up Kata Tjuta cover an area of 22 square km2 and are composed of conglomerate, a sedimentary rock consisting of cobbles and boulders of varying rock types including granite and basalt, cemented by a matrix of sandstone. The highest dome, Mount Olga, is 1,066 m above sea level, or approximately 546 m above the surrounding plain. This makes it about 198 m higher than Uluru.
The original name, The Olgas, comes from the tallest peak, Mt. Olga. This name comes from 1872 when the botanist Baron Ferdinand von Mueller named it in honour of Queen Olga of Württemberg (born Grand Duchess Olga of Russia and daughter of Tsar Nicholas I). This was in gratitude for him becoming a Baron. On 15 December 1993, a dual naming policy was adopted that allowed official names consisting of both the traditional Aboriginal name and the English name. As a result, Mount Olga was renamed Mount Olga / Kata Tjuta. It’s now just generally know by its aboriginal name although the highest peak is still known as Mt Olga.
In the afternoon, we took the girls for a camel ride. A local tour operator has a large camel farm near Yulara and takes people on rides through nearby sand dunes. Our camel train consisted of about 40 camels, each with their own personality.
We have an extremely large number of feral camels in Australia and, surprisingly, we actually export some to the Middle East! They were Imported into Australia from British India and Afghanistan during the 19th century for transport and construction during the colonisation of the central and western parts of Australia. Many were released into the wild after motorised transport replaced them in the early 20th century, resulting in a fast-growing feral population.
In fact, Australia’s first major inland expedition to use camels was the famous Burke and Wills expedition in 1860. They crossed the continent from South to North, looking for the ‘inland sea’. The Victorian Government imported 24 camels for the expedition with the first Muslim cameleers arriving in June 1860. The Victorian Exploration Expedition Committee, of the day determined that “the camels would be comparatively useless unless accompanied by their native drivers”.