Everyone knows that the centre of Australia is big and very sparsely populated.
Most of it is also flat and red.
The colour of the ‘outback’ of Australia comes from the high level of minerals such as iron that emerge naturally from the earth.
In fact it is a bit of a party trick in certain parts of Australia to take a welding torch to a piece of metal and some rock and weld them together without using solder, that’s how much naturally occurring iron there is in the sand.
The most famous red rock in Australia stands 348 metres and is a gigantic sandstone monolith known as Uluru, or Ayers Rock.
This geological icon has been the setting for a number of very dramatic moments in Australia’s history, not the least of which was the infamous case of baby Azaria Chamberlain, who was taken by a dingo, or wild dog, in the area. That shocking event became one of the most talked about court cases in Australian history after police in the Northern Territory decided that her mother, Lindy, had secretly killed the baby and hidden the body.
At the time almost the entire country couldn’t believe that a dog would take a baby, especially from a tent. Lindy Chamberlain was convicted and spent 4 years in jail until further evidence came to light that confirmed that her child HAD been killed by a wild dog, and that she was in no way responsible. A pardon and compensation came later, but not until after terrible damage had been done to that entire family.
Aside from that terrible injustice, Ayers Rock or Uluru has also seen its fair share of controversy when it comes to land ownership and cultural sensitivity.
To the Anagu, the local indigenous people of the area, the site is sacred. Visitors are asked not to climb the rock, nor to disturb its spirits living there. Climbing is still allowed, however, and the volcanic rock provides spectacular scenery from every angle.
Local guides are available to share their knowledge and stories of ‘The Dreamtime’, the origin story of the Aboriginal people. Since the UNESCO listing of Uluru as a World Heritage site, visitors have continued to pour in, more than 400,000 people make their way to the literal and figurative heart of Australia each year.
The cost to enter the National Park is 25 AUD, and this money is given back to the traditional owners. Near Uluru (and here we mean ‘near’ by Australian standards) is another remarkable bit of geology called Kata-Tjuta, or Mount Olga.
The Olgas are every bit as stunning as Uluru, although less well known and anyone planning a trip must put this part of the park on their itinerary.
The Olgas and Uluru are actually the same geological band of an enormous layer of basalt, granite and sandstone that have broken through the surface of the Earth’s crust.
Imagine a gigantic river of molten lava snaking its way under the Earth’s surface and making lumps like the back of a camel above the ground. Now imagine that 600 million years of wind and rain erosion has turned these lumps into mountains and that is what you will be looking at. Uluru and Kata-Tjuta take you back to when the Earth was being made.
The size and scale of these naturally occurring landmarks cannot be overstated. This is a region of the Earth where size truly does matter. Distances and features are bigger. Everything is bigger than you imagine. Even the flies.
Staying inside the Uluru-KataTjuta National Park is no longer allowed, but there is a wide variety of accommodation available in Yulara, a small and somewhat isolated town just outside of the park itself. Everyone is catered to, from back-packers right up to 5 star fans. If a trip to the area is on the bucket list it is worth noting that the Australian summer can be brutal this far inland. Summer down under runs from November to March, however the heat and flies will be all over you from October until April. Summer temperatures at Uluru can reach into the mid 40’s (Celsius) and will happily stay there for weeks at a time. Winter is more temperate, and nights in winter can be below 0 degrees.
Rain is rare but always welcomed. The average rainfall in central Australia is less than 300mm per year. After a heavy downfall, dessert flowers spring to life which gives this otherwise stark landscape a most remarkable makeover.
There are thousands of places on this planet to explore, but the centre of Australia should be somewhere in your consciousness, not only because it’s beautiful, but because it’s a reminder that there are places where the World still looks and feels like it was here first, and that it will still be here, just the same, long after we are gone.