The Uluru rock, one of the world’s largest monoliths and also one of the most recognizable natural landmarks on earth, is situated in the sandy plains of the Northern Territories, right about in the middle of Australia. Formerly known as Ayers Rock, Uluru and its sister formation, the Kata Tjua rock domes 25 km further west, form important parts of the sacred land of the Anangu’s, an Aboriginal people whose roots go back thousands of years in this area. In the 1950s, both Ayers Rock and the Olgas (Kata Tjuta) as they were called back then, became a national park within the Anangu reserve. After years if campaigning, the Anangu people were in 1985 recognized as the original owners of all of Uluru and Kata Tjuta, leasing it back to Parks Australia to be jointly managed as a national park. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park was designated a World Heritage site in 1987.

The Uluru and Kata Tjuta Rocks

Created some 600 million years ago when there was a sea here, the Uluru “island mountain” rises 348 m above ground, and much like an iceberg at sea, the bulk of the rock is in fact hidden below ground. The Uluru rock has a circumference of 9.4 km at the base with smooth side of up to 80° gradient. You will have to climb a steep 1.6 km before you arrive on the relatively flat top that features deep parallel fissures which extend from the top and down the sides of the monolith. Aboriginal rock art sites that can be viewed on guided walks and tours around the base of the rock.

Header photo: Uluru at dusk © Michael Nelson Parks Australia

Kata Tjuta at dawn © Michael Nelson Parks Australia
Kata Tjuta at dawn © Michael Nelson Parks Australia

Also known as the Olgas, the official Anangu name Kata Tjua means “many heads”, owing to its 36 dome-like and head-shaped forms, the highest of them rising 546 m above the surrounding plain.

Uluru and Kata Tjuta are situated about 450 km south-west of Alice Springs, the nearest major city. The town Yulara has been built nearby to provide accommodation and other essential services. Notwithstanding its remote location, the Uluru-Kata Tjua National Park is visited by 250,000 people each year.

The rusty orange-red colour of Uluru and Kata Tjua, which is particularly striking in low sunlight, is due to surface oxidation of its iron-bearing minerals.

Anangu storytelling

Anangu still create sand drawings and body paintings for religious and ceremonial expression and for teaching and storytelling purposes, but have largely abandoned the use of rock paintings to teach and tell stories. Today they use a range of new materials including acrylic paint on canvas. Anangu artists use the same symbols and meanings that have been used by their ancestors over many generations. This enables Anangu to continue passing on Tjukurpa (pronounced chook-oor-pa) through storytelling as well as providing the community with a source of income. Tjukurpa is the traditional law that explains existence and guides daily life for Anangu.

The art found in the caves of Uluru were painted by the Anangu to illustrate stories they tell or the Tjukurpa they teach. Several rock shelters along the Mala and Kuniya walks provide visitors with the opportunity to observe evidence of this ancient tradition. The paintings are of considerable historical significance to Anangu, who continue to ensure their preservation and protection.
(Source: Parks Australia)

World Heritage

Following the historic “handback” of Uluru and Kata Tjua to the Anangu people in 1985, the area was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1987 as a mixed (cultural and natural) site. The National Park with the rocks are considered to be outstanding not only because of their awe-inspiring natural beauty, but also for being an important example of Aboriginal settlement and its cultural and religious traditions. See links below for more details.

All photos courtesy of Parks Australia/Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Media Centre.
Parks Australia