The town of Yulara is resort built around the area of Uluru. The eponymous rock, also known as Ayers Rock sits resplendent in the setting Australian sun, basking in the warm rays. It is a unique place: There are no clouds in the sky, a light blue opaque dome that reaches over you like an IMAX screen on the preshow before the movie starts.
Yulara is literally a town in the middle of nowhere. If Las Vegas is considered a Disneyworld spectacle in the middle of the desert, Yulara has a small scale version, built solely to service visitors to Ayers Rock. A small airport with single gate serves the area, with only a handful of flights each day. So small that the Qantas Boeing 717 actually turned around at the end of the runway and taxied back up to the apron. Several hotels and inns of various price points surround a ring road. A single cell site serves the compound, with microwave backhauls pointing in the distance and a fibre optic line off to Alice Springs. Today the link was down, the front desk reception and girl at the grocery store acknowledging we were effectively cut off from the rest of the world: No mobile phones, landlines, internet or credit transactions. It underlines the remoteness of Australia’s outback, despite the disparity that an ice cream bar here is actually cheaper than downtown Sydney, given that it needs to be trucked into the middle of the country. To us, it doesn’t really matter: the real reason why people visit is the rock in the background.
In the middle of the compound, encircled by the two kilometer ring road, is a representation of the outback, just like the desert expanse that surrounds us for hundreds of miles. Siobhan and I refer to it as the “inback” of which there is a lookout hill in the middle. We trekked out there last night to watch Uluru in the sunset. Trek is probably incorrect, I’ve walked further to find a bank machine. What’s also incorrect is the term desert, which requires shifting sand and less
This morning we went on a tour around the rock itself, led by Aunjuru, the aborigines of the area. The natives here speak of Tjurkurpa, the myths/stories that explain the basis of the land/nature/people. For example, the rabbit-like wallabies here are referred to as Mala, and as
creation-beings they have an intricate story that explains how the rock formations came to be. Sadly, the animals around the area have disappeared, largely due to the tourist growth around the locale: The helicopters that fly overhead scare the animals, as do the buses and trucks.
In every place I’ve visited, there is an offer to climb up to the top of the tallest object in town: A minaret in a mosque, the stairs of a duomo, the observation tower of a skyscraper. The Aborigines don’t want you climb the rock, though about thirty percent of the visitors to the
site do, and about forty people in the past have died doing so. The whole issue is strange: Visitors want to climb it, the natives don’t understand why, the government doesn’t want to lose tourist dollars, and there’s really no reason other than to say you’ve done it. And to see
the Australian outback, of which there is miles and miles to the horizon.
Watching television here in Ayers Rock is a little peculiar too. There are three channels and the content is broadcast from the slick studios in Sydney, except the commercials, which appear to be locally made and inserted: Ads for pressure washers, cowboy shirts, and local pizza places, highly unlikely to be Clio winning campaigns but still highly entertaining. There is one where a young man points at you through the camera, then points to his clothes he’s announcing the specials at his employer’s clothing shop. Its hilariously corny– spokesperson, model and likely backroom stock checker all in one.