Uluru, Australia's Iconic Red Rock

Uluru, Australia's Iconic Red Rock
Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is an iconic red rock situated in the southern part of the Northern Territory in Australia. It is an inselberg made of sandstone about half a billion years old. The rock stands 348 m high and has a circumference of 9.4 km (Bickersteth et al., 2020). It is home to a number of rare plants and animals as well as to important spiritual sites and caves containing ancient paintings.

Uluru together with Kata Tjuta, a group of large rock formations located about 25 km from Uluru, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 under the name Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park (UNESCO Ref: 447).

This rock is culturally associated with the Anangu people (including Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people), the traditional landowners of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (Hueneke, & Baker, 2009). They have lived and managed this area for many millennia and archaeological evidence shows that Aboriginal people have inhabited here for more than 30,000 years (Bickersteth et al., 2020).
Early travellers & naming the rock
Long before the arrival of Europeans in Australia, the rock is known among the local Anangu people (the Pitjantjatjara people) as the Uluru, a proper noun from the Pitjantjatjara language which doesn’t have an English translation (Twidale, 2009). It was sighted from afar by Giles in 1872 (Twidale, 2009). The explorer William Gosse, the first non-Aboriginal person to visit Uluru in 1873, named it Ayers Rock in honour of the then Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers (Bickersteth et al., 2020; Everingham et al., 2021; Hueneke, & Baker, 2009; Twidale, 2009). In that same year, Ernest Giles became the first European to climb Uluru, together with Khamran, an Afghan camel driver (Everingham et al., 2021).
The Ayers Rock was the widely used name until 1993 when the rock was officially renamed "Ayers Rock / Uluru", the first official dual-named feature in the Northern Territory. In 2002, the order of the dual names was officially reversed to "Uluru / Ayers Rock" at the request of the Regional Tourism Association in Alice Spring. 
From a National Park to a World Heritage Site
Rock arts, Uluru
Before the 1950s, Uluru was almost unknown except to Anangu people and the first vehicular track to Uluru is said to have been not built until 1948 (Hueneke, & Baker, 2009). Located about 450 km southwest of the then tiny regional centre of Alice Springs, travelling to this site was difficult in the early years of tourism because of its remoteness from population centres (Hueneke, & Baker, 2009). In 1958, the Uluru rock along with Kata Tjuta was declared as a national park of Australia and as a result of the road improvements, airline advertising and exposure in the popular press, the number of tourists to the site rose significantly by the early 1960s (Hueneke, & Baker, 2009).
In 1983, the Uluru- Kata Tjuta National Park was handed back to its traditional owners, the Anangu people, by the Australian Government with an official event known as Handback held in 1985 (Hueneke, & Baker, 2009; James, 2007). The park gained UNESCO World Heritage recognition in 1987 (as a natural heritage) and again in 1994 [(as a cultural heritage) Everingham et al., 2021].

Presently, the Anangu people and the Federal Government agency Parks Australia co-manage the national park (Hueneke, & Baker, 2009).

Uluru has been a sacred place to the Anangu people for tens of thousands of years and climbing Uluru was not generally permitted under Tjukurpa, the law and culture of the Anangu people. However, since the  1950s, people who came to visit the site climbed the rock against the wishes of the Anangu people who do not want visitors to climb it (James, 2007). After a number of deaths occurred due to falls, climb posts with a chain were installed on the rock in 1966 and again in 1976, to make the climb safer (Bickersteth et al., 2020).

The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park's Management Plan which was released in 2010 signalled the authorities' intention to work towards closing the climb (Everingham et al., 2021). On 1 November 2017, the Board of Management of the park voted unanimously to prohibit climbing Uluru (Bickersteth et al., 2020). The ban took effect on 26 October 2019, on the 34th anniversary of the Handback (Everingham et al., 2021).
Geology, topography & climate
Uluru is one of the three most prominent inselbergs in central Australia. It is a monolith of arkosic sandstone, a mixture of quartz and orthoclase feldspar, set amidst a flat plain of heavy soils (Bickersteth et al., 2020). It is lozenge-shaped in plan, steep-sided in profile, and with a bevelled crest (Twidale, 2009). The rock stands 877 m a.s.l. and rises to a height at its summit of 340 m above the surrounding plain (Bickersteth et al., 2020; Twidale, 2009). It has a circumference of 9.4 km (Bickersteth et al., 2020).

In summer, Uluru has a hot desert climate with temperatures as high as 47°C during the day. But during winter the overnight temperature drops to −7°C. The area receives an average rainfall of about 295 mm per year (Masters, 1993).

Flora & fauna
As mentioned on the Government website (web: Uluru- Kata Tjuta National Park), there are a lot of animal species in the park, including 21 different mammals, 73 reptiles, 178 birds and 4 desert-dwelling frogs. Also, more than 400 different plant species are growing in the park and many of them have traditional uses as bush foods, tools or medicine.

2) This image (Uluru petroglyphs VIII) has been released into the public domain by its creator, Wmpearl.

1) Bickersteth, J., West, D. and Wallis, D., 2020. Returning Uluru. Studies in Conservation, 65(sup1), pp.P9-P17.
2) Everingham, P., Peters, A. and Higgins-Desbiolles, F., 2021. The (im) possibilities of doing tourism otherwise: The case of settler-colonial Australia and the closure of the climb at Uluru. Annals of Tourism Research, 88, 103178. pp.1-11.
3) Hueneke, H. and Baker, R., 2009. Tourist behaviour, local values, and interpretation at Uluru:‘The sacred deed at Australia’s mighty heart’. GeoJournal, 74(5), pp.477-490.
4) James, S., 2007. Constructing the climb: Visitor decision‐making at Uluru. Geographical Research, 45(4), pp.398-407.
5) Masters, P., 1993. The effects of fire-driven succession and rainfall on small mammals in spinifex grassland at Uluru National Park, Northern Territory. Wildlife Research, 20(6), pp.803-813.
6) Twidale, C.R., 2009. Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas): Inselbergs of Central Australia. In Geomorphological landscapes of the world. Springer, Dordrecht. pp. 321-332.
Location Map
This page was last updated on 12 June 2022

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