To make the most your pilgrimmage to Uluru AT takes the unusual step of recommending you get a guide. By Gail Liston-Burgess.
There’s something compelling about hearing Aboriginal Dreaming stories while tracing the Uluru Base Walk. Jodie, our Discovery Ecotours Australia guide, has an understanding of Aboriginal culture and Central Australia that’s refreshing and real.
She’s just one of a small but fine group of young people with a passion for the environment and culture of this region, married with an even greater passion for sharing that knowledge.
Suddenly, the tales of Liru and the Woma Python, Kuniya, really mean something to me. The bumps in the rock face of Uluru that signify the sacred sites are, for the first time, as visible to me as they are to the Anangu Aboriginals. The face of Mala Wati, the paw print of the great dingo dog, the slithering path of the Kuniya, are as apparent as the nose on my face.
It’s truly exciting to walk through the bush and watch knowing hands touch flora and describe its cultural, medicinal and edible value. Bush plums, figs and honey grevillea – all bush tucker that are mentioned regularly in print but mean little to we city folk who venture into the Outback. (By the way, bush plums taste okay. Bit tart, bit sweet. Full of vitamin C and, according to Jodie, really healthy even for non-Aboriginals. I gobbled half a dozen just in case.)
I’m not much of a snake person. In fact, anything that slithers is pretty much a no-go. Wade changed that. Cuddling a Stimson’s Python may not be quite second nature, but it’s much more cosy than it ever was before. Watching children’s hands tickle the throat of a Bearded Dragon and pet the underbelly of a young male dingo named Denver really is a rare treat. So, while I won’t be rushing around in the desert seeking out and patting reptiles and furry critters, I certainly won’t be running in the other direction.
Karen is new to the eco guide business, but she can change a blown tyre on a rugged Outback road with humour and expertise while keeping her guests comfortable and hydrated. Big tick for attitude. I consider the walk with her through the Ochre Pits on the Larapinta Highway west of Alice Springs a highlight of the tour.
Little did I know that these pits have been the source of ochre paints used by the Aboriginal people for thousands of years. Even today Aboriginals source their materials for sacred ceremonies from this very location.
Mt Conner, east of Uluru near Curtin Springs, hides one of the lesser-known gems of the Red Centre: Lake Swanson.
The other gem is Brett. Standing on this small salt lake, the tour group learns some startling facts about the salt lake system that stretches some 100km adjacent to Uluru and Kings Canyon, the environment and the fauna in this region. On departing the salty shores, Brett draws our attention to fabulous wedge-tailed eagle nests, a desert oak considered amongst the oldest in the western desert region – more than 400 years clocked up on the bark – and the impressive stromatolite fossil remains that prove the existence of an ancient inland sea.
Uluru and its surrounds have a profound effect on all who approach, and exploring the region on your own can certainly bring home the vast loneliness of the place. But with an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide at your side, you’ll discover more about the centre of this country than you ever imagined.