The desert is a heavy blanket that wraps you in a red heat. This is how it felt to visit Uluru in the Northern Territory for the first time. I spent too much time at the airport getting there, making the flight connections that usually come with cheap plane tickets. But once I arrived, greeted by the wooden cradled lodgings and friendly smiles of staff, I finally understood the laissez-faire stereotype usually associated with Australians, who welcome you calmly with their hospitality even though it’s 35 degrees outside and there could be a snake at every turn.
The air had a thickness to it, but the overcast sky meant that you weren’t also trying desperately to get out of the sun. I had red feet too, the bottoms of my shoes leaving evidence of the red desert ground, clues from where I’d been in every room that I entered.
When we finally got to get up close and personal with Uluru, I remember thinking that no picture I took or words I wrote were going to be able to do it justice. Looking up at the rock, I recalled being at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, looking down from a great height and thinking “woah”. Uluru towered 24 metres over the Eiffel Tower and cast its own long shadow in the desert.
Knowledge is power in Uluru too, where the traditional owners of the land, the Anangu peoples, share thousands of years of cultural and geological knowledge with tour guides where they see fit, when they feel it has been earned. I was grateful for what I could learn in just a few days; it felt exponential and yet, I knew it was a mere fraction of the history held within and around Uluru Kata-Tjuta national park. And perhaps it is strange, but a part of me wanted to keep some of what I learned a secret. But when I got back, it was all I could do not to talk my friends ears off with how amazing Uluru and Kata-Tjuta were.
Writing things down even feels like a bit of a betrayal to sharing these stories face to face, as they were intended to be shared.
Personally, I learnt that being alone, surrounded by people, does not always feel like loneliness. That being present and aware of the world you inhabit, respecting the ecosystems that keep you surviving and trying not to make a negative impact on them, is still important, maybe more so now than ever before.
And I learnt again, as I keep on learning, that stories matter.