Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
The aim of my qualitative fi eld research,
conducted during a pilot fi eld trip to Central
Australia in November 2006, was hence to
investigate how discursively constructed
images and received experiences tie in with the
tourists' narratives of self. I conducted 20 semi-
structured, conversational interviews with tour-
ists at various sites and stages of their travels
in Australia. This collection of narrated experi-
ence was extended by ethnographic observa-
tion of tourist behavioural patterns at tourist
locations in Central Australia. The research
population consequently ranged from coach
tourists with highly organized and tightly sched-
uled programmes to groups whose interest in
local life and Aboriginal culture motivated a
longer stay. Another group of interviewees is
represented with self-drive tourists, and other
independent travellers, such as backpackers
and single travellers. These so-called Free Inde-
pendent Travellers (FITs), because of their
autonomous time management, are more likely
to spend more time at the Rock, take a walk
around its base and seek a closer encounter
with Aboriginal culture through the park's
Cultural Centre or Aboriginal tour companies
(Blamey and Hatch, 1998; NT-Government,
2005). Contrary to the FITs, it is the mass- or
coach-tourist, who remains in the 'tourist bub-
ble' of coach and resort (Boorstin, 1964), and
who is usually expected to have little interest in
a genuine interaction with the destination envi-
ronment. While different tourist types arguably
pursue different experiences (Cohen, 1979),
these typologies, however, seem to be less reli-
able in Australia and amongst visitors to Uluru.
According to my fi ndings, in the Australian con-
text these typologies allow no general conclu-
sions concerning the tourists' attitudes. Because
of long distances from home and within Austra-
lia, international travellers in the majority travel
on a restricted budget and schedule. The unfa-
miliar conditions and the vastness of the country
furthermore let it seem advisable to some
tourists - who would usually prefer self-organized
travel - to entrust themselves to the hands of
knowledgeable 'professionals'. As my interest
focuses here on the transformational potential
of Aboriginal place representations, therefore, I
largely neglect the impact of tourist typologies.
Ethnographic participant observation captures
behavioural patterns of tourists at the Rock.
The affective and haptic dimensions of the tour-
ist experience on the other hand remains elu-
sive. Using the techniques of photo- and
audio-elicitation (Duffy et al ., 2007; Wood et al .,
2007) and asking participants to take photos or
fi nd other means of communicating their subjec-
tive experience, such as concentrating on physi-
cal sensations in interview questions, assisted in
the collection of this kind of emotional data.
'Seeing and Doing' - Images
and Postures at Uluru
Tourist postures I - The climb
Tourist discourses of 'site sacralization' (Mac-
Cannell, 1989) directly utilize Uluru's multi-
layered appeal as Aboriginal sacred site and
national icon, its signifi cance in various esoteric
New Age constructions as well as the perceived
simplicity of its surrounding 'pristine wilderness'
(Hill, 1994). Uluru can be made to appeal to a
range of tourist types: from the spiritual and
nature-loving tourist to the adventure tourist or
those on a quest of the nation's symbolic heart.
Pictures of the Rock avoid the depiction of
roads, cars or other infrastructure while even
single tourists are commonly missing from these
images, evoking a remoteness that appears to
offer the space for spiritual solitude and silence.
Such images address what MacCannell calls
the egocentric observer (MacCannell, 2007).
Despite the increased marketing of the Aborigi-
nal relationship with Uluru and its promotion as
a site where the tourist can experience the 'mys-
tery and spirituality of one of the oldest cultures
in the world' (from the fi lm 'Selling Australia',
Redwood, 2001), Aboriginal people are simi-
larly missing from most photographs. The guid-
ing desire of many tourists journeying to Central
Australia is to see the icon with their own eyes
and to be 'touched' by the place in a way that is
only possible when they are physically there.
Most of my interviewees stated that such a visit
to the Rock was their main objective for travel-
ling to Central Australia. At the same time, they
were often quite aware that their expectations
had been pre-shaped by the already known and
endlessly reproduced 'framed image' of Uluru
centred in the empty plain. Asked about their
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