Travel Reference
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expectations prior to their visit, many answered,
'Well, I guess, I expect just what the tourist
expects' (Frank, Interview, 2006). My observa-
tions illustrate, however, that visitors to Uluru
nonetheless search for the personal encounter
to experience what Benjamin (1973) describes
as the aura of the original object, i.e. of the
Rock's 'presence in time and space, its unique
existence at the place where it happens to be'
(Benjamin, 1973, p. 222). Yet, framed by tourist
narratives of 'the vast and unspoiled wonders of
Australia's interior' (CATIA, 2007), the repeated
and recycled image pre-selects what is expected
and what is subsequently seen (Urry, 2002).
The desire to take visual possession of Uluru's
presence, to 'pry [it] from its shell' and to objec-
tify it in the reproducible image, is to “destroy its
aura” for the perceiving individual (Benjamin,
1973, p. 225). The tourist thus encounters the
“paradox of desire” as described by Žižek:
surveillant cartographic gaze and replay the
gestures of mapping and occupying a seemingly
empty country (Pratt, 1992). Following in the
logic of the centring gaze from afar, the rock calls
for the climber to master it and the surrounding
landscape. This urge to physically bond with the
natural giant overcomes both domestic and inter-
national tourists. But what drives people to a
climb that is both dangerous and culturally con-
tested? 'What kinds of bondings and cravings are
at work when [. . .] climbing a mountain with a
view?' (Veijola and Jokinen, 2003, p. 260).
Uluru as a topographical symbol of the
Australian nation harks back to the foundational
myths of the explorers who penetrated and
opened the wilderness for the settlers (McGrath,
1991). In recent decades, the climb - the tour-
ist's ritualistically repeated conquest of the
interior - has therefore been constructed as an
important performance of Australian settler
identity. Similarly, Veijola and Jokinen draw a
parallel between the topography of the moun-
tain and imaginations of nationhood,
The paradox of desire is that it posits retroac-
tively its own cause, i.e., the object a [the object
of desire in Lacan's terms] is an object that can
be perceived only by a gaze “distorted” by
desire, an object that does not exist for an
“objective” gaze.
The view from the top of the mountain,
downwards, suggests a posture that is proper
when symbolizing an autonomous and brave
new nation that has just begun to maintain an
upright position, like a mammal or a human
child that has learned to walk.
(Veijola and Jokinen, 2003, p. 263)
T he spatial logic of the vertical position, allowing
the horizontal view over an apparently 'empty
land' 6 employs 'the imperialist notion that there
is a place of overview from which to analyse and
'objectively' report the world' (Edensor, 1998,
p. 16). This perspective is thus aligned with the
general - masculine - narratives of exploration,
mastery and historical progress (Lefebvre, 1991;
Birkeland, 1999). Like the frontal gaze onto the
rock surface, eclipsing Indigenous presence from
its line of vision, the centred viewpoint reduces
meaning in the service of the dominant power
and knowledge system. It is in the nature of this
monological Western knowledge that it does not
tolerate the presence of other, Aboriginal knowl-
edges as they may subvert its own grand gestures
by asserting prior occupation. Instead, it inscribes
the hegemonic world order into the land and
(Žižek, 1997, p. 12)
Excising Uluru out of its context, the framed
image creates the empty surface for the projec-
tion of desire from which, in reality, the observer
only receives what has been projected onto it
before. In other words, in looking too intently at
the desired object, 'straight-on' and 'matter-of-
factly', the observer might lose the 'thing itself'
(Žižek, 1997, p.11) and is instead left with noth-
ing more than the generic image. The framed
and objectifying gaze thus often causes disap-
pointment and inspires the wish to 'interact' and
touch the site in a way that authenticates and
intensifi es the experience. The kind of knowl-
edge this gaze fails to wrench from the rock
must be achieved through physical conquest.
The cultural posture corresponding to the cen-
tred and vertical image of Uluru then, the 'being
and doing' (Veijola and Jokinen, 2003) this
constructed landscape seems to prescribe, is the
heroically elevated position of the 'monarch-of-
all-I-survey' that allows the tourist to assume the
6 A perspective that formed the backdrop to the legal construction of terra nullius from British colonial times
used as justifi cation for Aboriginal dispossession of their land.
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