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consequently writes its Indigenous inhabitants
out of history. At Uluru, this world ordering has
been physically inscribed into the fabric of the
place. Iron poles and chains installed along the
well-trodden pathway to the summit seemingly
authorize the climb as the natural posture of the
modern tourist.
Despite Anangu's disapproval, non-
Indigenous opposition against a closure of the
climb is still strong, naming fi nancial loss for both
Anangu and non-Aboriginal operators as the
main reason (Digance, 2003). Yet, while the climb
remains open, an increasing number of local tour
operators inform their passengers of Anangu's
request and promote the 'don't climb' message. 7
Anangu representation encourages visitors to stay
on the ground and experience a different per-
spective of the rock that is not in confl ict with local
culture. 8 While some tourists may continue to
pursue the summit, the alternative perspective is
spreading, often initiating critical refl ection on the
issue of the climb as my interviews show. 9
'objective' and 'straight-on' gaze in favour of a
more personal way of seeing, and thus reveals
the 'thing itself' (Žižek, 1997), the story and
meaning of the place as known to its traditional
owners. Aboriginal relationship to country in
the Central desert regions of Australia is guided
by the Tjukurpa, 11 often inaccurately translated
as the 'Dreaming', which refers to the creation
time and the presence of the ancestors. During
their journeys across country, the ancestors cre-
ated every land feature through their action and
song. Then, they 'went back in', i.e. they trans-
formed into landmarks such as Uluru, but also
smaller, seemingly less signifi cant geographical
features (Rose, 1996). Tjukurpa records and pre-
serves the ancestors' knowledge of country for
future generations. It topographically embodies
the law of the country, providing not only the
knowledge crucial for the sustainable survival in
the harsh desert environment but also contain-
ing moral directives for human interaction and
responsible behaviour in the country. Children and
other uninitiated people, however, can only be told
so-called 'surface stories' that omit the secret-
sacred content of the complete song or story.
One of Uluru's stories that is shared with
tourists tells of the epic battle between two
snakes, Kuniya the python and the poisonous
Liru, a battle eternalized in the shape and tex-
ture of the rock. The story explains a set of
instructions that relate to the correct use and
management of the Mutitjulu waterhole, located
at the site of the battle and guarded by the water
snake Wanampi. Knowledge of Uluru's Tjuku-
rpa hence informs a particular way of seeing -
and acting - that is often hardly perceivable for
A meeting place of knowledges
The tourist comes here with the camera taking
pictures all over. What has he got? Another photo
to take home, keep part of Uluru. He should get
another lens - see straight inside. Wouldn't see
big rock then. He would see that Kuniya living
right inside there as from the beginning . . .
Kunma n ara, traditional owner, Uluru.
(UKTNP, 2006, p. 20) 10
Kunmanara's advice, given in the Uluru-Kata
Tjuta visitor guide, suggests a different way of
looking at Uluru that discards the tourists'
7 Field notes 2006/07 and James (2007).
8 However, as James (2007) has shown, tourists often feel that information about this cultural sensitivity should
be promoted more prominently.
9 James (2007, p. 399) for example notes a signifi cant 20% decline of people climbing Uluru between 1991 and
2004. In the current climate of tourist education, these numbers can be expected to fall further.
10 'Kunmanara: Pitjantjatjara for 'one who's name cannot be mentioned'. This refers to the name of a recently
deceased person. As part of Pitjantjatjara mortuary beliefs, all people with the same name, or even a name
that sounds similar to the one belonging to a person who has died, take the name 'Kunmanara' [. . .]
Kunmanara will remain in place until the grieving family deems it appropriate to bring the name back into
use. Occasionally an alternative word with the same meaning but different sound may be used' (Ara-Irititja-
Project, 2007).
11 This is not to be misunderstood as a pan-Aboriginal term, the central desert language of Yankuntjatjara for
example uses the term Wapar for a similar concept, see
index.html (Accessed 26 August 2007).
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