Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
knowledge. An important part of this place-
related cultural etiquette is that Anangu do not
climb Uluru. In fact, traditional owner Barbara
Tjikatu, in the visitor guide, makes it very clear
that respect for Anangu culture and law is only
adequately expressed by not climbing: 'If you
worry about Aboriginal law, then leave it, don't
climb it' (UKTNP, 2004). Instead, tourists are
invited to stop and listen and experience the
rock by walking around its base. Tourists are thus
encouraged to 'break the frame' of the frontal
image as they walk close to the rock, to discover
the 'below', 'the rear and the back' of the scen-
ery, and thus see what is habitually excluded
from the European vision as childish, 'premod-
ern' and even 'past and profane' (Veijola and
Jokinen, 2003, p. 263). The invitation to do the
base walk instead of the climb is thus also the
invitation to change posture and perspective.
The course of the walk is directed by the
sequence of the stories told by the various sites
around the Rock. Retracing the story in its proper
sequence, the visitor is thus led into the Anangu
story of place. The inscribed mythology of the
Tjukurpa is culturally encoded knowledge that
answers to the tourist's desire to 'know' the
place, or more importantly, the 'desire to know
what cannot be seen' (Game in Crouch, 2002,
p. 215). On the 3-4-h walk around the Rock,
visitors can experience the unique habitat that
has formed here for humans, fl ora and fauna.
They learn to experience the place as a living
entity rather than seeing it as a static image.
Walkers frequently express their surprise about
the 'multi-dimensionality' of the Rock when its
many folds and layers, waterholes and caves
become visible in the proximate gaze, contra-
dicting the framed surface image of the solid
rock. One walker explicitly said that he did not
give much attention to the mythological story
but reported from his experience:
First, I wasn't very impressed by the sight of the
Rock, you know, when you see it from the
lookout. It just looks like what you expect it to
look like. But when you walk around it, you
begin to see it differently; you realize how big it
is. When you look at it from so close you can see
its history, the erosions, washed into the surface.
It almost looks like the skin of an animal.
(Daniel, Interview, 2006)
As this quote demonstrates, in many accounts
of their experience at Uluru, tourists seem to
invest an animate quality into the Rock when
they talk about its 'skin' or personalize it other-
wise, speaking of it as 'he'. It is not uncommon
to observe them waving a farewell to Uluru.
Once the observer is taken out of his or her mas-
terly detached position of the straightforward,
seemingly all-comprehending gaze, the framed
image gives way to a closer look, allowing a more
personal, embodied knowledge of place. Knowl-
edge of Anangu interpretation opens entry-points
to Aboriginal ontology on an intellectual level.
Yet, being encouraged to take the posture
'below', which in European culture is associated
with the childlike and inferior, visitors have to
abandon their habitual surveying posture and
instead enter a face-to-face-level with the rock.
Martin and Gisela, a couple from Franconia,
said they had decided against climbing the Rock
after learning of its cultural signifi cance for
Anangu. For them, they said, this decision was
a matter of 'mutual respect'. They experienced
quite strongly the contradiction between the
tranquillity of their walk and the noisy spectacle
of the climb. Both agreed that their experience
of the place was signifi cantly enriched by the
decision not to climb. When I asked Martin
about his experience, he seemed lost for the
right word to describe the experience from this
different perspective, replying: 'I found the sight
oppressive but in a positive kind of way . . .'
'Impressive, maybe?' Gisela seconded - 'Well,
impressive!' Martin agreed, thereby resuming the
rational posture of the aesthetically detached
sightseer (Martin and Gisela, Interview, 2006).
Through knowledge of Uluru's mythology
visitors learn to see Uluru as a cultural site -
rather than a natural landscape - that has been
inscribed with a much older knowledge and
sense of belonging. Uluru's aura derives from its
embeddedness in the 'fabric of tradition' (Ben-
jamin, 1973, p. 225) so that Anangu's cultural
presence becomes inseparable from the tourists'
experience of the place. Expressing awe at
Anangu survival skills and spiritual richness,
several participants of an adult study group
expressed sentiments such as:
I now realize how arrogant I have been. I
used to think that these people were somehow
backward, primitive. But they have a lot of
knowledge. It is just different to our knowledge. [It
is] the kind of knowledge you need in this land.
(Group A, notes and Interview, 2006)
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