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The Many Faces of Uluru

The Many Faces of Uluru (oil on canvas)

The final days leading up to October 25, 2019 saw tourists of the world swarming Uluru to make their final ascent up the ancient landmark. This day marked the official closure of Uluru to climbers in a great feat of environmental preservation and meaningful return of land to its traditional owners.

My story begins January 22, 2019 when my parents and I visited Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park. We spent a couple days traversing various bush-walks leading around Uluru’s circumference, learning about the unique ecosystem it supports, the ancient history of the Anangu people and their relationship with the rock, as well as the history behind its discovery by the west and it's rename of Ayers Rock.

Uluru under cloud shadow

On our first evening we sat amidst the quilted desert plains watching the setting sunlight reflect off Uluru’s curvaceous form. I noticed a slight discord in the rolling channels of the illuminated face and upon closer observation discovered a metal chain leading to the rocky peak. I took a scope through my binoculars and while twisting into focus there appeared a foot path running parallel to the chain link handrail. Decades of tourists shoes carving into the rocky surface only to leave a disfigured scar. It's a story that's been told a million times, and it begins innocently enough... The love for nature, the excitement of adventure and freedom, yet where there’s heavy loads of human traffic soon follows a theme of pristine land becoming tainted.

Morning light

The Anangu people respectively ask tourists not to tread on the sacred rocky surface. They believe this land was created by their ancestors through dreamtime as a place for their people who have passed to rest their spirits.

My parents and I stuck to the various bush walks weaving in and out of the gradient of habitats. The sweltering desert heat flowed across the red plain in a mirage like manner. Heatwaves lapped against dense bush only to be intercepted by the thunderous orange rock of Uluru. Steps were slow when compared to the lively flies seeking moisture from eyes, ears and noses. The desert is hot and even sweat can quench a fly's thirst. By day there were cumulus clouds above, by night millions of stars flickered framed with the silhouettes of desert oaks.

Valley of Wind Kata Tjuta I found the heat slowed me down, often surrendering my senses to the the smells, sounds, and colors I was immersed in. Honey eaters frolicking in Wanari - Mulga shrubs, kingfishers on waterhole vigil, while sunbirds dipped and dived for insects bringing back a bounty to their young. Uluru is a magnet that attracts life, omniscient, and unbiased, standing as a stoic sanctuary to the arid terrain in which it sits.

Uluru water hole

During breaks between bush walks I would settle down under the shade of a small shrub and make gouache studies depicting what I saw around me. I studied the patterns of the various vegetation, the form of the folding rocks and waterholes. Everything has a rhythm unique to its location, endless with variables.

Basking in the early morning sunrise a deep rose encompasses the Uluru's face extenuating cool greenish shadowed grooves. In contrast, the evenings would glow deep oranges and the shadows deepened with blue undertones. The shadows on Uluru are forever changing. This dynamism of light and shadow offers a glimpse into the essence of Uluru, its formation, its mysticism, and qualities I would try to convey in a studio based piece back in Hobart.

Field sketch

Gouache study Uluru's eastern face under morning light

Gouache studies of Kata Tjuta

Gouache study of Uluru's eastern face with moon-rise in background

The end to another day in the central desert

Being tourists ourselves can't forget the classic Uluru shot!

Some interesting history and facts on Uluru Located in the heart of Australia’s central desert, Uluru is one of Australias most recognizable landmarks. It is a sedimentary geologic feature known as a an inselberg (island mountain) which is a residual knob that remains after surrounding terrain has eroded away. The process of oxidization gives Uluru its amazing orange color. Uluru and nearby rock formation Kata Tjuta have been deemed sacred by the Pitjantjatjara Anangu people for over 10,000 years. Not only has Uluru provided shelter and water for the Anangu but they believe it to be the birthplace of their people described through dreamtime stories passed down generation to generation. Many of Uluru’s unique geologic features are believed to be the marks left by sprits of their past. To this day many of Uluru’s fissures and caves have ancient paintings along their walls used to teach new generations the stories of their past. In coexistence with the Anangnu desert wildlife is also attracted to Uluru’s bounty of water and vegetation. A wide array of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians seek solace here (although recently species numbers seem to be on a decline). As a primary water source in an arid environment Uluru represents a large portion of the central deserts flora, much of which is thought to be extremely rare and endemic to Uluru’s immediate region. In 1872 Uluru was first mapped by westerners through the construction of the Australian Overland Telegraph Line. Upon further exploration in this area William Gosse went on to name the rock formation Ayers Rock after the Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers. for a long time the names were interchangeable, westerns often referring to the rock as Ayers, and aboriginal community as Uluru. In 1993 a dual naming policy was imposed being officially named “Ayers Rock/ Uluru”. In 2002 the order of official names was reversed to “Uluru/Ayers Rock” after granting a request from the Regional Tourism Association in Alice Springs. In the 1920’s Uluru was declared an Aboriginal Reserve, and in1936 the first signs of tourism had and arrived promotion of Uluru as a tourist destination became rampant. Sure enough tourists from all over the world began flocking to Uluru to experience the beauty of its color changing surface. With the increase of tourism so did the increase of foot traffic climbing to Uluru’s top. Where people trashed and littered the rocky top. After Uluru was handed back to its traditional owners the Anangu people in 1985 a proposition to stop people from climbing Uluru became to circulate. 34 years later the agreement to prevent the climbing of Uluru has been achieved and October 25, 2019 marks a great day in land preservation, integrity, and respect.

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