Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


At sunset we traipsed merrily up the a hillside to a local lookout point to watch the Rock. We had our beer and Dennis sang a little "Follow the Yellowbrick Road". The clouds obscured any display we might have had, so after finishing our bottles we traipsed back down again.

Getting up at 4 in the morning is standard practice at Uluru; the sunrise must be seen! Unfortunately this puts a 10 pm curfew on the campsite, so drinking games only went on until 10.15.

I am a night owl and no amount of darkness disguises a 4 am start from being a very early start. Unwillingly I got up and into the minibus at the required hour. Perhaps the most surreal thing so far, we listened to Judy Garland singing "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" as we drove into Uluru National Park. Anthony had planned things well and we were the first to reach the viewing platform near Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). Unfortunately he couldn't do anything about the weather. Again the clouds prevented the sun's rays from hitting the rock at that magical moment. We left the other assembled tourists first and headed off to Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta (meaning Many Heads), or the Olgas, is a stunning rock formation not too far from Uluru. It holds the Valley of the Winds and laden with water, covered with sunscreen, and in my case wearing a funny hat, we set out to explore it. It is a stunning location. The ubiquitous sandstone is streaked with the black lines of water (caused by algae) from rainier days. There is a lot of vegetation too and occasionally flocks of green parrots (or budgerigars) light up the sky. We had a cool start (again well planned by Anthony), but soon the weather got hotter. Rather than do the full 7 km trek, we headed back after 2.

On we went to the Uluru Cultural Centre, dozing on the way. It was a little bit of a shock to open my eyes and suddenly see Ayre's Rock right in front of me.

The Centre has a lot of information on the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara, the local Aboriginal peoples, collectively the Anangu, and their legends. The Rock was handed back to the Aboriginal people fairly recently on condition it be leased back to the government for 99 years. Now 6 out of the 10 board members who manage the park are Anangu. While we were there Millie, an Anangu woman, described some of the local bushtucker. Although she could speak English, she chose not to, speaking instead through an interpreter. It was probably as well given that she was very softly spoken.

Back to the campsite for lunch and a couple of hours by the pool. Again we were first there, but a rowdy crowd took over for 30 minutes before leaving us once more to monopolise it. Going easy on the sunscreen, I was repaid with a burning on my upper back.

Next stop Uluru for a walk around the base. It is possible to climb Uluru, but it is slightly frowned upon. Taking pictures too is something of a minefield. Some sights around the rock are for men or women only, and should not be even seen by the other sex. For tourists this translates as no photographs. Any non-sacred parts can be photographed. Taking a picture is deceptive anyhow as you can only ever take shots of sections when walking so close. And there is a lot to walk. Colleen, Martina and I set the pace, Michael and Petra next, with Louis and Manuela consistently falling behind.

Uluru is big and erosion has decorated it with a multitude of caves and crannies. Some ribbed wounds in the rockface put one in mind of Giger, having that organic/calcified appearance you get in the planet scenes in 'Alien'. The Aboriginal people explain each formation with a legend. One of the more famous tells of a snake-woman who avenges the murder of her nephew by another tribe. Her attacks on the killer are documented in swirls and markings in the rock, while the shield of the vanquished takes the form of a large piece of rock.

Anthony met us halfway around, spraying us with water. We got talking about bunyips and yowies, the latter being a kind of Australian Bigfoot. Who knows what lurks in this country. It is big enough, and sparsely populated enough to hold anything.

We went on to the Mala trail and saw some more strange caves and waterholes. Again Uluru is full of surprises. One of which was a table laid out with champagne glasses and two uniformed tour guides lounging around. An expensive tour methinks.

We had one more evening and one more chance to see sunset. Setting up our chairs, and beer, at another viewing spot, the 'Circus' as Anthony called it, we awaited sunset with several hundred others. Coaches from as far afield as Alice Springs had driven in especially for this. Once again though, after a day of blue skies, our plans were scuppered by cloud. Back for dinner and precious little partying, despite the fact the Wayward Bus group beside us seemed a good bunch. One girl among their group was from Cork. She was not short on talk and I got to cringe a little everytime I heard the Irishisms.

The Huntsman

I took a shower in the good facilities provided at Uluru. Everywhere crickets and lizards crawl, but when such wildlife is so common, you tend to blank it out after a while. I am a fan of lizards anyway. This time though the cubicle seemed bare, except for a web above where I put my runners. It looked familiar, but I couldn't see any spider, so I went about my business. As it happened I suddenly noticed a cut or bite on my heel, but as things transpired I believe this was unrelated. I turned off the water, towelled and once more wondered at that curious web. Until I looked at the wall opposite and saw the huge green Huntsman spider eyeing me. Spiders don't scare me too much, but I got out of there quick. Their bite isn't fatal, but it could make you very ill. And something as big as your palm resting by your elbow is not exactly conducive to easy ablutions.

Another early rise the next morning and another missed sunrise. We were never destined to a clear sky in the morning or evening, so we headed off towards Kings Canyon.


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