Chief arrives on time.
He is quick to safeguard the integrity of his image: “I was told that two journalists were coming. That I had to present myself and behave properly! Let's see what can be done”.
Although originally from New Zealand, your figure couldn't be more ozzie. He laughs uncomplexedly at the top of his ninety-something meter.
He wears a tight shirt and mini-shorts, both in khaki, worn by the kilometers traveled in the desert, dirty with stains that it is time to wash. The tall, dusty, yellowish fur boots and an old hat Akubra they are the last notes of a costume created and retouched by Outback.
Had he arrived at the right time, Chief could have been one of the fearless pioneers who blazed through Australia's interior and built the city from which we were to set out to discover the Northern Territory.
It was no accident that Alice Springs emerged in the geometric center of Australia.
The Arduous Colonization of the Australian Red Center
In the second half of the XNUMXth century, much of the south was colonized. The center and part of the North were still unknown domains, occupied exclusively by the aboriginal ancestral guardians.
In 1861-62, John McDouall Stuart led an expedition into the heart of the desert. He would eventually become the first European to cross Australia from south to north. And he established the route that would make way for the telegraph line programmed to link Adelaide to Darwin and Darwin to Great Britain.
Later, the discovery of river gold in large quantities, about 100 km away, gave rise to a fixed population around Stuart, as the colony would be named. The end of the gold meant that the village moved to close to the cable car station.
This village, in turn, was named Alice Springs, in honor of the wife of the postmaster and the springs that irrigated the vast surrounding oasis.
These were rough times, dominated by uncertainty and in which the prevailing dryness of the landscape called for creative solutions. Accordingly, the pioneering authorities resolved import camels from northwestern former British India – Pakistan today. They were led in long caravans by immigrants from the Pathan tribes, incorrectly called Afghan camel drivers.
These caravans solved the problem of lack of water for some time. Over the years, they became unnecessary. Camels were abandoned or lost.
They multiplied and spread across the desert, in such a way that they exist today in greater numbers in Australia than in many Arab countries.
Alice Springs: The Urban Core of the Red Center
Alice – as she is affectionately treated – spreads along the often dry bed of the Todd River. It's made up of low-rise buildings, warehouses, and ground-floor commercial complexes that block out little or nothing against the blue sky. Other dominant businesses are bars, tourist agencies and art galleries.
At first glance, everything seems normal, but the apparently dysfunctional presence of the aboriginal community causes, in this tourist center, more discomfort than in other places in the Northern Territory.
It proves difficult for newly arrived visitors to understand why they spend their time sitting on the grass in the gardens or in front of shops and service stations.
They are hard to accept the primitive ways and their inability to deal with the marginalization to which they were voted by the Western civilization that uprooted them with no return.
Aboriginal Misfit on Their Own Land
Here, as elsewhere in Australia, the Australian government has apologized and is trying to redeem itself. It pays for the sins committed in Australian dollars and with the return of land that it appropriated during the period in which it maintained a law that equated the aborigines with the fauna and flora.
Here, as across Australia, the measures are far from solving anything.
During the initial leg of the trip, Chief confesses: “… I don't always do this. I work with the Alice Springs Aboriginal prison community. I am one of the few who knows and accepts them”.
He also confesses that, even so, he has difficulty answering the questions and prejudiced remarks of Australian and foreign tourists.
It tries to make them aware of the value of the aborigines, explaining to outsiders, in the most emblematic places, the fascinating mythological culture of the indigenous people.
Uluru – Ayers Rock. The Ever Controversial Question of Ascension
“I can't believe this!” Kevin repeats one last time, after uttering a series of curses.
As soon as you wake up and leave your swag (Australian sleeping bag), the little Korean is faced with the greatest frustration. After a year of working on Sydney like an automaton, he dreamed of the highlight of the trip: contemplating the Red Center from the top of Uluru.
This morning, the shrill hiss of the bush Australian sounded like bad news.
The afternoon before, Chief, it had been pretty clear. On behalf of the Anangu aborigines, he asked everyone not to go upstairs. He also clarified that he would only prevent anyone who wanted to do so if weather conditions determined it.
Contrary to predictions, instead of calming down, the wind picked up during the night. At dawn, park authorities closed access to the trail and made life easier for the guide.
At first glance simple, the theme of the ascents to Ayers Rock – as the colonists of British origin called it after the Chief Secretary of South Australia of 1873 – is, in fact, quite complex.
It reflects the sensitive relationship that the descendants of Australian settlers have with the Indians.
Uluru – Ayers Rock: A Rock in Australia's Broken Heart
In 1983, Prime Minister Bob Hawke promised to return that particular land to its traditional owners. It agreed to a ten-point plan that included a ban on climbing Uluru.
In good political fashion, the promise was quickly forgotten. Before official restitution, ninety-nine years of concession were imposed instead of the fifty agreed upon with the aborigines.
Access to the top of Uluru was eventually allowed, so as not to go against the wishes of thousands of younger visitors or simply in good physical shape.
The Spiritual Meaning of Uluru for Anangu Aboriginals
The Anangu aborigines, the ancestral protectors of the cliff and surrounding space, do not climb it.
They avoid doing this because of the great spiritual significance of Uluru. According to your beliefs, pass at the top, a trail of your Dreamtime (the mythological past). They also banned their climbing for reasons of responsibility for the safety of those they host.
Over the years, against the will of the aborigines, the climbs have already claimed 35 victims. In each of the fatalities, the aborigines expressed sadness. Despite the grief of the indigenous, the Australians are a people used to living with adventure and risk. Accordingly, at the time, no total and absolute prohibition was foreseen for the park rangers to put into practice.
Situated in the southwestern corner of the vast Northern Territory, in the heart of the Outback, this strange island of Arcose, as emblematic as it is homogeneous and compact, has survived millions of years of erosion that erased from the map a gigantic but much more vulnerable surrounding massif. to wear.
With a maximum height of 348m and a circumference of 9.4km, the formation is even more intriguing as it changes color throughout the day and seasons of the year, as different light spectra hit it.
Denial of Superstition around Uluru and Repentance
Too many of its nearly 400.000 annual visitors cannot resist the cliff's visual and mythological fascination.
Even warned by the guides about the curse that haunts the life of those who remove stones from Uluru, they prefer to take risks and commit the crime.
Chief develops one of his favorite themes for us, with unsurpassed sarcasm: “… even funnier is that, out of conscience or mere precaution, many people regret it.
Then, back in their homes, they spend worlds and funds trying to return them to the rock. They send them by mail to the agencies they traveled with and ask them to replace them…”
The obstacles raised by aboriginal beliefs tjukurpa it does not stop there, however.
Around the rock mount there are springs, caves, small natural water deposits and cave paintings. But despite the abundance of motifs, photography is restricted in several sections where the Anangu perform gender-related rituals and where they do not admit people of the opposite sex.
The aim is to prevent millenary taboos from being broken, as indigenous peoples will inevitably come to find images of their sacred places in what they call the outside world.
Kata Djuta: The Other Sacred Colossus of the Red Center
Just 25km to the west, accessible via the same Lasseter Highway that leads to Uluru/Ayers Rock and then along Luritja Road, another whim of the Red Center imposes itself on the ever-blue sky of the Red Centre. Terra australis.
It is Kata Tjuta (Aboriginal pittjantjajara dialect for “many heads”), a sequence of huge thirty-six red rocks covering an area of almost 27 km² and having as their highest point 1066m above sea level of Monte Olga.
This elevation, in particular, gave rise to “The Olgas”, the western name given to the setting.
At the height of the Australian summer, in the middle of the afternoon, the sun also beats down mercilessly here.
Against all common sense, it revitalizes the infernal Outback flies that plague visitors during their walks through the rocks.
The fame of the insects is such that many arrive armed with nets with which they cover their heads and thus reinforce the Martian exoticism of the place.
We devote the entire morning to exploring Kings Canyon, a rugged, visual territory Western situated in the George Gill Range, still southwest of Alice Springs.
The new walk begins with the conquest of Heart Attack Hill, named for its inclination, unsuitable for cardiac patients.
It continues for 5km along the gorges, the labyrinthine plateaus of the “city” and the slopes and stairways carved into the rock of the Amphitheater.
We only interrupt it, to rest, at the edge of the Garden of Eden, a lake surrounded by dense vegetation that breaks the ocher domain of the landscape.
From there, finally, we return to the starting point of the circuit and Alice Springs.
In the capital of the Red Centre, another long but fascinating one awaits us road stage: the northern half of the Stuart Highway.