She rises in the distance, still in the desert heat. Not a hint of sweat as the sun begins its morning beat. She is home here, nestled in the crevices of earth below. The curves of her profile back lit by the rising light, causing silver linings to trail her across her body. Her arc mesmerising, her silence impenetrable. Closer now, I stand at her feet. She turns and I see the scar. Its ridge running the length of the right side of her face, top to bottom. Puckered edges pulling at her skin. Rails following its length mark where it was stitched in place. Metallic remnants of her abuse.
I want to tell you that it makes her more beautiful for the story that is etched. I try to find this, the moment where this crooked line converts to wisdom that she gifts to all who come. It does not make her more beautiful, this ugly path left by men whose mistreatment is now carved into her. The dismissal of the sacred in order to feed a conquering heart.
I watch as visitors laugh and skid off her surface, grasping at the rails in an effort to stay upright. She does not move to eject them from mounting her and clawing their way up. I stand at her foot and read the notice from her custodians. The Anangu people who have been unable to protect her from the visitors taking what they please, leaving her bruised and worn.
“Uluru is sacred to our culture. It is a place of great knowledge.
Under our traditional law climbing is not permitted. Please don’t climb.”
Climbers on Uluru. Photo courtesy of Kate Harding. Instagram: @katealiceharding_
I learn quickly that the Anangu recommendation to discover a deeper understanding of her by walking the base is unnecessary. She lets that be known, whispering secrets as I meander her twists and turns. She tells me as I try to look into a crevice that this is a place of men’s business and orders me to turn away. My neck held in place by her will and her grace. She runs ahead to call me into caves and canyons of women’s business, inviting me to sit and stay. I feel my head swivel toward and away at her bequest. She tells me at each step what is and is not allowed. At the waterhole silence is ushered in. When thoughts threaten to make their way out she gently presses her fingers to my lips, smiles and shakes her head. This is a place of no speaking.
I reach out and touch her surface, tentative, unsure of how she will react. Shaded by the early hour she is cool beneath my skin. I feel her heart beat the rhythm I have been walking. It enters through my fingers, tingles up my arms and into my bones. I laugh, pull my hand away. Tilt my head in question. Did I imagine that? Feel her playful encouragement, her open armed-stance. I reach out again, feel her pulse beneath my fingertips. Let it run through my body. I learn that she has been setting my pace. I feel her welcome me home, planting my skin in this land.
This is no ordinary rock, I think, as I traverse her edge. This rock is alive. The thought taps itself out over and over as she walks beside me, settling herself within the marrow of who I am. Ten kilometres of desert fades into her beauty. The heat dissipates in her power. Her attention feels personal, as though I am the only one to walk with her, despite the growing crowd.This is no ordinary rock, I think, as I traverse her edge. This rock is alive.Click To Tweet
I return to the base of her scar, watch people dwarfed inching up her sides. I taste salt on my lips. She has called forth my tears, shed for the desecration of the sacred. She has tried to throw these violators off over the years, rescues required. Sometimes deaths. Yet still they come.
I had been clear before I set out toward the Australian Outback that I would not climb Uluru as a matter of respect for the Anangu people. While I watch tourists ignore the notice and walk toward her anyway I begin to understand that she has changed this. I will not climb this rock because she is beautiful, she is sacred, she is alive. I will not climb her because she has just welcomed me and carried me around her edge. Before I left home I followed the story of whether the climb would be closed with interest, as I leave her, I follow it with my heart. A heart weighted with powerlessness to stop this endless stream setting out to win their prize of an Uluru climb.
The rich chocolate browns of Uluru’s base walk
For thousands of years she was cared for and left to hold her place in the sun. In the last 82 years the disregard of her nobility has left an irreparable smear across the surface. The anger begins to burn as I head South toward home and encounter one after another who ask if I climbed the rock. As though she is a trophy to be held aloft. They tell me their stories of climbing with pride and look at me with disdain when I tell them she is sacred. They do not shrink back when I tell them that if they went to climb her then they missed the whole thing. That she is not merely a monolith.
News comes on the radio as I make my way. The Uluru climb will be closed, proclaims the one country station in this Outback void. I feel her joy and relief feather across my cheek, sent by the winds. Uluru is not a love that leaves you as distance expands. Hope burns that already diminishing climbing numbers will dwindle so that the closing of her in 2019 will be a non-event.
Uluru backlit by the rising sun
Months later I have a firm grasp on my naivete. I cannot count the number of people who have told me they are going to Uluru to climb her before she closes. My heart breaks as they speak for the footprints that will be left on her surface before she is finally allowed peace.
I am a white Australian with no cultural connection to this rock yet I have felt her heart beat through my fingers. I have felt her welcome me as deeply as she welcomes the people who have been her custodians across countless millennium. The scars left on her surface will never heal, they will always be a reminder of the way in which my people have disregarded the sacred sites of this land. I am asking you: please don’t climb.
There is no mistake that there is a giant rock shaped like a human heart in the centre of this land. Walk around her, she has stories to tell and healing hands. Let her wrap around your body and pulse her rhythm through your feet. Let her bring you into her groves and cast her cool hand across the places that are disconnected from this earth. Let her bring you back to yourself. That is a story worth taking home.
Note: All images are my own unless otherwise credited. The photograph of the Uluru climb was kindly provided by Kate Harding: Instagram @katealiceharding_ . Pay her a visit, it was the only image of the climb on Instagram that I could find which did not glorify it. All words are my own except the wording of the Anangu people’s request not to climb Uluru.