A trip to Yulara and the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara freehold

This post has no music, just a couple of photos from my trip.

Last week I got to spend some time visiting ‘the rock’, Uluṟu, in the Northern Territory. It is a sacred site for indigenous peoples so I won’t discuss it too much.

I found free accommodation in a town called Yulara, which is a private resort-owned village. It’s a somewhat surreal place where thousands of people come to stay temporarily and spend on average $7000 a week. Needless to say I didn’t spend nearly as much money.

My free accommodation was in the staff housing, which means I got to see the ‘underbelly’ of Yulara, with lots of underpaid overworked backpackers. In one of the resident’s words, it was like a labour camp. Considering most of the workers there make close to minimum wage. It made me wonder where the money goes. They get paid a low wage, then all costs (rent, shopping, etc) are fed back to the resort, which owns everything.

The day I arrived we did a quick sunset trip to Kata Tjuṯa, which I learned about that day. My stay was fun but uneventful as the town itself has little to offer apart from drinking. There are bars, restaurants and hotel facilities, but the cultural centre is too far for someone traveling on foot like myself.

One thing I always wanted to do was to visit Uluṟu, but do so with an indigenous person. I don’t think it’s appropriate to visit any indigenous sites without consent from the traditional owners. We researched and in Yulara there’s only one tour led by the local Ananu people and, more specifically, the Uluru family. We signed up and went on an incredible trip into aboriginal freehold land.

The first thing we learned was that we were now invited by the Uluru family to enter Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara freehold. I didn’t know what a freehold was, but was impressed by how it came about. The incredible strength of the community in getting recognition, but also in how the community has developed a balance between western and traditional ways.

Our tour 4WD went on a massive dirt road trip and we got to this incredible landscape.

All the dots in abstract aboriginal art started to make sense. Apart from the walk, we got to learn a lot from our guide. He shared a lot of knowledge about the area, but also some pretty tragic stuff around what tourists do to sacred sites.

Uluru itself is a sacred site and the traditional owners ask everyone to not climb. The resort, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to care as much, since their pamphlets have the indigenous request right next to instructions on how to climb. Pretty bad. Also pretty bad was that the water hole, used by indigenous people for millennia for their own survival, is now poisoned due to too many tourists peeing and shitting on top of Uluru. This made me very sad and very angry. Our guide was a bit more pragmatic. Since the Uluru climb is being closed soon, he said that maybe his grandkids will be able to drink it. It’s a very different mindset to think that far into the future.

The landscape was absolutely stunning. There was no sign of any human being anywhere, and we got to see the sunset in the desert. Absolutely unforgettable.

The next day we went for a long walk in Kata Tjuṯa. Again, an incredible landscape, but this time, without an indigenous guide, it was much harder to understand what the meaning of the place was. On our way back we did get to see an eagle hunt a snake right in front of us, which was incredible.

We went to Uluru the next day. While our guide was perfectly fine in terms of respect and understanding of indigenous culture, we couldn’t find an indigenous guide to take us that day. Seeing sunset at Uluru is a mix of beautiful scenery and a tourist shit show. There are helicopters flying, traffic everywhere, drunk tourists (not great when the nearby community is dry). Hilarious as well is that there is a blimp going up and down the whole time. A pristine landscape with a giant white branded balloon going up and down. I guess it’s a bucket list item. It is very upsetting to see what tourism does to places. I’m happy that I got to get off the beaten track with my friends.

One thing that surprised me was how green it was. I expected red, but the bush colours were vibrant greens, reds and yellows. Absolutely incredible. We also caught a massive thunderstorm and some rain, which I didn’t expect.

Perhaps ironically, lightning from the storm hit that giant blimp and it exploded on our last night there. The local peoples couldn’t help but laugh. Looks like even the clouds didn’t like that blimp. A bit of bush justice.