My wife Patricia and I first visited Uluru in 1971 on our honeymoon. We drove the 450 kms of rough unsealed road from Alice Springs, pitched out tent about 50 yards from the edge of Uluru, and woke in the morning to gaze up from our tent at the majestic 300-metre high sight.
In the 41 years since then, several things have changed. First, there’s a town called Yulara about 18 kms away from the Rock with a range of accommodation options from 5-star to camping, and other facilities like post office, bank, supermarket and restaurants. There’s a “luxury tented accommodation” site called Longitude 131 (see http://www.longitude131.com.au/?gclid=CO-bh7uZt7MCFUsdpQodrBwAjQ) , where you can get a room for two for only $2070 a night (in the off season). There’s a modern airport. And there’s an impressive cultural centre.
I can understand why these developments were needed to allow large numbers of tourists – both domestic and international – to visit Uluru (and the nearby Kata Tjuta), and give them access to the kind of facilities they might expect to make their visit both enjoyable and meaningful.
However …. I sometimes find myself saying to people that there are now two kinds of “Outback”. There’s the classical Outback, which by definition means somewhere remote, with very few people living there, and going there takes you into a decidedly different world. This kind of Outback includes the Canning Stock Route, Cameron Corner, Lake Eyre, and many other such places, and even the Birdsville Races (where there might be several thousand people, but it’s still very much classical Outback).
And then there are places like Uluru. Most Australians would probably say off the cuff, “Yes, Uluru’s in the Outback.” But is it remote? Well, you can fly there on a 737 jet together with 150 other people, or you can drive there on the fully-sealed Lasseter Highway. Are there very few people living there? Yulara has about 1000 residents, with up to 4000 tourists there at any one time. Are you entering a decidedly different world by going there? Well, maybe in some senses, but you can easily maintain your 5-star lifestyle if you so choose. In my view, it fails the test for being a classical Outback place.
This is not to discourage people from visiting Uluru. For me, it’s a mystical and overwhelmingly special place. I’ve visited it many times, and I still find going there an emotional experience.
But according to today’s paper, there’s a proposal afoot to build a golf-course near Yulara. I find this idea outrageous. A spokesman for the proposal is quoted as saying: ”There is not much to do there in the eye of many tourists other than visiting Uluru and Kata Tjuta, which for many of us should be enough, but we are talking here about the average tourist who is looking for things to do.”
I would say to the average tourist, “If there’s not enough to do here, then you’re free to go somewhere else, mate.”
To my mind, this is just another example of the owners of tourist facilities taking the view that anything which generates more profit for them is by definition good for Australia. By allowing such schemes to proceed, we run the risk of destroying those very things which draw people here in the first place.
Apart from the obvious objection that a golf course would require substantial amounts of water to be drawn from the artesian basin to maintain it, we need to ask ourselves what sort of a place we – or rather I should say indigenous Australians – want Uluru and the area near it to be. What about an amusement park? Or a casino? Where do we draw the line?
How might the Egyptians feel about a golf course near the pyramids? Maybe a few tennis courts would be a nice addition to Anzac Cove.
I’m quite worked up about this, aren’t I? What do you feel?