Traveling to Australia’s outback finally allowed me to come closure to the country’s culture, something I really had missed in Sydney. The whole journey only took four days, but it was enough to see a lot of amazing places and learn about indigenous life and traditions.
I traveled in a group of ten, one of them was our guide, a lovely Australian young woman. Already from the plane I could get a glimpse on famous Ayers Rock, or Uluru, the Aboriginal term for the rock formation. We visited it on our first day, as well as the cultural center where we learned about Aborigines, their life and Uluru’s history. Ayers Rock is a sacred place for the Anangu, the locals from the area, and today UNESCO World Heritage. Since European settlement it had been visited by tourists and until few years ago the most important reason for them to go there was to climb the mountain. Nowadays most people recognize and respect the fact that the Anangu people ask tourists not to climb it, since the Indigenous feel responsible for their guests and guilty if someone gets hurt or dies.
We also visited and walked around the other big rock formation, Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas, which, together with Uluru, make part of the national park. On our last day we visited Kings Canyon, or Watarrka. Especially Kata Tjuta and Watarrka required long and exhausting walks, we had to climb lots of steps to get to the very top – these walks were accepted by the Anangu, they had even helped to construct the walking ways. Although we started our walks still by night (we go up at 4 am!) and finished them in the morning at around 10, we always needed to take a lot of water with us because of the heat: During he afternoon, temperatures went up to 40 degrees or even more. Once arrived on the top, the view and the whole surroundings were just breathtaking. I cannot remember having ever seen landscapes like that.
In the evenings after dinner we were all so tired that we fell into our swags (mixture of sleeping back and tent) and I usually slept by 8 or 9 pm. It was amazing sleeping under the starry sky, I even got to see a shooting star.
Trying to learn about Indigenous culture
During the journey I saw lots more Indigenous people than ever before, the red centre really is home to lots of them. Backpackers usually do not live there, because there is nothing to do or to see than the Uluru-Kata Tjuta national park. Even in Alice Springs, the closest city to Uluru and about a five hour drive from there, there are almost no other people than the Indigenous living.
Unfortunately it is also known to be a dangerous place, especially by night, because of a high crime rate, and tourists should never walk around in the small centre on their own. Former exclusions of the Aborigines from society have led to serious social problems such as poverty, unemployment and alcohol addictions still until today. Although they officially have the same rights as other Australians and should make part of the country just as every other citizen, I could strongly feel that “Australians” and Aborigines are separated, or separate themselves from each other. White people were driving in cars, whereas I saw not one single vehicle driven by an Aborigine in Alice Springs. I saw them sitting in parks, seemingly doing nothing, or walking outside in the heat.
I was told about their culture, for example that it is impolite to watch someone in the eyes while he is talking to you and I didn’t really get the impression that they were very interested in talking to foreigners. These reasons and the fact that our guide had warned us from the high crime rate stopped me from trying to get into conversation, but probably also because I was too tired when I arrived in Alice. I realized no one else from the backpackers I met had, dared, either. I truly believe this to be a big problem, because how else can you make sure that different societies get along well when their members do not talk to each other? When I think about it, it is actually a big shame. Finally I had discovered what I was looking for since months – typical Australian culture! And I couldn’t even learn about it from those who represent this culture.
However I was really amazed by what kind of landscapes and views Australia’s “red centre” has to offer and I can only recommend every tourist to go there when they come to visit Australia. This is a very special place to see and something you can only experience in this country.