I recently visited Uluru, the red heart of Central Australia, timing my visit with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s recent journey there. I spent time in the presence of Uluru, listening to Aboriginal creation stories and learning about Indigenous culture. I was humbled to experience two interests dear to my heart – the Tibetan cause and Indigenous Australian culture. At university I had an opportunity to study aspects of Indigenous Australian culture as part of my undergraduate degree, including native title, land, law, philosophy, contemporary art and language. Seeing Uluru for the first time was a special moment for me.
I first encountered Uluru at sunrise, and as I watched the sky turn pale pink and purple in the dawning light, I felt the need to sit down on the red dirt before her and meditate in her presence. It was a powerful moment. I lay my hands on the earth in front of me and felt a raw, primal, pulsing, earthy energy that was incredibly grounding.
Everything was more intense at Uluru, the colours, the light, the air, the space. It was both earthy and ethereal. I was on the Earth and yet far above it. I felt as though I was suspended in a time and place as far away from my normal life as I could possibly be.
The last time I had this feeling was a decade earlier, in Tibet:
“I am walking across stones, moving my body through time and space, the wind blowing my hair around my face, feeling the fresh, crisp air trace its cool fingers across my skin. I connect with some wild, primitive part of myself…”
As an artist, I loved the intense colours at Uluru. The reds of the Earth and rock and the green vegetation created the most striking contrast (because red and green are complementary colours). I witnessed a powerful and beautiful emotional exchange between two women of different cultures – a female Tibetan friend and an Aboriginal elder.
The Aboriginal elder was heading towards the Mutitjulu Waterhole. She had an incredible energy and aura about her, and the bright colours of her clothes contrasted beautifully with the desert surroundings. My Tibetan friend approached her and offered her a ‘khata’, a traditional Tibetan ceremonial scarf symbolising purity and compassion.
As an artist, I loved seeing the robes of the Dalai Lama against the colours of Uluru. His gold and maroon robes matched the rock perfectly. He was a part of the rock itself, and it was almost like he belonged there.
The Central Australian landscape around Uluru is not as barren as the landscape in Tibet, although the contrasts between the Earth and His Holiness were as vivid.
They reminded me of the contrasting elements I documented in Tibet:
“I see Tibet through an artist’s eyes. It is a land of contrasts, where hot, dry, barren deserts merge with snow-capped peaks, icy rivers and lush green fields, where the saffron, burgundy and orange robes of the Buddhist monks create a striking effect against a monochromatic landscape…”
Being able to bring together Tibet, Central Australia, Indigenous Australians and their culture, the Tibetan people and their exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama into one experience was one of those once-in-a-lifetime, life-changing moments. The experience cemented many things for me, and confirmed my interest in, and support of, Indigenous Australians.
Uluru is sacred to the Australian Aboriginal people. According to their creation stories, Uluru was formed at the beginning of time by ten ancestors of the local Anangu people. The ancestors emerged into a world with no geographical features. They travelled across the land, creating the natural landmarks that are still visible today.
Uluru is the physical evidence of their ancestors’ time on Earth. The Anangu rock paintings (pictographs) and rock carvings (petroglyphs) are the records that relate the story of the ancestors. Certain outcroppings on Uluru represent ancestral spirits. The Anangu believe they can communicate with their ancestors when they touch the rock.
Each side or face of Uluru has a different creation story attached to it. I went on the Lungkata walk with a local Aboriginal guide from the Anangu community, who related the Tjukurpa creation story of Venomous Snake Man who pursued Blue Tongued Lizard Man, the ancestral creator being who lost his life climbing Uluru.
I didn’t climb Uluru. To our Indigenous Australians, Uluru is a sacred place and I didn’t want to desecrate their sacred site. I was honoured and humbled to respect their beliefs. We wouldn’t trample over the top of a church, or the sacred site or temple of any of the world’s religions.
When I visited the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, I felt I needed to take my shoes off before walking through it, because somehow keeping my shoes on felt disrespectful:
“I can see the Potala Palace in the distance. I walk barefoot through it and feel the cold stones beneath my feet. Electricity courses through my body, connecting me with a time and a place thousands of years ago.”
My indigenous guide told me that when some people who have chosen to climb Uluru reach the top, they defecate, urinate and dump their rubbish. There are no facilities or bins up there (why would there be?). It was difficult to hear this. I was disgusted at the lack of respect shown by those people.
This behaviour has severe environmental impact. As Uluru is not a solid structure, but has a network of caves, crevices and cracks, this waste goes down into the spaces within the rock, enters the groundwater and poisons the land, the plants and the wildlife.
The Anangu want the climb closed permanently, and I fully support it. Please respect the wishes of Indigenous Australians, even if you don’t necessarily agree with, or subscribe to, their belief system.
Seeing Uluru and the Dalai Lama in Central Australia was one of those great life-affirming moments for me. I loved being immersed in a world of the ancient and the spiritual.