by Richard Gehlbach
Photograph - Fine Art Photography
Uluru is the most iconic natural landform in Australia — and its formation is an equally special story of creation, destruction and reinvention. Most of us know Uluru as Ayers Rock.
The origins of Uluru date back about 500 million years, to around the same time the Australian continent was formed. Large crustal blocks were merging together to create the island of Australia; a process similar to the way India is ramming into the Eurasian continent today. As a result, Himalayan-sized mountain ranges were being formed. The rocky material that ultimately became Uluru was in one of the mountain ranges formed, the Petermann Ranges.
Planet Earth was a different world back then; there were no land-based plants and it would be another 250 million years before dinosaurs roamed. It is believed the climate at that time, after a series of ice ages, may have been desert climate. The newly formed Petermann Ranges were high mountains with granite outcropping similar in size to the French Alps or the Himalayas. But without any plant cover they eroded rapidly.
The mountains were shedding different types of debris which ended up being the rock type that we see at Uluru. The sediments that make up Uluru were moved by a river system into an alluvial fan (similar debris formed into a fan as the river velocity decreases).
However, the sand that became the arkose sandstone of Uluru was dumped at the bottom of the mountain range. Arkose sandstone is a course sandstone with 25% feldspar.
Around 400 million years ago Uluru was basically a mount of crushed granite shed as the Petermann Ranges eroded. The inland sea that followed and engulfed central Australia covered the granite pile in sand, eventually burying it deeply under other debris. The pressure created by the enormous amount of debris on top of Uluru caused it to fuse into a huge rock formation. As Uluru was revealed, high pressure over time flipped the sediments on their side so the originally horizontal layers of sand and gravel, known as the 'bedding planes', are now vertical.
The red color of Uluru is due to the oxidation or the rusting of the iron-bearing minerals within the rock as it has sat there in the desert air for hundreds of thousands of years.
Debate continues on when the first Aborigines moved into the area but the best evidence suggests that it was at least 20 000 years ago.
Aboriginal understanding of Uluru beliefs is in the following terms: 'In the beginning the world was unformed and featureless. Ancestral beings emerged from this void and journeyed widely, creating all the living species and the characteristic features of the desert landscape you see today. Uluru provides physical evidence of feats performed during the creation period. Anangu (the Aboriginal tribes in the area) are the direct descendants of these beings and are responsible for the protection and appropriate management of these ancestral lands.
The arrival of Europeans in the area was part of the exploration of the center during the 1870s. Ernest Giles travelled through the area in 1872 and named both Lake Amadeus and Mount Olga. Giles returned to the area in 1873 but was beaten to Uluru by William Gosse who sighted the monolith on 19 July and named it after the Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers. Giles also was the first European to climb the rock, which he did, accompanied by an Afghan camel driver.
Few Europeans ventured into the region. Pastoralists were defeated by the lack of water and the only Europeans to pass through the area were trappers, miners, and the occasional missionary. The area was declared the Petermann Aboriginal Reserve in the early 1900s and this existed until the 1940s. Ayers Rock was created a national park in 1950. In 1957 Bill Harney came to the area and in 1958, when the rock was combined with the Olgas to form the Ayers Rock National Park, he was appointed the first official curator. In 1959 a motel lease was granted near the rock and soon after an airstrip was built. In 1976 the Commonwealth Government set up the lease at Yulara and in 1983-84 the old tourist locations near the rock were closed down. In 1985 the title to the rock was handed back to the traditional owners (The Aboriginal Tribes) who, in turn, granted the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service a 99 year lease on the park.
Uluru is so sacred to the Aboriginal people that many areas are for men only, other areas are for women only and neither are allowed to look at the sacred areas of the other even from afar. Visitors to the area are prohibited from these areas and are asked not to photograph them, even from afar, for feat the younger generation may see them on social media. Likewise, Uluru has been climbed in the past and may still be climbed today under the agreement with the government when they handed Uluru back to the original owners. However, the Aboriginal caretakers ask people not to climb the sacred site and even though a path and guideline exists, most if not all visitors voluntarily comply.
I took this photograph on the backside of Uluru, which is not the most common of photos but certainly awe inspiring and beautiful.
January 27th, 2018
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