Friday, 25 August 1995

Mutitjulu Waterhole

White Australians - Piranpa - first came into the general area of Uluru when John McDouall Stuart passed within 300km of Uluru-Kata Tjuta in 1860-62.

Ernest Giles had sighted "a high mountain" in 1872 in his attempt to force a pathway from the Overland Telegraph Line to the settlement on the Swan River (Perth). He got within a clear line of sight but was unable to pass through the salt pans and explore further.

It was William Christie Gosse who finally walked to and documented the "discovery" of the Rock, on July 19th, 1873. On the way he named the flat topped mesa to the east of the Rock, Mt Connor, after a Mr ML Connor. It was Gosse who named the Rock after Sir Henry Ayres, who was the then Premier and Chief Secretary of South Australia. Giles did eventually reach Uluru on another expedition on 9th June, 1874 and wrote eloquently of its appearance. He went on to find the pathway west and is considered an important adventurer and explorer in the white history of Australia.

Gosse, the first Piranpa to climb Uluru, went on to become Surveyor General of South Australia and died of a heart attack at the age of only 38.

Apart from one or two other expeditions which ventured to the Rock in the next twenty years after Gosse, there was very little contact by whites until the 1930's, when the possibility of pastoral leases was explored.

Two factors combined to do what no other combination of events in 20 000 years had done i.e. drive Anangu away from their traditional life at Uluru. A devastating drought hit the area in the early thirties and many perished owing to the lack of water and food. As if this was not hard enough, the growing incidence of police persecution was also having a negative affect on the relationship between Anangu and Piranpa.

The final act involved Paddy Uluru and his brother, who both had powerful links with the area, as shown by their last name. With others, they combined to kill and eat a steer on a property near Mt Connor. This was a growing problem in the relationship between white and black, as Anangu did not understand the concept of specific ownership of the animals to one man and often killed sheep or cattle when hungry. The fact these introduced beasts were reducing the native food population with their grazing, seemed to be something Piranpa were oblivious to.

Pursued by a certain Sgt McKinnon, the men returned in fear to Uluru and hid in a cave near Mutitjulu Waterhole, where Paddy's brother was shot and killed by Sgt McKinnon. The men then continued on foot, escaping under cover of darkness and hopping from one spinifex plant to the other so as to not leave tracks. Paddy Uluru took a wide circular path to the south and hid out on a mission, whilst most of the others did similar things in other parts of the country.

Anangu were terrified their lives meant so little to a supposed trusted man such as Sgt McKinnon and all of the people of Uluru and Kata Tjutafled to nearby missions and gave up their traditional lives. It was not until thirty years later that some, such as Paddy Uluru made the first tentative steps to return. Paddy was to become the driving force behind the land rights movement and the submissions he made before a parliamentary enquiry instigated by Prime Minister Gough Whttlam in 1973, led to a recommendation that ownership be passed back to the traditional owners, that they have a majority say in the management of the land and that tourist accommodation be moved away from the Rock.

In 1983, Prime Minister Bob Hawke intervened in what had become a long running and acrimonious debate with the Northern Territory Government and promised the land would handed back under the guidelines made in the parliamentary enquiry of ten years earlier. A little more than two years later, in a special ceremony at the base of Uluru, Sir Ninian Stephen handed title of Uluru back to Anangu. This emotional ceremony is remembered as Handback and on the 26th October, 1995, the opening of a new Cultural Centre at Uluru will mark the tenth anniversary.

The morning was spent in pursuit of mundane school matters: a task which seemed so trivial in comparison to the things around us, but this was not an attitude we intended to convey to the children.

As the lunch bell sounded, we were on the road for Mutitjulu Waterhole, where we spent a peaceful 45 minutes consuming our sandwiches and drinking in the atmosphere. We concluded our self-directed activities with a slow drive around the base of the rock, in an opposite direction to that which we had walked on the previous day.

By 3:00 pm, we had returned to Mutitjulu Waterhole to meet with Rupert and Peter, two Anangu members of the M u t i t j u l u community who were part of the Trainee Ranger Program. For the following ninety minutes, they led us through the area around the waterhole, sharing their traditional ways and stories with us. The Anangu do not agree with the Piranpa term "Dreaming" or "Dreamtime", as they feel these terms create an image in the mind of Piranpa that the things they talk of did not happen. Instead they talk of and are guided by the Tjukurpa. These are things which did happen and can be seen on the rock and in the land.

The story we heard this particular afternoon was of the Kuniya Tjukurpa or Woma python story.

Kuniya was a powerful Woma python who was gathering eggs one day when she heard her nephew calling for help, in pain. He had been struck down and wounded by the spear of Liru, the poisonous snake. She went to his aid and seeing him injured and Liru standing over him, she became very angry and smeared red dust all over her chest in preparation to fight. Kuniya killed Liru and then retrieved her wounded nephew and took him into the rock above the waterhole, where she lives today. She changed into a powerful Rainbow Serpent and watches over the waterhole.

When Anangu need water, an elder will climb up on the Rock and shout for water and Kuniya will send it. Hence, the waterhole never completely dries up. The shape of the rock faces, splits in the rock, holes, crevices and marks all bear out this story and were shown to us. The story was retold faithfully and with self-depreciaing humour by two keen, interesting men who wanted so much for this group of Piranpa to understand and appreciate their ways.

It was moving and impressive and we gained great joy from their time with us.

The only disturbing incident was when an ignorant woman tried to video tape part of the talk. The Anangu have made it clear they do not wish to be photographed or recorded on film or video tape. Rupert ran from her sight and shook his head and hands in horror and Peter turned his head and tried to ask her to stop. She denied filming them, but no one believed her. What happened next reaffirmed my faith in human nature. A retired gentleman who, with his wife, had attended a morning tour with Rupert and Peter, stepped up and stood close to Peter and between him and the lady with the video camera, all the while checking over his shoulder to ensure he was blocking her line of site!

We completed our day with another viewing of the sunset on Uluru - this time marred by cloud cover
on the western horizon and a yuppy couple beside us ! She adorned the bonnet of the hire car, lying back in a supposedly alluring state of repose, sipping on a glass of champagne, while he boasted of his work on the stock exchange. Perhaps someone should have told them they were not the attraction!

All was not lost, however, as we got some attractive shots of the sunset.

Chris again cooked tea and after showers and settling the children into their beds, Sue and I had a very interesting and most satisfying review of the day. Our discussion had as a theme, our thoughts on what we could do when we return to our "normal way of life" to enhance the possibility of unity between black and white. Our greatest fear is, there is a tale to be told, but because of problems on both sides of the racial fence, it is not being heard.

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