This park, formerly called Uluru (Ayers Rock – Mount Olga) National Park, features spectacular geological formations that dominate the vast red sandy plain of central Australia. Uluru, an immense monolith, and Kata Tjuta, the rock domes located west of Uluru, form part of the traditional belief system of one of the oldest human societies in the world. The traditional owners of Uluru-Kata Tjuta are the Anangu Aboriginal people.
© Emmanuel Pivard
Situated on the southern margin of the major Amadeus sedimentary basin, the park comprises extensive sand plains, dunes and alluvial desert, punctuated by the Uluru monolith and Kata Tjuta.
Uluru is composed of hard sandstone which has been exposed as a result of folding, faulting and the erosion of surrounding rock. The monolith has a base circumference of 9.4 km, smooth sloping sides of up to 80° gradient and a relatively flat top. Major surface features of the rock include sheet erosion with layers 1-3 m thick, parallel to the existing surface, breaking away; deep parallel fissures which extend from the top and down the sides of the monolith; and a number of caves, inlets and overhangs at the base formed by chemical degradation and sand blast erosion.
Kata Tjuta comprises 36 steep-sided rock domes of gently dipping Mount Currie conglomerate consisting of phenocrysts of fine-grained acid and basic rocks, granite and gneiss in an epidote-rich matrix. Kata Tjuta tends to have hemispherical summits, near-vertical sides, steep-sided intervening valleys and has been exposed by the same process as Uluru.
The vegetation, modified by substrate stability, climate and fire, can be grouped into five major categories, arranged concentrically around the monolith formations. First, Uluru supports hardy perennial grass in soil pockets, and sedge on very shallow soil; second, the Kata Tjuta foothills support annual grasses; third, the fans and outwash alluviums around the monoliths support a complex of open grassland, low trees and shrubs. During rainy periods this vegetation can be luxuriant. Fourth, the plains area supports dense groves of mulga, acacia and native fuschia. Fifth, the sand dunes, rises and plains are dominated by spinifex grass.
There are 22 native mammals found in the park, including dingo, red kangaroo, common marsupial mole, hopping mouse, several bat species including Australian false vampire, bilgy, occasional short-nosed echidna, and several small marsupials and native rodents. Introduced red fox, cat, house mouse and European rabbit, in addition to feral dogs and camels, compete with indigenous species. More than 150 bird species have been recorded in the park, and all five Australian reptile families are represented.
The park, and in particular the Uluru monolith, is one of several equally important and interconnected centers of local and religious significance scattered throughout the extensive area of western central Australia occupied by Aborigines. Cave paintings on Uluru, some of which are considered to be ancient, indicate the length of time Aborigines have been present in the area. Traditional religious philosophy, Tjukurpa, provides an interpretation of the present landscape, flora, fauna and natural phenomena in terms of the journeys and activities of ancestral beings and consequently binds the people socially, spiritually and historically to the land.
The site is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement representative of Aboriginal culture, directly associated with religious and cultural traditions. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
Archaeological evidence indicates that parts of central Australia have been continuously occupied for at least 30,000 years (although probably only on a temporary basis during the most arid phases). A period of "intensification" and social and cultural adaptive evolution by Anangu began some 5000 years ago, during which new tool types were introduced, new forms of rock art created, and new camping patterns established. A broader diet was established, including the exploitation of the seeds of several grass species as additional sources of food. More complex patterns of social organization are manifested during this period with the appearance of larger base camps and the emergence of contemporary forms of rock art.
The evolution of the Anangu hunting and gathering culture took place in parallel with the evolution of farming but in a contrasting ecosystem: both are human cultural responses to the changing post-glacial global climate. A key feature of the Anangu adaptation was the mapping of social groups on the landscape in such a way that each local group held pre-eminent rights over a particular base camp adjacent to a semi-permanent water supply. The group was responsible for the management of food resources in the country (ngura ) surrounding that camp, but did not assert exclusive rights to those resources: reciprocal rights were allowed to neighbouring groups. Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta are traditional base camps of this kind; around 20% of Anangu living at any rime today in the Mutitjulu community are visitors from other communities in the region. The effectiveness of this system is demonstrated by the archaeological evidence of a substantial rise in population density in the region over the past 5000 years.
The first European to see Uluru was the explorer Gosse, who named it Ayers Rock after the then Chief Secretary of New South Wales. The year before Ernest Giles bad named Kata Tjuta after Queen Olga of Württemberg. A short period of competitive exploration began to investigate the possibilities of the area for pastoral expansion once the overland telegraph, constructed in the 1870s, bad made it more accessible for colonization, but in less than twenty years the sponsors of these explorations withdrew, concluding that this country was too arid for occupation.
In the first decades of the 20th century the Commonwealth, South Australian, and Western Australian Governments declared extensive reserves in central Australia as sanctuaries for the Anangu speakers of several related dialects, designed to protect them from unfavourable contact with white Australians while they were being re-educated into European culture. Anangu resisted assimilation, frequently leaving missions and government settlements to return to a traditional life-style and to transmit the tjukurpa to their children. A din road was pushed through in the 1940s and so Anangu were able to exploit tourists as a source of independence from government rations.
The Uluru-Kata-Tjuta area was excised from the South West Reserve in 1958 and reserved as Ayers Rock-Mount Olga National Park, under the care, control, and management of the then Northem Territory Reserves Board. A number of tourist motels were built in the vicinity of Uluru early in the life of the Park. Although the Reserves Board was hostile to any encouragement of an Anangu presence at Uluru, the Welfare Branch secured a lease within the Park on which the Ininti store was constructed as an Anangu-owned enterprise.
In 1973 a Parliamentary inquiry examined the management of the Park and recommended that tourist accommodation should be relocated outside the Park boundaries for environmental reasons. It also recommended protection of Anangu sacred sites at Uluru and training for Anangu rangers. The Uluru (Ayers Rock-Mount Olga) National Park, covering 1325 km2, was declared on 24 May 1977 under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975. Day-to-day management was carried out by the Conservation Commission of the Northern Terri tory, with funding and overall policy direction provided by the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service. Some Anangu were employed as rangers but bad no place in the formal management of the Park.
In November 1983 the Prime Minister announced the intention of the Commonwealth Government to grant title of Uluru National Park to the Aboriginal traditional owners with a lease-back of the area to the Director of National Parks and Wildlife, in accord with the wishes of the traditional owners. Freehold title was handed over to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Aboriginal Land Trust on 26 October 1985, and in April1986 a Board of Management was established to manage the Park in conjunction with the Director of National Parks and Wildlife. It was at Anangu request that the official name was changed in 1993 to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, in order to reflect the Aboriginality of the Park and of its cultural landscape. Source: Advisory Body Evaluation