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WARNING: Visitors should be aware that this website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

A powerful symbol from the centre of Australia

Uluru — the giant sandstone monolith in Central Australia — has a 'timeless' quality, yet it only became a powerful symbol of Australia for Australians and international visitors from the 1980s.

Aerial view of Uluru, a reddish-brown roughly oval-shaped rock which rises high above the surrounding plains.
Aerial view of Uluru, 2006. Photo: Ruth Rickard.
China plate with a gold rim and a painted image of Uluru in the centre.

Bone china saucer, about 1955, by Royal Stafford, England. National Museum of Australia.
Photo: Lannon Harley.

Aboriginal Dreaming and a tourism icon

For Aboriginal Australians, Uluru forms a part of Dreaming stories. The centre of Australia represented a challenge for colonial explorers, who named the monolith Ayers Rock, after an early colonial official.

From the 1930s artists such as Hans Heysen, Albert Namatjira and Sidney Nolan helped to transform the 'dead heart' to the 'Red Centre'. Tourists, drawn to see the beauty of Central Australia, increased in numbers as access improved.

Uluru remains one of Australia's most popular tourist destinations and is visited by about half a million people from around the world each year.

While climbing the rock is seen by many as an integral part of their visit, it is discouraged by traditional owners for whom Uluru is a sacred site of great spiritual significance.

Colour poster featuring the front cover of 'Matilda' magazine. A caricature of a man wearing a Ned-Kelly style iron helmet, and riding a kangaroo, leaps over an image of a red Uluru.
Matilda magazine poster, 1985. National Museum of Australia.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

Return to traditional owners

The hand back of title to Uluru's traditional owners in 1985 sought to balance tourism interests with cultural needs.

Uluru today is a natural wonder, a symbol of Indigenous land rights and, for many, a source of spiritual connectedness with the continent.

In 1985, after lengthy negotiations, the Australian Government handed joint management and title of Uluru back to the Indigenous Anangu people on condition they lease it to the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service.

A controversial decision, it did not pass without protest from the Northern Territory Government, tourism interests and Aboriginal people.

Uluru, in many ways, has come to symbolise the struggle for Indigenous land rights.