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A food history of Yulara

Food Stories

A food history of Yulara

Caution: This website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal people.

Yulara is a tourist village established in the late 1970s alongside Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in central Australia, more than 300 kilometres southwest of Alice Springs. The village has a supermarket, restaurants and cafes, all reliant on regular food deliveries by truck and aeroplane.

Across the arid plains of red sand and spinifex that extend beyond the village, the local Yankunytjatjara, Pitjantjatjara and Ngaanyatjarra people, known as Anangu, hunt animals and gather bush fruits and vegetables.
Pastoralists raise beef cattle on vast stations.

Sunset at Yulara tourist village, with the massive stone mountain Uluru, or Ayers Rock, rising in the distance, July 2011
Sunset at Yulara tourist village, with Uluru, or Ayers Rock, rising in the distance, 2011. Photo: Richard Lu.

Lizard sculpture by Billy Wara

Billy Wara, an esteemed Pitjantjatjara custodian and artist, carved and decorated this red gum sculpture of a ngintaka, or perentie lizard, in the early 1980s. Born in about 1920, Wara worked for decades in the pastoral industry, building fences, droving cattle, shearing sheep and digging wells. A talented carver of traditional hunting tools, he later used these skills to create wooden ngintaka sculptures. Wara used fencing wire to burn patterns into the wood. [1]

The perentie is muscular and beautifully spotted and, as  Australia’s largest lizard, can grow more than 2.5 metres long. Wara was responsible for maintaining traditional stories and ceremonies about a ngintaka creation figure who stole a particularly fine-grained grinding stone, prized for the high quality flour it produced. Perentie flesh is highly valued by Anangu because of its high fat content, a rare quality in desert game. Anangu in the Uluru region hunt the lizards and roast them on open fires.

A carved wooden sculpture of a lizard.
Ngintaka sculpture carved from red gum timber by Billy Wara in the early 1980s. National Museum of Australia. Photo: Jason McCarthy. Explore this image in detail

Click on the images below for a larger version and more information

  • Closeup of face of Ngintaka sculpture carved from red gum timber
    Ngintaka sculpture
  • A grey-green lizard on rocky ground.
    Ngintaka or perentie
  • A photo of a man chopping a piece of tree wood with an axe.
    Billy Wara

Tourism and art 

Throughout the 1960s and into the 1980s, as the tourist industry made major inroads into the Uluru region, the sale of carvings and other artworks and artefacts gave traditional owners an independent source of income that helped them live and travel through their country.

In the early 1980s, Billy Wara helped establish Maruku Arts at Uluru. The largest Australian art centre owned by its Aboriginal artists, Maruku collects and sells artworks produced by about 900 Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and Ngaanyatjarra artists from communities across the southeast and western parts of central Australia. [2] Revenue from the production of carvings and other artworks helped traditional owners to engage in political struggle for land rights that culminated in the return of Uluru and surrounding lands in 1985.

Poster presented to Governor General Sir Ninian Stephen at Uluru during the hand back ceremony at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in 1985
Traditional owners of Uluru presented this poster to Governor General Sir Ninian Stephen during the hand back ceremony at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in 1985. By Chips Mackinolty. Donated by Sir Ninian Stephen. National Museum of Australia.

Billy Wara video 

In the 1990s arid zone ecologist Jake Gillen worked alongside senior Anangu men and women at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Amidst sculptures acquired by the National Museum from Maruku Arts, Jake remembers Billy Wara and shares his understandings of food systems in the Uluru region.

Caution: This film includes images and names of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal people. 

Tourism and tucker

Tourists dine at Yulara restaurants and cafes each evening, and on daytrips into Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park they encounter a variety of edible animals and plants. Guides and interpretive signs identify a number of these local ‘bush food’ species, and explain their significance. Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara traditions of storytelling and art production consistently honour and celebrate the many desert species on which they have long relied for nourishment.

To learn more about the bush tucker of the Uluru region, visit the Parks Australia website.

Click on the images below for a larger version and more information

  • Photo of tourists queuing to order dinner at Yulara village, November 2007
    Tourist dinner
  • Tourists reading interpretive signs at the base of Uluru
    Uluru signage
  • Signboard on bush tucker for tourists at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, August 2013
    Bush tucker

Uluru souvenirs

The significance of Uluru as a tourist destination is reflected in the National Museum’s collection, which holds a range of souvenirs bought by tourists visiting the iconic destination. Perhaps because of the isolation and aridity of the national park, some of the souvenirs celebrate the surprising diversity of bush foods that grow in the surrounding desert.

Click on the images below for a larger version and more information

  • Depicted on the T-shirt is a brightly coloured landscape featuring native flowers and honey ant in foreground, Uluru / Ayers Rock in background and text above
    Ayers Rock honey T-shirt
  • Depicted on the T-shirt is a brightly coloured landscape featuring native plants and seeds in foreground, Uluru / Ayers Rock in background and text above
    Ayers Rock bread T-shirt
  • T-shirt with colour illustration of fruits around a central image of Uluru.
    Ayers Rock fruit salad T-shirt
Painting of Uluru on a souvenir plate, about 1960
A painting of Uluru decorates this souvenir plate, about 1960, donated by Barbara Ross, National Museum of Australia. Photo: George Serras.

Notes

[1] Diana James and Elizabeth Tregenza, Ngintaka, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 2014, p. 166.

[2] Diana James, Desart: Aboriginal art and craft centres of central Australia, Desart, Alice Springs, 1993, p. 25.


People and the Environment

Food Stories is part of the National Museum's People and the Environment program. Discover more stories about people's relationships with Australia's natural and built environments on our People and the Environment website.