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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.

Landscape image showing a large, purple-red monolith rising above grasses.
Uluru. Photo: Melanie Dretvic on Unsplash
China plate with a gold rim and a painted image of Uluru in the centre.  - click to view larger image
Bone china saucer, about 1955, by Royal Stafford, England. National Museum of Australia

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.

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
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.  - click to view larger image
Matilda magazine poster, 1985. National Museum of Australia

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.

Further reading

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