This is part of a series of posts about my trip to Australia from December 18, 2015 – January 23, 2016.
Uluru. For the past twenty years the image of this very special monolith is what would appear in my mind whenever I thought about Australia.
I’d dreamed about going to Australia since I was in the third grade. I had a teacher who was on exchange from Australia for half of the year named Miss Macleod, and she made quite an impression on me. I was a child from a lower income, immigrant family, growing up in Malton (a neighbourhood in the city of Mississauga near Pearson Airport). I sometimes joke with my friends that Malton is the first stop for many immigrant families, because you get off the plane and settle in. A large portion of my class were ‘English as a Second Language’ students and many of us had come to Canada from less developed countries in search of opportunity and a better life. Basically, a lot us were kind of poor and struggling, and here was Miss Macleod, this spunky, fun and fascinating woman, who spoke with such passion about this land of adventure and amazing wildlife: Australia. Eight-year-old me idolized Miss Macleod, and I remember learning about Uluru/Ayers Rock from her; I told myself that one day I would go to Australia and when I did, I would definitely visit this rock (and also hug a koala and see kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and maybe even a duck-billed platypus).
Twenty years later, I did it; it was an emotional moment for me. As I watched the sun set and witnessed the spectacular play of colour across the sky and on Uluru, I thought about how far I’d come in life to be able to afford a trip to Australia, to be travelling alone for the first time, to see one of my big dreams become a reality. I stared at Uluru and remembered being eight years old and wondering what it would be like to travel on a plane and hoping I could visit places I’d seen in photos and books –- I felt an immense sense of pride and accomplishment and the experience brought tears to my eyes. At the start of 2015 I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with my dad and stood on Uhuru Peak, the roof of Africa. We lived one of his big dreams, together. At the end of the year I journeyed through ‘the land down under’ to Australia’s heart: Uluru, accomplishing one of my big dreams. Uhuru to Uluru…2015 was a very special year.
Uluru was easily my favourite part of my trip to Oz, and I thoroughly loved every single moment of this holiday –- so this is saying a lot. Seeing Uluru at sunset was THE highlight in a trip that was highlight after highlight, and it still stands out as the most vivid memory I have of my five week holiday in Australia. And perhaps this sounds silly, because Uluru is this giant red rock in the middle of a desert, so how great could it be, right? But it is ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE. Reading Bill Bryson’s account of visiting Uluru in In a Sunburned Country, reinforced my own experience, and I was glad I had read only the first few dozen pages of the book while in Australia; my experience was my own. There is something truly magnetic about this monolith. Uluru mesmerizes you and it’s hard to look away; I don’t know how anyone could watch the colours change at sunset and sunrise and not feel they were witnessing some magic in the world.
I had a thorough experience of the rock; in addition to viewings at sunset and sunrise, I took a walk around the base and was able to touch this landmark. I did not climb Uluru and I was happy to see that, while I was there, no one else did either. The Anangu people, the traditional owners of this land, ask tourists not to climb the rock — it is a sacred place for them, but unfortunately many people don’t respect this request. It saddens me that people who would expect respect at their place of worship, don’t pay the same respect to Australia’s indigenous peoples.
I also took a 15 minute helicopter ride to see Uluru from above. From every angle, the rock offers a magnificent view.
If you go to Australia, go to Uluru and spend some time in the Outback. Despite the heavy tourism, it remains a beautiful, wild and majestic place.
On another note – I had brunch with Miss Macleod and her family in Melbourne (reunited after 20 years thanks to my stellar Google search skills and a Skype phone call)! I’d also like to give a shout out to Miss Azzopardi, who was my grade three teacher for the second half of that year, and returned from Australia sharing her own adventure stories. I distinctly remember Miss Azzopardi teaching us about Coober Pedy, the opal mining capital of the world, and she even brought back some rock shards with pieces of low-quality opal in them—these were one of my childhood treasures, because yes, I was one of those kids who collected rocks. I made sure Coober Pedy was on my itinerary, for this reason. Grade three was the best. Also I must say it again –Uluru is really amazing.