Tjukurpa tales

Uluru - Kata Tjuta Travel Blog

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Our second day in the Northern Territory was also spent at Uluru. The sunrise was beautiful. We sat next to each other with hot milo and biscuits, enjoying the atmosphere and each other's company, as Uluru slowly changed to a vivid red colour with the change in light.

After the sunrise we went on a cultural tour and guide around Uluru. We hopped off the bus and walked along a small creek at the base of Uluru (like a moat) to a grotto with Rainbow honeyeaters. I was just saying to Lydia that the grass around us was beautiful, when our guide told us that it is buffalo grass from South Africa, an introduced pest that is taking over from the local grasses.

We saw a twenty-five thousand year old Angura classroom, where the children learnt what the different symbols meant, and how to make them. They made the different colours with combination of ochres and plant products. Red was made with tjutu or karku (ochres), black with purku (charcoal), yellow with wanka-wanka (ochre) and white with wira-wirea or arnga (ochre or ash). On the roof of the cave were nests from Fairy Martins and wasps.

The classroom led to a discussion about Tjukurpa. The Tjukurpa was the Angura's society, a mesh of tales that incorporated law, geography, medicine, proto-science and creation myth. There is a network of stories about Uluru that teach the children about the history of their people, give navigation and safety clues, provide moral lessons, and form a religion.

We are only told the stories at the level of a five year old, but we heard the various stories as we rounded Uluru, explaining the formations. The most important story is that of Kuniya, the Woma Python, who was born at Uluru but left and became a woman. When she later became pregnant she decided to come back for her children to be born in the same site, and gathered her eggs up into a necklace and carried them to Uluru. She left the eggs in a nest at Kuniya Piti (one of the sacred sites), and heard that her nephew had just been killed by the Liru tribe (poisonous snakes). She went and confronted the Liru, and asked him why he had done it. He laughed, and she struck him (a 'sorry cut' / scar in the rock). If he had explained then, it would have been over, but he still didn't admit his guilt, so she struck him again, cleaving his shield (a rock formation) and killing him (a deep gash in Uluru).

We heard the story of how Lung kata (the Blue tongue lizard) stumbled across a wounded emu, and being the lazy lizard he was, he finished off the emu and ate half on the spot, taking half with him when he went to nap after eating (like my love). The Panpanpalala (Bellbird) brothers, looking for their emu, came across Lung kata, and asked him if he had seen their emu. He lied, and denied seeing the emu, so they went on their way. Finally though they found the tracks telling them the truth, they asked Lung kata to repent, but he refused, so they lit a fire underneath his den, smoking him out (large algal stains up the rock) until he fell out of his cave and to his death, with the uneaten emu meat falling as boulders (which is how the Angura capture blue tongue lizards).

We also heard the story of how the Mala people came to Uluru (the Mala, or Rufous Hare-Wallaby, are one of the Angura tribes).

As the Mara came, the Willy Wag-tail woman laughed at how silly they looked, forming the open mouth in Uluru. She was such a gossip that Angura do not tell any private or important stories when willy wag-tails are around. Luckily they had a nicer neighbour in the form of Juri-Jair, the marsupial mole, who burrowed out caves in Uluru for them, making ponds and planting native plums and figs to make the area ready for the Mala. Once the Mala arrived, they planted a ceremonial pole, Ngaltawata, on the top of Uluru (which is why the Angura ask visitors not to climb, how can so many people refuse their request?), and started their ceremonies. Two men of the Mulga seed people reached Uluru just at that point, having walked hundreds of kilometres to invite them to a ceremony, but the Mala people had to refuse them, as they had already started their own. Angry at this rejection, the Mulga seed people turned back, and summoned Kurpany, the dingo spirit. Kurpany moved in the wind and water causing trouble unseen, Luunpa, the Kingfisher, tried to warn the Angura, but they ignored her until Kurpany attacked the women's camp. The fled before him, running into the men's camp, who were furious at the intrusion. Once the men saw what was happening, they fled too, except for two men who ran up Uluru, drawing Kurpany away from the tribe. Kurpany chased them, knocking the Ngltawata down (the broken column on the side of Uluru) and killing the two men, but the tribe was saved. Interestingly enough, when the Angura tried to be recognised as the traditional owners of Uluru, they were at first ignored because their stories were mostly about the Mala, which became extinct at Uluru when dingoes reached Australia 8000 years ago.

We hadn't thought about breakfast, so we had a fruitcake breakfast instead, which was nice. Our guide, who was happy we were laughing at her, also told us various stories about the plants around Uluru. There was the Dead Finish bush, so called by the settlers because if the cattle were eating the bush due to a drought, they were about to come to a 'dead finish' because it is so low on energy. The Angura used the bush to grind up into flour, and also to heal open wounds. It was used as a cure for warts, by taking 5-6 of the needles, stabbing them into the wart and waiting half an hour for it to bleed, then giving it 2-3 days to die off. The blood-wood eucalyptus was used for its red sap when damaged. While runny, the sap could be used as a bandage or a teething gel, with its slight anesthetic properties. When crystallised, the sap could be mixed with water and used as an eye-wash for conjunctivitis. The desert fusia, with pink flowers and a blue bell, was called the emu bush, because the flowers were infused into emu fat and used as a chest rub for colds. The Mulga was used to make firesticks and spears (due to the toxin in the wood). The Sticky Hops bush has leaves that smell like chocolate when you rub them.

Our guide showed us the men's, women's and boy's caves, and Lydia and I decided that the women's cave was badly organised, with larder-children-kitchen in consecutive caves. We walked to Kantju Gorge, which was a very special place, a beautiful grove of eucalyptus trees with a pond by the rock, full of fat Borrowing Frog tadpoles. Our guide told us that boomerangs were not used in hunting the way people assumed they were. They were actually thrown over the heads of animals, giving a noise and shadow like that of a bird of prey to confuse them.

That night we walked to the Uluru lookout for sunset, and had the most magnificent view all to ourselves. We watched the sun set behind Kata Tjuta, giving the formation magnificent backlighting and giving the entire desert a warm glow.

markinldn says:
Magnificent views - pity I won't be able to make there when I'm in Australia :(
Posted on: Dec 07, 2007
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Uluru - Kata Tjuta
photo by: Morle