Uluru also known as Ayers Rock and officially gazetted as Uluru / Ayers Rock, is a large sandstone rock formation in the southern part of the Northern Territory in central Australia. It lies 335 km (208 mi) south west of the nearest large town, Alice Springs, 450 km (280 mi) by road.
Kata Tjuta and Uluru are the two major features of the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park. Uluru is sacred to the Anangu, the Aboriginal people of the area. The area around the formation is home to a plethora of springs, waterholes, rock caves, and ancient paintings. Uluru is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Archaeological findings to the east and west indicate that humans settled in the area more than 10,000 years ago. Europeans arrived in the Australian Western Desert in the 1870s. Uluru and Kata Tjuta were first mapped by Europeans in 1872 during the expeditionary period made possible by the construction of the Australian Overland Telegraph Line. In separate expeditions, Ernest Giles and William Gosse were the first European explorers to this area.
While exploring the area in 1872, Giles sighted Kata Tjuta from a location near Kings Canyon and called it Mount Olga, while the following year Gosse observed Uluru and named it Ayers Rock, in honour of the Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers. Further explorations followed with the aim of establishing the possibilities of the area for pastoralism. In the late 19th century, pastoralists attempted to establish themselves in areas adjoining the Southwestern/Petermann Reserve and interaction between Aṉangu and white people became more frequent and more violent. Due to the effects of grazing and drought, bush food stores became depleted. Competition for these resources created conflict between the two groups, resulting in more frequent police patrols. Later, during the depression in the 1930s, Aṉangu became involved in dingo scalping with ‘doggers’ who introduced Aṉangu to European foods and ways.
Between 1918 and 1921, large adjoining areas of South Australia, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory were declared as Aboriginal reserves, sanctuaries for nomadic people who had virtually no contact with European settlers. In 1920, part of Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park was declared an Aboriginal Reserve (commonly known as the South-Western or Petermann Reserve) by the Australian government under the Aboriginals Ordinance.
The first tourists arrived in the Uluru area in 1936. Beginning in the 1940s, permanent European settlement of the area for reasons of the Aboriginal welfare policy and to help promote tourism of Uluru. This increased tourism prompted the formation of the first vehicular tracks in 1948 and tour bus services began early in the 1950s. In 1958, the area that would become the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park was excised from the Petermann Reserve; it was placed under the management of the Northern Territory Reserves Board and named the Ayers Rock – Mount Olga National Park. The first ranger was Bill Harney, a well-recognised central Australian figure. By 1959, the first motel leases had been granted and Eddie Connellan had constructed an airstrip close to the northern side of Uluru.
On 26 October 1985, the Australian government returned ownership of Uluru to the local Pitjantjatjara Aborigines, with one of the conditions being that the Aṉangu would lease it back to the National Parks and Wildlife agency for 99 years and that it would be jointly managed. An agreement originally made between the community and Prime Minister Bob Hawke that the climb to the top by tourists would be stopped was later broken. The Aboriginal community of Mutitjulu, with a population of approximately 300, is located near the eastern end of Uluru. From Uluru it is 17 km (11 mi) by road to the tourist town of Yulara, population 3,000, which is situated just outside of the national park.
On 19 July 1873, the surveyor William Gosse sighted the landmark and named it Ayers Rock in honour of the then Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers. Since then, both names have been used.
In 1993, a dual naming policy was adopted that allowed official names that consist of both the traditional Aboriginal name and the English name. On 15 December 1993, it was renamed “Ayers Rock / Uluru” and became the first official dual-named feature in the Northern Territory. The order of the dual names was officially reversed to “Uluru / Ayers Rock” on 6 November 2002 following a request from the Regional Tourism Association in Alice Springs.
The 25th anniversary of the handback of title was celebrated on 26 October 2010. On 8 October 2009, the Talinguru Nyakuntjaku viewing area opened to public visitation. The A$21 million project about 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) on the east side of Uluru involved design and construction supervision by the Aṉangu traditional owners, with 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) of roads and 1.6 kilometres (1 mi) of walking trails being built for the area. Uluru is an inselberg, literally “island mountain”. An inselberg is a prominent isolated residual knob or hill that rises abruptly from and is surrounded by extensive and relatively flat erosion lowlands in a hot, dry region. Uluru is also often referred to as a monolith, although this is a somewhat ambiguous term that is generally avoided by geologists. The remarkable feature of Uluru is its homogeneity and lack of jointing and parting at bedding surfaces, leading to the lack of development of scree slopes and soil. These characteristics led to its survival, while the surrounding rocks were eroded. For the purpose of mapping and describing the geological history of the area, geologists refer to the rock strata making up Uluru as the Mutitjulu Arkose, and it is one of many sedimentary formations filling the Amadeus Basin.
The development of tourism infrastructure adjacent to the base of Uluru that began in the 1950s soon produced adverse environmental impacts. It was decided in the early 1970s to remove all accommodation-related tourist facilities and re-establish them outside the park. In 1975, a reservation of 104 square kilometres (40 sq mi) of land beyond the park’s northern boundary, 15 kilometres (9 mi) from Uluru, was approved for the development of a tourist facility and an associated airport, to be known as Yulara. The camp ground within the park was closed in 1983 and the motels closed in late 1984, coinciding with the opening of the Yulara resort. In 1992, the majority interest in the Yulara resort held by the Northern Territory Government was sold and the resort was renamed Ayers Rock Resort.
Since the park was listed as a World Heritage Site, annual visitor numbers rose to over 400,000 visitors by the year 2000. Increased tourism provides regional and national economic benefits. It also presents an ongoing challenge to balance conservation of cultural values and visitor needs.