Uluru Inverted: shock value in desert storytelling
David Brooks (Ngaanyatjarra Council (Aboriginal Corporation))
Paper short abstract:
A film has apparently been made puncturing the valued but precarious official meaning of Australian tourist icon Uluru as an Aboriginal site. But far from being outraged or hurt, Desert men relate the tale with relish. In fact it turns out to be largely their invention. What is going on?
Paper long abstract:
Uluru is an Australian 'icon', an impressively huge red boulder located centrally in the arid continent and tapping deeply into the indigenous past. Often seen as the paramount sacred site of the Aboriginal Dreaming, it is a focal point for many Dreaming 'tracks' of the people of the Western Desert 'bloc' who are its 'traditional owners'. Endless busloads of tourists are taken on walks around the base by Aboriginal guides and exhorted not to show disrespect by climbing to the peak. In a country as divided about indigenous issues as Australia, this is a site that, for once, unambiguously presents a positive and unified face, a space where 'things Aboriginal' are held up and admired for their richness and sublimity. A space where a serious attitude is appropriate. While the occasional young tourist plays pranks foolishly flouting this, who would imagine that some Aboriginal people from the same cultural group as the owners are willing to have a good laugh at themselves over the whole Uluru phenomenon? Yet so it is. Men whom I have known for nearly thirty years suddenly told me about a commercial film they said they had once watched together, involving a whitefella who constructed an elaborate and clever joke puncturing the seriousness that envelops Aboriginal Uluru, and about how it had them in stitches. This paper relates my search for the film, and explores the many factors that led to the surprising inversion that my friends' telling of the story expresses.
Anthropology of storytelling