November 15, 2011
One of the most astonishing places to visit in Australia is Uluru, the red rock mountain that arises from the Central Australian desert. Located in what is close to the true geographic centre of the Australian continent some four hours drive from Alice Springs, Uluru has a strong spiritual attraction and a powerful physical presence that casts a magic over most visitors.
If you want to visit Uluru (previously called by its Anglo name, “Ayers Rock”), there is basically only one place to stay: the Ayers Rock Resort, which has a range of different accommodation options – from camping up through five star luxury.
I have stayed at Ayers Rock Resort twice, and each time was vaguely aware of the Aboriginal communities which live virtually in the shadow of “the rock”. I looked in vain for Indigenous employees at the Resort, however: instead what I found was a great mixture of Australians, New Zealanders, Europeans … and just about everyone else. Just no Indigenous empoyees, despite the crushing poverty and unemployment rates in nearby remote Indigenous communities – and despite the fact that the park in which Uluru sits is formally owned by the local Indigenous communities. On my last trip there we only met one Indigenous person – the elder on a special Indigenous cultural tour we had booked. For many (most?) people, it is possible to spend days in the area and not come across one Indigenous person.
That’s all about to change, according to news reports and a recent Government funding announcement. With the Ayers Rock Resort now owned by the regional Indigenous Land Council (purchased in June of this year) and is now managed by its wholly owned Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia group, a major Indigenous employment and training program is about to commence, with substantial Government funding. There are now plans to increase Indigenous employment with an initial 100 Indigenous trainees, and building the Resort up to 50% Indigenous staff. That will be quite a challenge, but eminently worthy – and even if only partially successful, has the potential to become a world-leader in Indigenous employment, making an Uluru visit even more special.