The cen­tre of at­ten­tion

A stir­ring sym­phony un­der the stars at sa­cred Uluru

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

THERE was a triple road train burst­ing with stage and light­ing equip­ment and a char­ter j et full of fine clas­si­cal mu­si­cians.

Jazz supremo James Mor­ri­son said it was the big­gest con­cert ‘‘hall’’ he’d ever played. Didgeri­doo mas­ter Wil­liam Bar­ton’s play­ing of his great boom­ing in­stru­ment sounded like ap­proach­ing thun­der, all but steal­ing into our bones. We spec­ta­tors could boldly claim we’d never been sur­rounded by so many stars. Col­oratura so­prano Emma Matthews ar­rived aboard a camel named Meryl (whose jaunty top hat al­most wob­bled off as the red­frocked diva dis­mounted with en­vi­able el­e­gance) and our com­bined au­di­ence of about 1500 clapped and whooped like mad things over two star-span­gled nights at Uluru last weekend.

What an in­spired idea to take the Dar­win Sym­phony Orches­tra to the desert, to add tal­ent of the in­ter­na­tional ilk of Matthews and tenor Peter Eg­gle­stone for an evening of Verdi, and to fol­low 24 hours later with a Sounds of Aus­tralia trib­ute star­ring Mor­ri­son and Bar­ton. Fire trail 37 and the erst­while he­li­pad of Ay­ers Rock Re­sort, about five min­utes by bus from the main tourist fa­cil­i­ties, formed the site for the stage. There were ranks of white plas­tic chairs for the en­thu­si­as­tic au­di­ence and lit­tle canopied stalls sell­ing drinks and a wide va­ri­ety of well-priced food, from Asian and Ital­ian to veg­e­tar­ian and a desserts booth that did a thump­ing trade in ice cream cones dur­ing in­ter­val on both evenings.

The Ay­ers Rock Re­sort com­plex (man­aged by Voy­ages In­dige­nous Tourism Aus­tralia, a sub­sidiary of the In­dige­nous Land Cor­po­ra­tion) was at full ca­pac­ity over the weekend, a test for any prop­erty. But the young and vi­va­cious hos­pi­tal­ity staff, some of whom are grad­u­ates of the re­sort­based Na­tional In­dige­nous Train­ing Academy, coped with great pa­tience and good hu­mour.

What’s so ex­cit­ing about con­certs of this am­bi­tion and au­dac­ity is the po­ten­tial for more such events in the shadow of Uluru. It’s hard to imag­ine a more stir­ring set­ting — orange-red dust, world’s best-loved rock turn­ing rose to mauve to grey to black as the sun dips and stars start to twin­kle in a seem­ingly lim­it­less sky un­sul­lied by neon or pol­lu­tion.

Event tourism is an enor­mous draw­card for Aus­tralian cities and re­gional cen­tres and Voy­ages has an­nounced a range of red-cen­tre spec­tac­u­lars for 2014, in­clud­ing the Tjungu Fes­ti­val of in­dige­nous mu­sic, de­sign and din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences (April 24-47) and the Uluru Camel Cup (May 3-4). Through­out most of the year, Ay­ers Rock Re­sort of­fers desert din­ing op­tions at Sounds of Si­lence pop-up sites and Tali Wiru, an open-air restau­rant with menus fea­tur­ing na­tive in­gre­di­ents (of the likes of quan­dongs, fin­ger limes, le­mon myr­tle, bush pep­per, bunya nuts and macadamias) served against the moon­lit back­drops of Uluru and Kata Tjuta.

None of this would work, how­ever, with­out the right in­fra­struc­ture and Ay­ers Rock Re­sort is the com­plete deal, with ac­com­mo­da­tion for all pock­ets from a camp­ing ground and bud­get lodge to the tented pavil­ion­style Lon­gi­tude 131, re­cently ac­quired by Bail­lie Lodges and about to re­launch with a lux­ury up­grade.

Priced be­tween are the self­con­tained Emu Walk Apart­ments and pretty Desert Gar­dens, with its ex­cep­tion­ally good Arn­guli Grill restau­rant; the name means desert plum and in­dige­nous pro­duce is key to dishes such as an ap­pe­tiser of kan­ga­roo carpac­cio with wat­tle­seed-flavoured oil and wild lime pickle.

A notch above is Sails in the Desert, look­ing chic af­ter a $43 mil­lion re­vamp of its 228 gue­strooms and pub­lic ar­eas in con­junc­tion with the re­sort com­plex’s ex­tended In­dige­nous Guest Ex­pe­ri­ence pro­gram. Ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude Wak­agetti cul­tural dance per­for­mances, spear and boomerang-throw­ing work­shops, dot-paint­ing classes and one-hour shows of the Dream­ing story of the ea­gle, cock­a­too and crow at the Mani Mani In­dige­nous Cul­tural The­atre.

At the close of last weekend as hun­dreds of guests pre­pared to fly or drive home, Dar­win Sym­phony Orches­tra con­duc­tor Matthew Wood, con­cert­mas­ter and lead vi­olin Tara Mur­phy and the or­ches­tral car­a­vanserai were on their way to Alice Springs for a per­for­mance at the golf club.

Not miss­ing a beat, NT Tourism Min­is­ter Matt Con­lan pointed out his gov­ern­ment had con­trib­uted $110,000 to­wards the Uluru event, de­scrib­ing its role as ‘‘in­stru­men­tal’’. It was a wellar­tic­u­lated piece of spin. ay­er­srock­re­sort.com.au dso.org.au

James Mor­ri­son and Wil­liam Bar­ton per­form at Uluru

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