The Uluru ‘curse’

Dare to pil­fer part of the Red Cen­tre’s most fa­mous rock…at your peril.

Australian Geographic - - Geobuzz -

“THE MO­MENT I put it back, it felt like a weight lifted off my shoul­ders,” ex­plains Steve Hill, who re­cently made a 3000km road trip from Canberra to re­turn a small rock to Ulur-u. Hill, who pil­fered the match box–sized rock from the base of the land­mark in­sel­berg in 2017, ad­mits he was “a com­plete id­iot for tak­ing it in the first place”. In the weeks af­ter, he claims, he was struck by a “long run of bad luck”, in­clud­ing car ac­ci­dents and ex­pen­sive re­pairs to his four-wheel-drive.

Hill isn’t alone in re­turn­ing a stone stolen from Ulur-u. How­ever, most guilt-rid­den tourists choose to do so by post, rather than mak­ing per­sonal pil­grim­ages. In fact, each year Ulur-uKata Tjut-a Na­tional Park’s main of­fice re­ceives more than 350 pack­ages con­tain­ing sou­venired rock and sand sent from peo­ple around the globe. Many ar­rive with notes claim­ing to have ex­pe­ri­enced bad luck since tak­ing the con­tra­band.

“I wanted to take away some of your magic with me for the rest of my trav­els, for the rest of my life even. I re­alise it was wrong to do so, there­fore I am send­ing it back to you. For­give me for be­ing fool­ish,” wrote one French tourist who re­turned a 220g rock via post in Jan­uary 2014.

Hill took a year to re­turn his rock, but some tourists have waited up to 40 years to re­turn their il­le­gal sou­venirs. The largest re­turn to date weighed 32kg.

While the law of the A n-angu,the tra­di­tional cus­to­di­ans of Ulur-u, does not recog­nise a curse as­so­ci­ated with re­mov­ing rocks, the act dis­re­spects their be­liefs and cul­ture. Tra­di­tional owner Johnny Jingo ex­plains: “It’s fine if you take a photo of this place and take that away…but leave the rocks.”

Re­turn­ing the rocks has be­come a com­plex man­age­rial is­sue for park rangers. To re­turn a rock to the wrong spot would be dis­re­spect­ful to the An-angu. As a re­sult, the re­turned rocks are of­ten used to re­pair ar­eas of ero­sion and flood run-off in the park.

There is also the threat of mi­cropathogens be­ing in­tro­duced to the park land­scape on re­turn­ing rocks that have been con­tam­i­nated else­where in Aus­tralia. For­tu­nately, Aus­tralia’s strict quar­an­tine laws mean that rocks re­turned from over­seas are in­ter­cepted by the Aus­tralian Quar­an­tine In­spec­tion Ser­vice for treat­ment be­fore be­ing re­turned to Ulur-u.

A small num­ber of pil­fered rocks are re­turned each year to other places in Aus­tralia, in­clud­ing Kakadu Na­tional Park. But per­haps the most com­pa­ra­ble ex­am­ple of peo­ple re­turn­ing sou­venired ob­jects to her­itage sites, in terms of scale, oc­curs at the Hawaii Vol­ca­noes Na­tional Park in the USA.

Tourists re­move lava rock and black sand as sou­venirs and some later re­turn them out of re­spect for the Pele god­dess be­lieved to be as­so­ci­ated with vol­canic ac­tiv­ity on Hawaii’s Big Is­land.

Note: Un­der Aus­tralian law, visi­tors can be fined up to $8500 for re­mov­ing rocks, sand and soil from a na­tional park.

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