Back at the hostel, and I fell into conversation with Joe, a big fella with large sideburns, he almost resembled Elvis, but was a few cheeseburgers short of a rhinestone suit.
Joe has been living in Alice for seven years, providing alternative trips to Uluru / Ayers Rock. A few of us had been having a bit of a debate at the bar, and Joe seemd like the man with the answers.
For those of you who aren't aware of this, thousands of tourists climb Uluru / Ayers Rock every year, despite pressure from the local people to respect this sacred site, and not to climb the Rock.
Innocently I asked "If Ayers Rock was handed back to the Aboriginal people, and it is sacred to them, why are tourists still allowed to climb up it?"
Joe was a stream of conscious, "It's taken me 7 years to understand the answer to that question, and you're not ready to know the answer, no offence mate, but yeh coming from a white Western background and you know nothing about these people and their culture. Tell you what, would you remove your shoes if you entered a temple in Asia?"
"Yes" I replied, "If you can tell me why you take your shoes off, I'll talk to you about the Rock". Phew, an ultimatum. It was about respect, I said. I'd passsed Joe's initiation. He went on to explain how the government had handed the land back to the local Aboriginal tribes of the Yankunytjatjara, and Pitjantjatjara people in 1984. However, it was with the stipulation that the land be leased directly back to the government for 99 years as a National Park.
There are 74 regulations stipulating how a National Park can be run, and one was that you must not put up signs preventing people walking up the summit of Uluru / Ayers Rock.
"The bloody government are a bunch of hypocrites!", his languange might have been a little more colourful than that, but their might be youngsters reading!
"Different areas of Uluru, are sacred to different groups, one for initiate! d men, another for the women and a nother for children. Some of these are closed off to tourists, 'in respect of the local peoples wishes', yet the powers that be still insist that tourists can clamber up to the summit, a sacred path that the ancestral Mala men climb upon their arrival to Uluru.
Joe explained that Uluru is at a crossroads of three different Aboriginal language groups for whom the Rock is sacred, and has been for as long as anyone can recall, the local area has been populated by Aboriginal people for over 20,000 years, since before the last Ice Age. Joe was a force of nature, myself and a couple of girls caught in the verbal cross-fire, felt the torrent of information rushing past us. Its a contentious issue for sure, theres just too much tourist dollars to apease a few hundred poor tribesmen, but a growing number of tourists, and Australians are respecting the ancient traditions, and I for one would not be making the climb.