Songlines in Sky Country—drones tell ancient tales above Uluru

Standing taller than the Eiffel Tower and as wide as Manhattan, Uluru is sacred to Anangu, the people who have lived here for 50,000 years. It holds the secrets to many of their creation stories including the Mala Story, which Anangu are now sharing in a way that’s almost as impressive as the rock itself.

Wintjiri Wiru at Uluru - image credit Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia

Image credit: Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia

Our bus drops us on the outskirts of town on the edge of the desert and we make our way to the elevated ironbark path. Raised above the sands, it snakes up to the top of the dune, avoiding endangered desert skink nests, and weaving between the tufts of tough spinifex and mulga scrub.

The broad timber deck that greets us at the end of this serpentine sentier presents a view that fills us with awe—even though we’re expecting it. Protruding from the otherwise flat horizon and glowing in the late afternoon light, Uluru beetles its brow back at us.

There’s a tension in the air. Everyone, Uluru included, is waiting, breath held tight, for the show to start.

From the comfort of our blankets—the desert night brings a chill wind—we sit on the terrace on the deck’s eastern side. The sun has all but disappeared behind Kata Tjuta on the horizon behind us and the lights from the deck dim.

We gaze at Uluru across the some 9km of desert, the heart of Australia and the sacred icon of Anangu—the people who have always lived here. We’re transfixed.

But then, in front of us, a glint in the darkness catches our eye.

A tree bursts into flame.

And then another goes up. And another and another. In the background, the mulga scrub lights up reddy gold as if also on fire. The show has begun.

Wintjiri Wiru at Uluru - the timber walkway to the stageWintjiri Wiru at Uluru - Christina takes her place on the terraces

At first it’s as if there are just a few more stars twinkling in the dark sky over Uluru. But then the stars move and change colour.

Soon, we’re looking at strands of lights reaching into the heavens—songlines of the Mala Story. A tjukurpa or creation story of Anangu.

More and more lights dot the heavens above Uluru, painting the story in Sky Country.

We see the giant paw prints of Kurpany, the devil dog sent to destroy the Mala People, walk through the air. We see trees and rocks and flying birds drawn in light, and then the terror of two gleaming red eyes.

Blue-white points of sharp teeth follow, then the pricked ears and snarling features of Kurpany as the devil dog shows itself.

200 metres tall, the ferocious face of the demon looms over us, its biting jaws snapping shut.

Wintjiri Wiru at Uluru - Kurpany the Devil Dog bites the sky

Image by Getty Images for Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia

It’s an ancient tale, a history, told with a mosaic of state-of-the-art technology; over 1200 drones, six lasers and seven light projectors. And the sounds and narration of the story by Anangu elders boom out over the desert.

At its end, we were left breathless, and with an inkling of the true meaning of tjukurpa.

As Rene Kulitja, Anangu elder, internationally acclaimed artist and member of the Anangu Working Group that brought this experience into being, explained to us:

“Tjukurpa is complex and simple; it’s a belief system that has existed since the first sunrise and it’s a way of living for Anangu.”

Wintjiri Wiru at Uluru - Uluru with some scale

Developed by Parks Australia under the advisement of Anangu, this page tells you more about the culture, origins, meanings and applications of tjurkurpa.

Wintjiri Wiru—where ancient stories and high tech meet

Suggesting ‘beautiful view out to the horizon’ in Anangu’s language Pitjantjatjara, Wintjiri Wiru tells part of the creation story—the tjukurpa—of the Mala People living at Uluru.

This story is part of Uluru, in its DNA—as it is with Anangu too.

Physical evidence on Uluru, like Kurpany’s giant paw prints, as well as rock art, have given this history context for Anangu for millennia.

And now Wintjiri Wiru brings it to life in a new way.

We’re lucky to be at the launch of this incredible installation—a show that will run twice a night every night for the foreseeable future.

Wintjiri Wiru at Uluru - food and drink at Wintjiri WiruWintjiri Wiru at Uluru - deck design artwork by Anangu artist Christine Brumby

The evening kicks off with drinks and canapés on the deck, whose iron edges are decorated and illuminated with the story of its artist, the incredible Christine Brumby.

These refreshments are indicative of what guests will be served in hampers when they arrive, and focus is all very much on local produce and Indigenous-owned small businesses. Beer is from Jarrah Boys Brewery, gin is from Beechwood Distillery and even the water—Yaru—is from Bundjalung Country.

While we enjoy the superb service of the staff, an inma—a sacred ceremonial dance—starts up with young Anangu girls dancing on the stage and elders singing and clapping. Then women and then men dance the inma signifying the beginning of the Mala Story.

It’s a humbling thing to witness—to be a part of, as these inma are enormously important to culture and are rarely seen.

Wintjiri Wiru at Uluru - Anangu perform an inma before the show Wintjiri Wiru at Uluru - Anangu perform an inma before the show

The sun finally falls lower and lower, and we find our places on the terrace.

The show lasts about 25 minutes and there are two drone ‘acts’ that go for about 10 minutes each—though you lose track of time while you’re watching this incredible story evolve in the sky and on the ground.

Wintjiri Wiru at Uluru - where the drones live

The following day, we’re lucky enough to be allowed to see behind the scenes of Wintjiri Wiru. This is the extraordinary storage and launch facility where all the drones are kept.

It’s a 45m x 45m platform in the scrub that’s somehow invisible from the viewing platform. Cooled are flows underneath it into the housings of the drones which store six drones each. They take off and land here during the shows and the teams can control each individual unit from here.

The technology used here is fascinating, some of which designer Bruce Ramus and his team had to invent as an outcome of this installation.

Two Wintjiri Wiru Experiences On Offer

Guests at the Ayers Rock Resort can book their Wintjiri Wiru experiences through the hotel’s website here.

There are two options:

Wintjiri Wiru Sunset Dinner is a three-hour experience, starting with cocktails and canapés on the open-air theatre while the sun sets behind Kata Tjuta, then you’re given a gourmet hamper full of delicious food that celebrates native ingredients.

When the sun has completely set, you take your seat to watch the amazing drone, light and laser show. It’s a truly immersive experience that will leave you astounded.

This ticket includes transfers from and back to the resort.

Wintjiri Wiru After Dark is the dessert experience. Because this session begins about two hours after dark, you won’t see the impressive views of Uluru and Kata Tjuta as the sun sets.

This post-dinner show only serves light refreshments like native-spiced popcorn, but the Wintjiri Wiru show is just as magnificent as the earlier one.

Wintjiri Wiru After Dark is also a bit shorter—about 90 minutes long from leaving the resort to your return.

For us, travel is all about experiencing and learning about cultures different to ours. Here are more stories from our journeys that you might like. J&Cx

Wintjiri Wiru at Uluru - us at sunset

Anangu share the Mala story, from Kaltukatjara to Uluru, through a drone, sound and light show designed and produced by RAMUS.

We visited Uluru and the launch of Wintjiri Wiru as media guests, but our experiences and opinions remain our own. Additional images by Getty.

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