In the heart of Australia’s Red Centre lies the dual UNESCO World Heritage site, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. It is home to the Anangu people, 21 species of mammals, 73 reptiles, 178 birds – and the monolith, Uluru.
Starting today, people across the world will be able to visit Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park on Google Street View, walk on the desert sand and take in the vibrant hues of Uluru – from ochre to rust, wild plum and charcoal.
Standing 348 m (1,142 ft) high, and with a total circumference of 9.4 km (5.8 mi), the immense scale, colours and contours of Uluru stir a sense of reverence. While visually and geologically extraordinary, the physical features of Uluru hold a deeper meaning for Anangu traditional owners , who have lived in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park for more than 30,000 years. For Anangu, the formations of the land carry sacred songlines – marking the journeys, battles and adventures of their ancestral beings.
All aspects of Anangu life are governed by ‘Tjukurpa’ – the knowledge and law which guides relationships, values and behaviour. Tjukurpa teachings are passed down from generation to generation through stories, songs and inma (ceremony).
“Sometimes visitors come here and they see a beautiful place, but they don’t understand the Tjukurrpa, the culture and the law and the knowledge and the history that this place holds,” Says Sammy Wilson, Anangu traditional owner of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. “We want to teach those visitors about the Anangu understanding of this place.”
Over the past eighteen months, Google has collaborated with Anangu traditional owners of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park , Parks Australia and Northern Territory Government to capture Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park according to Tjukurpa law.
The Street View journey ventures to the vista of Talinguru Nyakunytjaku, the winding trail of the Kuniya Walk, the cool respite of Kapi Mutitjulu (waterhole) and ancient art at Kulpi Mutitjulu (Family Cave). It invites visitors to zoom in on the curves, crevices and sandpaper textures of Uluru – and soak up its rich spectrum of colour.
Since 2007, we’ve mapped imagery of unique locations across 81 countries through the Google Maps Special Collect Programs. Street View has welcomed visitors to 360 degree panoramic experiences of heritage monuments, touristic sites, museums, national parks and transit locations across the globe.
In the case of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the cultural and spiritual dimensions warranted a more nuanced approach. For Anangu, there is no distinction between animate and inanimate, physical and metaphysical. The people, earth, plants and animals are inextricably connected. This means that Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park could never be truly represented or understood (virtually or otherwise) without the presence and voices of its people.
Due to this special, inseparable connection, we were compelled to bring more depth and break the silence of the Street View experience by adding a soundscape.
Through the Story Spheres platform we’ve added immersive audio stories and songs of Anangu traditional owners to our 360 Street View imagery. The result is an interactive, audio-visual guided tour, narrated by Sammy Wilson and with song and music by Traditional Owner and Anangu Elder, Reggie Uluru.
As Tjukurpa teachings are traditionally handed down through an ancient oral tradition, the stories, songs and ceremonies of Anangu are largely unrecorded.
“They always remembered their teachings because they knew their responsibility was, in turn, to pass them on to the future generations,” says Wilson.
Together with our partners, we are privileged to explore new possibilities for the expression and preservation of Anangu culture through technology. We hope this is the beginning of a broader series and partnership with many more indigenous communities to celebrate sacred indigenous sites, and instill greater value and respect for the land. For a behind-the-scenes view of the Google Maps Street View and Story Spheres project, see the video below.