Canberra man falls victim to the Uluru curse
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Canberra man falls victim to the Uluru curse

“I was a complete idiot to take it, I should have just left it there,” laments Steve Hill from the Weston Creek suburb of Stirling.

Hill believes a string of bad luck, including costly repairs to his 4WD, following a visit to Uluru last year in which he illegally souvenired a small rock, is “more than just coincidence”.

Steve Hill with the Uluru rock he believes has brought him ''nothing but bad luck''.

Steve Hill with the Uluru rock he believes has brought him ''nothing but bad luck''.Credit:Tim the Yowie Man

“My friends and family told me not to take it, but I did,” says Hill, who believes he has joined a long list of other jinxed tourists who have pocketed rocks and sand from the outback landmark only to subsequently fall victim to the so-called ‘‘curse of Uluru’’.

Hill says it was during a solo trip to Australia’s spiritual heartland last June “while walking around the base of Uluru, I saw this rock and just had to have it”.

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“Google maps indicated I was at the old campground where Azaria Chamberlain went missing, so I thought I’d take a small rock as memorabilia, you know, to put on the mantlepiece back at home”.

Hill admits that although he’d heard of the curse prior to his visit, he “thought it was a load of baloney, so decided to take the rock anyway”.

“When I called my daughters and told them what I’d done, they thought I was crazy and told me to take it straight back, but I didn’t.”

Steve initially stashed the rock he pilfered from Uluru in this tray in the back of his 4WD.

Steve initially stashed the rock he pilfered from Uluru in this tray in the back of his 4WD.Credit:Tim the Yowie Man

Since pocketing the rock, Hill has since been subjected to a long line of misfortune that has cost him more than $13 000 in repairs to his 4WD and considerable heartache.

“First, on the way home through outback Queensland, kangaroos started jumping at my Prado, it was just crazy, instead of moving out of the way, they were actually slamming into the car,” says Hill, who eventually “limped across the NSW border and into Bourke for repairs”.

“I’ve driven extensively through the outback and never seen such behaviour from kangaroos. It was at that point I started to think maybe I shouldn’t have taken the rock and that maybe I’d fallen victim to the curse”.

But for Hill, his bad luck was only just beginning. A couple of months later while driving in northern Queensland, the engine in Hill’s Prado “started blowing blue smoke and then blew up”.

“The mechanics are still mystified as to what caused the engine to fail,” says Hill, who believes “it was no doubt a result of the curse”.

Not surprisingly, the rock has never made it onto Hill’s mantelpiece. “I thought it was too risky to take inside,” explains Hill, who stashed it on a shelf in his garage where “friends won’t even touch it for fear of falling victim to the curse”.

Hill says he has “constantly felt nervy since taking the rock” and when, recently, all the photographs of his ill-fated trip to Uluru “mysteriously vanished” off his phone”, he decided “enough was enough”.

“I’ve been planning a trip to Cape York for some time, but have decided to not only bring it forward to next month, but also make a 3000-kilometre detour via Uluru,” says Hill.

Steve will travel 3000 kilometres out of his way to return the rock.

Steve will travel 3000 kilometres out of his way to return the rock.Credit:Tim the Yowie Man

“I’m going to return the rock; it’s just something I’ve got to do. I know exactly where I took it from, so as soon as I get to Uluru, I’ll be returning it.”

Before his run of bad luck, Hill had dismissed any curse as “new-age mumbo jumbo”.

Hill isn’t alone in returning a stone stolen from Uluru, it’s just that most others return them via the post. In fact, each year the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park head office receives dozens of parcels containing souvenired rock and sand, sent by guilty tourists from all around the world.

In some cases, it has taken troubled tourists up to 40 years to return their rocks. The largest return to date weighed in at 32 kilograms.

One of thousands of ''sorry rocks'' returned to Uluru by guilt-ridden tourists who have experienced bad luck.

One of thousands of ''sorry rocks'' returned to Uluru by guilt-ridden tourists who have experienced bad luck.Credit:Jasmine Foxlee

Most of these ‘‘keepsakes’’ are returned with an apology note, hence why in 2004 social researcher Jasmine Foxlee of the University of Western Sydney coined the returned items as ‘‘sorry rocks’’.

Of those seeking forgiveness, Foxlee’s research indicated that almost 15 per cent write of bad luck associated with the rocks.

While the park staff welcome the gestures of returning rocks to Uluru and also the nearby Kata-Tjuta, it has become a complex managerial issue. “To return them to the wrong spot would be disrespectful to the local Anangu people, the traditional owners of Uluru,” reports Foxlee.

“As a result, the rocks are usually placed in a neutral space, a creek bed, not far from the Uluru Cultural Centre.”

While Anangu law governing life and land does not recognise a specific curse associated with removing rocks, there are consequences for disrespecting the land.

An Anangu elder once made the following statement about people visiting his country: ‘‘They hear a little about this place and a little about that place and they put it all together in one bucket and shake it up. Everything gets broken and mixed up, and when they pour it out in their own country to try to remember, they don’t know what pieces go together. They should take it home in their hearts. Then they’d remember.’’

Curse or nor curse, these words of wisdom will no doubt be echoing in Steve Hill’s head when he sets off on the long drive to Uluru next month. Fingers crossed he has a safe journey.

Capital curse

The wreckage of a biplane which crashed at the opening of Old Parliament House in 1927.

The wreckage of a biplane which crashed at the opening of Old Parliament House in 1927.Credit:Mildenhall Collection: National Archives of Australia

Was a series of tragic events surrounding the opening of Australia’s Provisional Parliament House in Canberra in 1927 just a string of bad luck or was it, as some have suggested, the result of a curse?

Here are the facts, I’ll let you make up your own mind.

On May 9, 1927, during the opening of what we now refer to as Old Parliament House by the Duke and Duchess of York, a plane performing as part of the first mass flying display by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) crashed in front of horrified onlookers.

The aircraft, a single-seater SE5 biplane, piloted by Flying Officer Francis Ewen, nosed-dived and crashed on Rottenbury Hill near the current site of St Marks Church in Barton. The dedication ceremony for the site of the church had been attended by thousands of people the day before. Remarkably, that wasn’t the only plane crash associated with the opening. On April 21, as the people of Melbourne welcomed the royal couple to Australia, two RAAF bombers collided mid-air, killing all four crew.

But the bad luck didn’t stop there. Following the official opening, one of the RAAF’s Canberra-based SE5 fighters was given the job of flying official photos and film of the event to Melbourne. Unfortunately, en route the plane experienced engine troubles and crashed near Mt Buffalo in Victoria. Thankfully the pilot survived but the plane was destroyed and its precious cargo lost.

Due to this series of misfortunes, John Laws and Christopher Stewart, in There’s always more to the story (Macmillan, 2004), speculate about a curse. “Some suggest that the royal visit was plagued with disaster because it was cursed … that as the royal couple was coming to a ceremony on traditional Aboriginal land without permission from or involvement of owners, their journey was troubled.”

The series of unfortunate events continued even after the royals returned to England, with the first Clerk of the new house, Walter Gale, suffering a fatal heart attack in his office on July 27, 1927. Then, somewhat ironically, on September 28, soon after delivering Gale’s condolence speech in Parliament, Gale’s successor John McGregor also collapsed and later died in hospital.

Curse or coincidence?

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Cubby nostalgia

Jessica Morgan, Nicky Morgan and Jeannette Atkins (with Hilda the corgi) in a cubby on Mt Taylor in the early 1970s.

Jessica Morgan, Nicky Morgan and Jeannette Atkins (with Hilda the corgi) in a cubby on Mt Taylor in the early 1970s.Credit:John Morgan

This column’s recent spotlight on bush cubbies prompted Jeanette Atkins to dig up one of her treasured photo from the early 1970s in which she is sheltering inside a bush cubby on Woden’s Mt Taylor.

“Every school holiday my neighbours and I couldn’t wait to head up to the hill to make cubby houses,” recalls Atkins. “They were often destroyed by other kids but we’d just rebuild or make them inside if it was raining.”

One reader unhappy about the recent increase in bush cubbies in nature reserves is Waltraud Pix of the Friends of Mt Majura who reports their construction “destroys habitat and damages native vegetation”.

“Some of the many that I find on Mt Majura are large structures, some with grass and fresh branches or large bits of bark ripped from trees,” reports Pix, who believes bush cubbies should be restricted to designated nature play parks.

Where in Canberra?

Do you know the location of this week's scene?

Do you know the location of this week's scene?Credit:Tim the Yowie Man

Cryptic Clue: Not in the back room (extra points if you know what year the TV was made)
Degree of difficulty: Medium

Where in Canberra last week: a view of Mt Tennent from the Naas Valley, south of Tharwa.

Where in Canberra last week: a view of Mt Tennent from the Naas Valley, south of Tharwa.Credit:Matthew Higgins

Last week: Congratulations to Robin Brown of Yarralumla who was the first reader to correctly identify last week’s photo, sent in by Matthew Higgins of Ainslie, as a view of Mt Tennent from just south of Caloola Farm in the Naas Valley, south of Tharwa.

Higgins, who took the photo on a recent bushwalk, says the vista reminds him of Elioth Gruner (1882-1939), an artist best-known for his ability to capture the transient effects of light on the landscape.

Gruner spent considerable time in the Canberra region, often staying with pastoralists and painting landscapes, including his prize-winning On the Murrumbidgee 1929 and Weetangera, Canberra 1937. Some readers may recall the exhibition, Elioth Gruner: the texture of light, held at Canberra Museum and Gallery back in 2014 which featured many of his works.

The clue of ‘‘precursor to Ned’’ related to the 1375-metre-high peak which rises above Tharwa being named after Canberra’s own ‘‘bushranger’’, escaped convict John Tennant, who according to local lore, hid some of his loot in a secret rock crevice. Some believe it may still be there, waiting to be discovered by an opportunistic bushwalker.

For the adventurous, Mt Tennent is a 15-kilometre return walk (including 800-metre altitude gain) from the Namadgi National Park Visitors Centre (Naas Road, Tharwa). Depending on fitness, the walk can take from four to eight hours, or longer if you are trying to find bushranging bounty.

Phone the visitor centre on 6207 2900 for more information and a map (to the peak, that is, not the treasure).

How to enter: Email your guess, along with your name and address, to timtheyowieman@bigpond.com. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday May 19, 2018, will win a double pass to Dendy.

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