Google captures the heart of Australia

Caroline Berdon
Google captures the heart of Australia

In a remote part of a remote country, Uluru intrigues visitors from around the world. Even up close, it's a forbidding, inscrutable sight - a world wonder kept at arm's length.

But now you can get closer than ever to this mysterious monolith from the comfort of your own home.

NT Tourism has partnered with Google to bring the internet giant's Street View technology to the rock. A small team of techies armed with state-of-the-art 360-degree camera backpacks has trekked around the outback, capturing the sights of the red centre.

They haven't done it alone. For the first time, Street View is being presented with sound. As you travel around Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park on your computer, it is the stories and songs of the local Anangu people that will guide you.

The commentary was brought to life through interactive audiovisual platform Story Spheres, which Google hopes will bring Street View experiences to life.

People can take one of five trails around the rock, accompanied by stories and songs in the native language (with translations) told by Anangu elder Sammy Wilson, who recounts the history and the culture of his people. More trails are expected to be added in time.

The Anangu have lived here for more than 30,000 years. Uluru is their spiritual home, their history, their compass. Their sacred sites make up 30 to 40 per cent of the rock. They were consulted extensively during the process of capturing the images.

The Google trekkers had to tread carefully. In some places, they were able to touch the sandpaper texture of the rock. In others, they had to capture the monolith from afar so as not to reveal sites considered sacred.

Jason Pellegrino, managing director of Google Australia and New Zealand, says the commentary allows people to experience Uluru's soul, or as the Anangu people say, its Tjukurpa.

"The uniqueness of the culture, stories and song, the traditional law that embodies this place, it's a very rich experience. It's a unique way that Google can contribute to the capturing and sharing of stories around the world, not only for now but into posterity."

The end product is the result of two years of negotiations between Google, NT Tourism, Parks Australia, the NT government and the land's traditional owners.

The experience is for people who may never visit Uluru, but Pellegrino hopes it may also entice more to make the trip.

"We hope it will give people the motivation to spend more time here and immerse themselves in everything Uluru has to offer beyond the physical beauty."

For the Anangu people, the project was a golden opportunity to capture and record their stories, which are largely in the oral tradition.

It's also a way for them to entice more people to Uluru, so they can impart its true cultural significance.

"We want people to enjoy learning about this place," says Wilson. "But most of all we want them to come here, to do a tour with us and learn about this place through us."