What are the Devils Marbles?

These precariously balanced boulders are an icon of the Northern Territory, but what is their significance?

Formed over 1500 million years ago, the Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles defy gravity. Located in the Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve these boulders are sprinkled across the barren landscape, seemingly dropped from the sky.

Ranging between 50cm and 6m wide, the marbles are stacked atop each other in mind bending formations. The granite boulders glow a stunning red in the early morning and as the sun sets each day. Scientists believe that the boulders were part of a large formation that cracked, and that natural erosion over thousands of years rounded their edges, resulting in their spherical shape today.

Cultural Significance

The marbles are a site of cultural significance for the Alayawarre people, however they are also the meeting place for the three other language groups; the Kayteye, Warumunga and Warlpiri people. Together they look after the land and have their own spiritual connections to the boulders. Alayawarre elders regularly visit the area to ensure that their stories and songs are passed down to young generations. Traditionally, the marbles were the only area in the park where both men and women could freely visit to search for bush food, hunt and gather bush medicine. Other parts of the park were considered dangerous and would only be visited by elders for ceremonial purposes. In fact, traditionally the campground located within the park was strictly out of bounds for most Aboriginal people.

There are many spiritual and dreaming stories connected to the marbles and many of them are kept sacred by the traditional owners. As tourism numbers have increased, a common misconception has grown that the Alayawarre believe the marbles are the fossilised eggs of the creator, Rainbow Serpent. However, this is not true. Though many stories are reserved only for the initiated, the following story has been shared by the Alayawarre people for the public;

Arrange, the Devil Man, travelled through the area from Ayleparrarntenhe. As he journeyed, he made a hair belt (an item worn by initiated men). Twirling the hair into strings Arrange dropped clusters of hair onto the ground. These clusters turned into the boulders you see today. On his way back to Ayleparrarntenhe he spat on the ground. His spit turned into the boulders that are freckled across the middle of the reserve. Finally, Arrange returned to his place of origin, Ayleparrarntenhe.

Today, Ayleparrarntenhe is the name of the twin-peak hill located in the east of the reserve. The Alayawarre people believe that Arrange is still there.

Removal of a Marble

Part of the Aboriginal understanding of the marbles is their extreme power. Traditional owners believe that the damage, tampering, or removal of the boulders could cause life threatening consequences. Despite this, in 1953 a boulder was removed without consultation and taken to Alice Springs to be placed on the grave of the Royal Flying Doctor services founder John Flynn.

After 45 years of pain and activism, the boulder was returned to the Alayawarre people. The boulder was replaced with one from the Alice Springs area, and was identified and removed with permission from the local Arrernte people.

Today, the park and marbles are protected by Northern Territory law as a Registered Sacred Site. The area was returned to the traditional owner’s care in a historic ceremony in 2008. The Devils Marbles are open for the public every day of the year. Though there is not legal ban, the traditional owners request that visitors do not climb the boulders.

You can visit the Karlu Karlu on our 5 Day Darwin to Alice Springs with Uluru detour today!

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