Why is the Northern Territory called the Red Centre?

Why is the Northern Territory called the Red Centre?

Written by: Cameron Ward

Published: 09/19/2019

Reading time: 4 mins

Uluru in the Northern Territory is one of Australia’s most recognisable tourist spots. The stunning views, cultural significance, and unique experiences make it unforgettable, but how did it get its name the Red Centre?

A simple question and answer

Why is the Red Centre called the Red Centre? Well, because it is red. It takes its name from the vast red deserts of the Northern Territory and its relatively central location within Australia.

Why is the dirt red though? There is a scientific reason for the Northern Territory’s signature coloured earth, and it has nothing to do with aesthetics. The soil in the Red Centre is millions of years old. Scientists believe that the colouring results from high levels of iron-oxidizing in the soil. That is to say, the high level of rust in the dirt causes its red pigmentation. This iconic hue is still developing today, after millions of years. Experts believe that the large rock formations in the Northern Territory would in-fact be grey under their pigmented outer layers. The iconic dirt of the Red Centre is just one of twelve soil types varying in hue across the Northern Territory. These soils were, and are, used by Aboriginal communities across the Northern Territory to tell stories, share culture and pass on traditions to new generations.

What to do in the Red Centre

The Red Centre is most famously home to Uluru and Kata Tjuta. With generations of ancient Indigenous cultures built on this land, the Red Centre is home to deeply spiritual Aboriginal communities. The Red Centre is a fantastic place to learn about the local Indigenous cultures of the Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people, the traditional owners of the land.

  • Uluru

    One of Australia’s most famous landmarks, Uluru is sacred to the local Anangu people. For over 30,000 years, the surrounding areas of Uluru have been home to Aboriginal communities. The Anangu people believe their ancestral beings formed Uluru during their Tjukurpa and they believe that the various caves around the base of the formation are proof of this. In the Anangu culture, the Tjukurpa refers to their understanding of the world and its creation. Tjukurpa stories contain important lessons for the Anangu people and teach them about the land, how to survive on it, and how to travel through it.

    Today, the Anangu still hold rituals within these caves and share their Tjukurpa stories with the new generations. The link the Anangu people have to the land at Uluru continues to grow as they pass on their traditions and customs to new generations. Within these caves are traditional artworks created with paints made from animal fat and stained clays called ochres. To create the bright red, yellow and orange pigments they used rust-stained ochres like that of Uluru and the pigmented desert of the Northern Territory.

  • Kata Tjuta

    Just half an hour west from Uluru is Kata Tjuta, a collection of 36 500-million-year-old sandstone domes. Meaning ‘many heads’ in the Pitjantjatjara language, Kata Tjuta is a sacred site to the Anangu people. The giant sandstone domes have an ochre colour, a stark comparison to the red of nearby Uluru. Approximately 100 million years younger than Uluru, the domes reflect the ochre colour Uluru may have once been. It’s incredible to think what the Red Centre might look like without its red pigment. The Kata Tjuta site is a sacred site for the men of the Anangu tribe, and they keep their traditions and customs secret.

    When visiting Kata Tjuta, you can hike around the base of the formations. We recommend heading to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre first to gain an understanding of the significance of the formations before you start.

Related article: Accommodation in the Red Centre

Cameron Ward
Cameron Ward
Managing Director at Sightseeing Tours Australia

Cameron Ward turned his travel passion into a thriving Australian tourism business. Before he co-founded his own business, Sightseeing Tours Australia, he was enjoying being a Melbourne tour guide. Even now, Cameron delights in helping visitors from all around the world get the most out of their incredible Australian trip. You’ll see Cameron leading tours or writing about his favourite Australian places where he shares his local insights.