Uluṟu drone show embedded with ethical storytelling

Country and culture are at the heart of Wintjiri Wiṟu, a new drone and light experience at Uluṟu.
Drone show over Uluru

Drones have quickly become a preferred low-footprint, high-impact form of storytelling, which is perfect when working on Country.

Given this, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia – a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC), offering unique cultural experiences – has invested in the development of a drone project which has been several years in the making.

In May this year, 1000 drones will take off into the night sky on their maiden journey, sharing the Mala ancestral story. The experience, titled Wintjiri Wiṟu – which suggests a ‘beautiful view out to the horizon’ in the local Aṉangu language – will become a permanent offering at Uluṟu.

The Aṉangu consultation group has been involved in naming the experience, advising on the visuals, narrating the story in English, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara languages, delivering the music and ‘ensuring that every level of the experience is shared with respect and in line with Aṉangu cultural protocols,’ says Voyages.

CEO, Matthew Cameron-Smith adds, ‘As custodians of the land and this part of the Mala story, the Aṉangu consultation group has carefully guided us on the Wintjiri Wiru experience, from conception to launch, to generously share their story with the world.’

But this is not just about drones. It is a fully immersive experience of sound, storytelling, light projections and dining.

Cameron-Smith describes the soundtrack of the Aṉangu inma as ‘spine-tingling’, adding that the hope for the Wintjiri Wiru show is to ‘nourish visitors’ thirst for a deeper spiritual connection with this very special part of Australia’.

Wintjiri Wiru has been engineered by the Melbourne-based, world-renowned studio, RAMUS, headed up by light artist Bruce Ramus.

New technology enlivens ancient storytelling

Imagine this: the sun is setting behind Uluṟu and Kata Tjuṯa casting a velvet pink glow. The night is pregnant with sounds and smells, as you gather on a sustainably-built platform atop a desert dune. Its subtly decorated with the art of Aṉangu woman, Christine Brumby, shining backlit through the steel etchings between the tiers of the viewing platform

The desert grasses and spinifex are softly dancing in the breeze. Then, slowly, these grasses become animated by light – a wash of colour that continues to the distant rock formations and eventually into the sky, as a flotilla of drones prickles to life in the night sky. 

It is essentially a piece of immersive, yet culturally and envinromentally sustainable, theatre on Country in Australia’s Red Centre – the heart of ancient storytelling.

How to experience Wintjiri Wiru

Sitting on Country experiencing Wintjiri Wiru can only be described as magical, and deeply memorable. You can do it in two ways: the Wintjiri Wiru Sunset Dinner is an exclusive three-hour full dining and culture experience, while the shorter After Dark show is a one hour-long experience including light refreshments.

Wintjiri Wiru will run every night, from March until December (commencing on 1 May in 2023) with one show a night operating in January and February. Bookings for both experiences are now open.

Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia acknowledges continuing Anangu connection to land, water, sky, culture and community, and pays respect to Anangu communities and Elders and welcomes the opportunity to celebrate Anangu culture through the Wintjiri Wiru experience.

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina