Wintjiri Wiṟu tells ancient stories in the sky

The world’s largest daily drone show offers deep spiritual connection in the heart of Australia – Uluṟu.
Light show at Uluru as shape of a dog.

Imagine this: the sun is setting behind Uluṟu and Kata Tjuṯa casting a velvety pink glow. The night is full of sounds and smells. You gather on a sustainably built platform atop a desert dune, overlooking spinifex softly moving in the breeze. As you nibble on native-inspired food, 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 burst into animated storytelling.

Wintjiri Wiru is more than a drone show. Wintjiri Wiṟu is about creating lifetime memories.

‘People from every place have come to see Uluṟu. Now we want people to come and experience our story in a new way,’ says Rene Kulitja, on behalf of the Aṉangu Consultation Group, custodians of this chapter of the ancient Mala story.

With nightly shows, Wintjiri Wiṟu has been a momentous $10 million and five years in the making – two of those years dedicated to early, and deep, consultation with the Aṉangu community. CEO of Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, Matthew Cameron-Smith tells ArtsHub, ‘Getting it right has been crucial. When you tell a story that’s been told in the sand for over 70,000 years, and will now be told for all the world to see, it‘s important to us that we honour culture in every step of the process.

‘We have held hands with Voyages to create Wintjiri Wiṟu together – talking together, listening together and creating together,’ adds Kulitja.

The drone show has been up and running for just six months, and it has exceeded all expectations. Guests from all over the world are raving about the delicious food, the dazzling technology but, most importantly, how privileged they feel to be able to share in the ancient Indigenous Mala story.

People sitting in outdoors watching drone show in the sky over the ancient site Uluru
‘Wintjiri Wiṟu’ is storytelling in the most modern way. Photo: Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia.

A desert experience you will never forget

Melbourne-based light artist Bruce Ramus was brought on to harness cutting-edge drone technologies and design the experience, bringing to life one of the oldest continuing cultures on earth. He has choreographed over 1100 Nova flow drones to depict a chapter from the ancient Mala story, which stretches between Kaḻṯukatjara (Docker Creek) and Uluṟu.

‘This chapter of the Mala story has been passed to us from generation to generation,’ Kulitja explains. ‘We want visitors to know this is our story, to look and listen and feel with us.’

Unlike other popular light events and festivals, Wintjiri Wiṟu’s point of difference is that ‘it’s not designed as a singular attraction,’ Ramus tells ArtsHub. ‘It is designed as a multidimensional storytelling platform.’

A narration in Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara languages fosters understanding, while a soundtrack of traditional Inma, recorded with members of the local Aṉangu community, adds to a deeply memorable piece of immersive theatre.   

Ramus says that his first priority was to ‘honour the simplicity’ of the Mala story, and ‘to not try to add my interpretation on top of it, but to allow the simplicity to speak’.

‘I could sense how it has moved people through the centuries, and how it may continue to move others,’ he explains.

Importantly, Voyages engaged with leading Indigenous Cultural intellectual Property expert, Terry Janke, to advise on fair remuneration to Aṉangu for their time, skills, knowledge and IP (intellectual property) over the long term.

Read: Uluṟu drones – more than ‘clip art in the sky’

Wintjiri Wiṟu is the largest single investment in an Indigenous tourism experience in Australia in decades, and is the first permanent cultural drone show globally to be presented at this scale, daily.

‘I think experiences are everything,’ Cameron-Smith says of that investment in Aṉangu culture. ‘When it comes to travelling here, people don’t come for the bed that they sleep in; they come for the experiences that they’re going to have. The work that we are doing just makes the experience more interactive and more meaningful for people.’

Drones have quickly become a preferred low-footprint, high-impact form of storytelling, which is perfect when working on Country. For the Aṉangu, however, it is an investment in their future. ‘We are looking forward and have created Wintjiri Wiṟu for the next generation, for our grandchildren,’ explains Kulitja.

There are three ways to experience Wintjiri Wiṟu, and all involve native foods: the Wintjiri Wiṟu Sunset Dinner is an exclusive three-hour full dining and culture experience, while the shorter Twilight (early evening experience) is great for children, and an After Dark show is an hour-long experience including native desserts and cocktails.

Sitting on Country, experiencing Wintjiri Wiṟu, can only be described as magical and, for many, it is a gateway to a deeper spiritual connection with this very special part of Australia.

Wintjiri Wiṟu is operated by Ayers Rock Resort, which sits just outside the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuta National Park, in the Northern Territory.

Learn more, and book your lifetime memory on Country.

As custodians of the land, Aṉangu hold the Mala story from Kaltukatjara to Uluru. To share their story, Ramus designed and produced an artistic platform using drones, light and sound to create an immersive storytelling 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