Stones taken from Australia’s Ayers Rock have been returned to the desert monolith’s Aboriginal custodians by tourists who believe they are cursed.
Hundreds of visitors who casually pocketed chunks of the sacred landmark and took them home found they brought nothing but bad luck, including illness, marriage break-ups and even death.
National park rangers receive at least one package a day of what have been called “sorry rocks” pilfered from the landmark, now known by its indigenous name of Uluru.
While many of the packages were accompanied by a simple apology for having stolen the stones in the first place, about a quarter contained details of personal tragedies.
“About 25 per cent made that reference to bad luck,” Jasmine Foxlee, a PhD student who is studying the phenomenon, told Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
“Interestingly enough, a lot of the others were more about people wanting to see those rocks returned to their rightful place.
“There’s quite a deep-seated uncertainty about Aboriginal spirituality and culture and often we err on the side of caution when we don’t know something well. So I think there’s an element of: `If I return it, it’s a bit of a safeguard for myself’.”
While most of the rocks were small, a German family returned a chunk weighing 9kg and a couple from South Australia posted back a large 32kg slab.
The Anangu, the Aboriginal tribe who live in the vicinity of the rock, have appealed for visitors not to take anything from the sacred site.
They also ask, for cultural and spiritual reasons, that the half a million tourists who flock to the giant red rock in the Northern Territory do not climb to its summit.
Tourists have been returning the rocks for years, and the phenomenon seems unconnected with the apology issued in February by the new Labour government of prime minister Kevin Rudd to members of the “Stolen Generation”, Aboriginal children who were taken from their parents and put into foster care.
Not all Australians applauded the idea of returning the souvenirs to their rightful home.
“What a load of crap! I’ve had my little piece of Ayers Rock for 14 years and I’m the most contented bugger on Earth,” one reader wrote on the newspaper’s website today.