1993 First Sounds of Silence dinner at Uluru

Sounds of Silence dinner 2009. Image: Fred Harden

The food is less than amazing, but the setting is hard to beat. The Sounds of Silence dinner is not your average dining experience. It takes place in the open air, with views across to Uluru and Kata Tjuta – formerly known as Ayers Rock and The Olgas – and has been on offer to visitors of the Red Centre since 1993.

The tourist experience at Uluru has evolved since the first facilities were built in 1959. The first time I visited The Rock, in 1978, I stayed at the fairly basic Inland Motel. Five years later, the bar of that motel became a crime scene when a vengeful drinker who had been ejected from the premises drove his Mack truck through the wall, killing five people.

In 1983 it was agreed that ownership of the land around Uluru would be passed back to the traditional owners, with a 99-year lease provided to the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service. Facilities were moved further away from Uluru itself, with a new Ayers Rock Campground, hotels, town centre and even a school opening in the early to mid-1980s. In 1992, all the accommodation was consolidated within one company, the Ayers Rock Resort Company Limited.

The Sounds of Silence dinner was featured in a full-page advertisement for the resort in 1993. The copywriter waxed lyrical about the experience:

A Sounds of Silence dinner is, for many visitors the real highlight of their stay. A small group of people is driven into the desert at dusk to witness the spectacle of sunset on The Olgas, or Kata Tjuta. And then to enjoy the finest food and wine under the velvet spangled canopy of the night. It’s hard to convey in mere words the sense of total peace and tranquillity that you will discover out there.

That highlight does come at a cost. In 2024, it would set you back $283 for an adult or $142 for a child (children have to be 10 or over to attend). When I last visited, in 2009, it was somewhat less than that, but still pricey for its time. “What the hell?” we said. “Let’s do it.”

We piled onto a bus and were taken to a dune overlooking Uluru. As the sun went down, the rock turned from brown to fiery red as we sipped sparkling wine and sampled rather forgettable canapes. The haunting sounds of a didgeridoo added to the atmosphere as the dusk gathered and the temperature began to dip. (It was mid-winter after all and overnight temperatures out there can fall to below freezing. It even snowed on Uluru in 1997.)

The group of about 40 people then straggled over the dunes to find white-clothed tables and, fortunately, gas heaters set up in a desert clearing. Alas, it wasn’t fine dining. Table by table we were called to the buffet to serve ourselves with barbecued lamb, fish and less-than-exotic vegetables. Main course was followed by a talk by an astronomer. The lights were extinguished and in the silent darkness he used a laser pointer to illustrate stories of the constellations above us. Then it was back to the buffet for dessert before we were bustled onto the bus for our return to the resort.

By all reports, more recent editions of the Sounds of Silence dinner do make more of an effort to incorporate Australian native ingredients, including kangaroo, crocodile, emu, finger lime and bush tomatoes. Most reviews, however, are ambivalent about the quality of the food. And there are quibbles about the cost. But it’s the experience you’re paying for and it’s undoubtedly unique. Just remember to dress warm.

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