Soft kangaroo toys, boomerang magnets and stubby holders — these are some of the holiday mementos that tourists take home from Australia.

But, according to, visitors to Central Australia are also stuffing their suitcases with natural "souvenirs" — rocks, pebbles, sand and twigs from Uluru.

Struck by guilt — or after experiencing bad luck — hundreds of travellers are sending their keepsakes back by post.

But now the local Anangu people, the traditional owners of Uluru, say they are overwhelmed with letters and packages.


The practice of taking the rocks in the first place must stop, they say.

"We can't actually do anything with the returned materials," a spokeswoman from Parks Australia told

A new book Haunted: Mysterious Australia (New Holland), a compendium of unusual and spooky stories, discusses how several international tourists have been plagued by bad luck after taking the raw materials.

"Hundreds of visitors from all over the world are returning their illegal caches of rock and sand ... often after experiencing bad luck attributed to their souvenirs — the curse of Uluru," writes Australian author Tim the Yowie Man.

Rangers at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park receive a parcel containing rocks, twigs, sand or seeds nearly every day.

Most of these "pieces of place" are returned with an apology note, which is why social researcher Jasmine Foxlee from the University of Western Sydney described the returned items as "sorry rocks" in 2004.

One of the
One of the "sorry rocks" posted back to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Photo / Jasmine Foxlee

One traveller from Hong Kong posted a 300-gram piece of Uluru with the note: "When I received the rock I was so worried that I want to return it as soon as possible. [In] just one week, my brother broke up with his girlfriend, my father went to hospital and he will do heart surgery on the 20 January. Anyway I just want to return the rock to its rightful place and say good bye to the bad luck!"


Under the Anangu law governing life and land there are consequences for disrespecting the land, explains Parks Australia.

However, they do not recognise a specific curse associated with removing rocks.

Traditional owner Barbara Tjikatu welcomes the gesture of sending back pieces of Uluru with letters, but says: "Please, please don't take anymore".

The returned rocks and sand pose a challenge for park management, Ms Tjikatu says.

Besides creating extra work for a busy team, it's impossible to identify the exact origin of the rocks, she adds.

The returned rocks are placed in a neutral space and are used to assist in repairing areas of erosion in the park. Some raw material has even been geologically identified as coming from another region and recently the park received a package of seashells.

Tourists caught trying to take rocks or sand from the park can face hefty fines of up to $8500.