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It’s on! 100-day countdown as battle of Uluru begins

July 17, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

With 100 days to go until Uluru is closed for climbing permanently, huge numbers of “last-minute climbers” are scaling the monolith at Australia’s heart and serious political wrangling has begun in a bid to keep Uluru open.

The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park board of management decided two years ago to ban tourists from climbing Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock, from 26 October 2019.

The park’s traditional owners (the Anangu people) have always discouraged the climb, seeing it as disrespectful of the rock, which they venerate as a men’s sacred site.

Supporters of the climb are now fighting back.

One of Australia’s most controversial senators, Pauline Hanson, leader of the One Nation party, has stepped up her campaign against the closure of Uluru.

Hanson is not the first to make the call to keep the rock open, and supporters of climbing are not always who you would expect.

In 2017, the then Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Adam Giles, created a big stir by urging Aboriginal custodians to re-consider their traditional disapproval and let tourists climb the rock.

Giles, who has entered history as Australia’s first head of government to have Indigenous Australian ancestry, said the rock was a tourism icon like the Eiffel Tower.

Giles said a climb could become a tourist experience like climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, though he made clear to ABC News at the time he was “fully aware that the Sydney Harbour Bridge does not have the spiritual significance of Uluru”.

Although Giles’ suggestion was swiftly brushed aside, “right to climb” supporters are still voicing their opinion. They insist visitors and tourists should have the right to decide whether to climb or not.

Uluru

Anangu, however, feel the rock is a place of profound importance, not a playground or theme park. Their vision of the future lies in interpretative tours, nightly viewing of sunsets at the rock, and activities like Aboriginal astronomical tours, making use of the area’s famously clear, dark skies.

Hanson likens a ban on climbing the rock to shutting down Bondi Beach.

The coming closure of Uluru will devastate the Indigenous area’s economy, she told Nine’s Today Show this week.

“The fact is, it’s money-making. It’s giving jobs to indigenous communities, and you’ve got thousands of tourists who go there every year and want to climb the rock,” she said.

Hanson’s words come as pictures of hundreds of tourists snaking up the rock, all intent on getting a last climb before closure, are being compared to the startling recent photo of tourists lined up in freezing conditions to reach the summit of Everest.

Above: Tourists swarm up Uluru with 100 days to go before it closes to climbing.

 

Below: Photos of tourists climbing Uluru, like the one above, have been compared to this celebrated image (below) by Nims Purja, taken just weeks ago and showing climbers lining up to reach the summit of Everest.

 

In Australia, 60,000 people a year are climbing Uluru, according to one estimate.

The prospect of a ban has hugely boosted demand, as recent viral photos show. A ban or prohibition on anything tends to stimulate covert desire. Perhaps its part of human nature.

Apart from the cultural aspect, however, there are safety reasons for banning the climb, which has killed about 40 people since the 1950s.

Victims fall into two categories: younger people, who die of misadventure, wandering off the path and plunging to their deaths (sometimes at night and under the influence or drink or drugs); and older people who suffer heart attacks or strokes and collapse.

Hanson’s reaction to the safety angle is: “It’s no different to coming out and saying, ‘We’re going to close down Bondi Beach because there are some people that have drowned’. How ridiculous is that?”

Anangu “feel great sadness if visitors to their land are killed or injured”, Ayers Rock Resort notes.

As well as saving a few lives, the decision to ban climbing Uluru from 26 October 2019 should deter behaviour such as stripping naked on the rock, drinking beer on top of it or belting golf balls off it.

A French dancer stripped down to a bikini and danced on top of Uluru in 2010 to “salute Aboriginal culture”, so she said. Her action sparked outrage, as noted in this YouTube clip, and she was fined AUD 200.

At least one golfer has hit a golf ball from the top of the rock.

Hanson argues that Uluru should be open by all to enjoy, whether it be Australians or international tourists.

“It is an iconic site for all Australians,” she said.

“I can’t see the cultural sensitivity when people have been climbing the rock for all these years, and all of a sudden they want to shut it down?

“I don’t get it; I really don’t get it.”

Hanson’s reference to “all these years” is a short period compared to the time Indigenous people have lived in Australia, which is perhaps over 65,000 years.

Written by Peter Needham

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