CULTURE

Image by Holger Link

Uluru closed to climbers

After a decades-long campaign by Indigenous Australians, visitors to the Northern Territory’s red centre are no longer able to climb Uluru. Considered to be a sacred site by its traditional owners — the Anangu people — the iconic monolith is now closed to the thousands of tourists who flock to the rock each year. The permanent closure has been a long time coming. Citing the spiritual significance of the site, the board of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park voted unanimously to end the climb back in 2017. Speaking to the BBC, one Anangu man described Uluru as a "very sacred place . . . like our church”.  

 

Safety concerns also played a part in the decision to ban climbers from scaling the 348m red sandstone rock. The walk can prove dangerous, with dozens of people dying since the 1950s. Indeed, a Japanese tourist died making the ascent last year. Others succumbed to the extreme temperatures, which can reach close to 50°C in summer. 

 

For Anangu National Park leader, Tjiangu Thomas, the closure conjured mixed emotions. "Part of me is very happy that Anangu's voices are heard and respected,” he told Australia’s 9News. “Also a little bit of sadness knowing that some of my traditional elders are no longer here with us to see the fruits of all their hard work." 

 

Whilst Uluru may be closed to climbers, visitors remain welcome to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The key to modernising the site as a tourist attraction, Dr Jana-Axinja Paschen of the University of Melbourne told Geographical, is “relevant cultural information and education”. “It would go beyond just that site. I feel potential for better education on Aboriginal culture in general, what it means to look after country, and what the spirituality of country means.”

 

Following Uluru’s closure, it is hoped other culturally significant Indigenous sites can also be protected — and respected. Speaking to the ABC, Jason Mifsud, chair of the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation, said, “It will provide inspiration for other traditional owner groups to be making our own brave decisions around the protection of cultural heritage.”

October 25, 2019

| Watch a time-lapse video of Uluru