To Climb or Not To Climb?

The Red Centre

The red centre.
The heart of Australia.
Home to one of Australia’s most iconic sights.
Uluru.

 

A father, carrying his child, falls past screaming hikers; all they can do is watch as the disaster unfolded. The rescue team arrives on the scene quickly and starts the long hike up the rock, moving swiftly past the once excited but struggling tourists; people who are now looking on in horror.  Their horror deepens as the rescue team slows, their legs seeming to get shakier with each step. Until their minds refuse to climb any higher; their bodies grateful not to be forced against their will any longer.

The Aborigines who comprised the rescue team have reached the point at which only 3 elders in the community could pass, just once a year for religious purposes.

 

This story is unlikely to be true; 35 people have died on Uluru but mostly from heart attacks when they reach the bottom. However, the moral of the story remains true; respect local culture.  If the rock is so sacred to the Aborigines that they refuse to climb it, why should anyone else?  The day I visited Uluru in 1998 not one of our group climbed this iconic rock… because our guide told us this story.  We wanted to know more.

Aborigine & Uluru

Climbing Uluru is not yet banned by the government, it isn’t illegal.  But the hundreds of signs and the designated visitor centre asking visitors not to climb the rock certainly suggest it should be.  The Aborigines in the area, the Anangu tribe, ask visitors not to climb the rock for two reasons: one is the spiritual significance of the site and the other is the safety aspect.  The natural world around them has meaning – everything relates to their ‘dreaming’ or the spiritual path their ancestors took.  When someone is injured or dies from climbing Uluru, the Anangu feel the responsibility sharply.

Thousands of visitors to Uluru each year are still not travelling responsibly and Parks Australia are about to step in…

Climbing Uluru 1998

For over forty years there has been a conflicting issue with Aboriginal land rights in Australia.  Uluru has been at the heart of it.  Their land and their rights were taken away from them so quickly, that by the 1960s they were seen as the inferior race.  In fact, in 1968 a travel writer and photographer captioned a photo of an Aboriginal cave: “guided tour of the caves around the base of Ayers Rock. Some were once sacred places to the Aborigines, who have kept away since the coming of the white man.”

As early as 1985 Ayers Rock was given back to the Anangu and leased out to the Australian government.  Since then it has been jointly administered and renamed ‘Uluru’, the title given to it by its original ‘owners’.  Unfortunately this seemed to be in name only as the Aboriginal cultural significance of the site was all but ignored by the government and tourists.  By calling it ‘Uluru’ rather than ‘Ayers Rock’ visitors are deferring to the Aboriginal culture, so why not do that with regards to climbing it too?

Climbing the rock is tough and dangerous.  A survey in 2006 showed that a number of people climb it just for the ‘challenge’ or to ‘conquer’ it.  If you stop and sit on one of the benches surrounding the rock and look up, you’ll see most people coming down are sliding on their rear end.  There’s a really good reason for this.

20% visitors still climb Uluru, despite the signs by the Aborigines asking them not to. With 400,000 people visiting the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park annually that’s still 80,000 people climbing the rock each year.  However, this number has declined rapidly in the past 12 years.  In 1990 a whopping 74% visitors hiked to the top, but by 2010 this number was down to 38%.

Parks Australia claimed that when the figures got below 20% they would consider imposing a ban on hiking up Uluru.

The bottom line is, Uluru is seen as a huge draw for tourists and people want to say they climbed it.  The government are worried about losing visitors to the park, and therefore money, if they ban the climb.

So come on everyone.  If you enjoy travelling to other parts of the world, surely that means you are interested in seeing another culture.  So pay it some respect, take on board the requests and don’t climb it.

Aborigine

There are some fantastic hikes in the Kata-Tjuta National Park.  Try some of these instead, going with a local Aboriginal guide who will be able to describe the significance of the landscape around you.
– Uluru Base Walk
– Mala walk to Kantju Gorge
– Kuniya walk to the Mutitjulu Waterhole
– Hike to the ‘Garden of Eden’ as seen below

Kings Canyon, Uluru KataTjuta National Park      The Red Centre

The Australian government offers good information on the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park:
Download map & information for Uluru walks
Download map & information for Kata Tjuta walks
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park information

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