PM must butt out of Uluru climb

Northern Territory News | July 15th, 2009 - MORE ARTICLES INCLUDED

Ban considered on climbing Ayers Rock / UluruThe head of one of Australia's most powerful Aboriginal land councils has slammed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, saying a basic respect for indigenous culture should be enough of a reason to ban climbing Uluru.

But if this did not satisfy the nation's politicians, then Central Land Council director David Ross said they should take into account its tragic safety record.

The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park has called for an end to people climbing the 348m-high rock, sacred to indigenous people, as part of a 10-year draft plan.

The issue sparked immediate debate over the future of the climb, which is seen by many as a drawcard for many of the 350,000 tourists who visit the rock each year.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has come out against a ban, saying it would be "very sad" if tourists were denied the chance but Mr Ross said the wishes of traditional owners had been ignored for too long.

"Prime Ministers come and go," he said.

"Kevin Rudd won't be around forever. One day he'll be gone but Aboriginal people won't. They'll still be there watching people leave tracks up over their sacred site."

Some 35 people have died while scaling the rock.

Rudd forces Garrett to climb down on Uluru

By Paul Toohey | The Australian | July 11, 2009

It is a mighty dome, stark, iconic, slightly elongated and famous all around Australia, if not the world. But in the past few days, Peter Garrett has been ducking his head.

The Environment Minister was effectively ordered by Kevin Rudd yesterday to retreat from a plan to shut down the climb to the top of Uluru after Mr Garrett was caught in a political flash flood that suggested there were limits to the public's tolerance for all things "cultural".

Mr Garrett's department released a draft report on Tuesday that sought comment on the 10-year future of Uluru-Kata Tjuta, a beautiful part of Australia that has suffered from over-management and severely limited visitor activities.

Mr Garrett's office said yesterday the minister had not read the draft plan before its release, but was advised on some of the key points -- including the climb closure.

The draft plan was plain in its language, saying the director and board "will work towards closure of the climb". In the meantime, it would introduce "seasonal" closures over summer -- meaning, it would seem, all of summer. Because it is already closed at the first hint of rain, moves to close the climb are effectively under way.

The Prime Minister phoned in from Italy yesterday, telling 3AW's Neil Mitchell: "I think it would be very sad if we got to a stage, though, where Australians and frankly our guests from abroad weren't able to enjoy that experience ... to climb it."

Mr Garrett earlier told ABC radio that "you can take in all the fantastic beauty and cultural significance of the site without climbing it".

A 1979 land claim including Uluru-Kata Tjuta failed because it had ceased to be unalienated crown land upon its proclamation in 1977. Nevertheless, the traditional ownership was beyond dispute and in 1985 it was handed to the Anangu people, who leased it back to the commonwealth for 99 years.

Anangu ask visitors not to climb the rock, but there is some dispute about how precious Anangu feelings really are about the climb, given that in

2006 the traditional owners entertained a proposal to run guided climbs.

Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt has taken a hard line on keeping the climb open. He said Mr Rudd had "overruled" Mr Garrett.

Still, Mr Hunt admitted he expected it was him that would be howled down as culturally insensitive. "We thought we'd be criticised," he said, "but the Australian people have a very strong nose for common sense."

Simply rude to ignore Uluru feelings

By David Penberthy - The Punch | The Australian | FOUR ARTICLES

The worst thing about it is that it seems to be a bit of pre-ordained, politically correct posturing that will add to the nation's ever-expanding collection of hollow symbolic gestures that do nothing to increase white Australia's respect for, or understanding of, our Aboriginal history, and may actually work against it.

I have never climbed the rock and probably wouldn't - not just because I'm kind of lazy and would rather do the bus tour, sit down in front of the rock for a while, and get back for beers at sunset at the Yulara resort - but also because it clearly distresses some Aboriginal people. It just seems rude to ignore their feelings.

As Tory Maguire wrote on The Punch website this week, if it is good enough for people to jump through hoops at other religious venues, such as mosques or cathedrals, by removing their shoes or covering their heads, then it's probably fair enough that we adjust our behaviour and afford a similar respect to the first Australians.

The idea of climbing the rock as some form of personal odyssey or white man's conquest also strikes me as a bit of a clapped-out 1970s concept, as evidenced by the triumphant T-shirt, "I Climbed Ayers Rock", which came in the one size, tight, so that your beer gut could peek out jauntily above your tropical drill shorts as you tightened the sandals and pointed the caravan towards Kings Canyon.

Why did you climb it, Nige? Because it was there, you could tell your mates triumphantly at the ensuing slide night.

Funnily enough, it was the first white man to lay eyes on the rock, the surveyor-general of South Australia, William Gosse, who set the miserably low standard for our relationship with Uluru.

Gosse is rightly slotted by Tim Flannery in his excellent anthology The Explorers for writing what may be the most passionless and underwhelming sentence in the history of exploration.

"I was compelled to turn south and on to a high hill east of Mt Olga, which I named Ayers Rock," reads the ripping account of his discovery on July 19, 1873.

Flannery writes that any man who could be confronted by a place "almost hallucinogenic in its grandeur" and come up with such a flat account of how he named this "high hill" after, excitingly enough, the chief secretary of South Australia, Henry Ayers, would find no place in his anthology.

The best modern-day chronicler of the vexed relationship between Australia and the rock is this newspaper's Darwin-based correspondent Paul Toohey, who dissected the tensions between tourism, commercialism and Aboriginal heritage in a terrific piece in The Weekend Australian Magazine last year.

In his similarly excellent feature in The Australian yesterday, Toohey revealed that on reaching the summit, the first thing many white climbers do is have a wee or, worse, leave toilet paper to wash into the waterholes during the wet season. This was enough to convince me that the walk should be banned.

However, the issue that will grate with many Australians, black and white, is that the discussion about the rights and wrongs of climbing the rock appears to have been taken out of their hands and given to some government department that, in calling for a public debate, seems to have concluded that the rock should be off-limits to climbers.

Not for the first time, Environment Minister Peter Garrett has found himself in a quandary where, on the proposed ban being revealed, he's refused to indicate where he formally stands on the matter, despite saying his personal preference is that people do not climb. Garrett is pointing to the two-month discussion period during which the board of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park will make up its mind.

Whether or not the climb is banned, the issue will do nothing to resolve the bigger and more troubling questions surrounding the relationship between black and white Australia, or the more troubling aspects of so-called indigenous tourism.

As I said, I have never climbed or seen Uluru but the closest I have got is a depressing day in transit in Alice Springs, returning to Adelaide from Broome.

Aside from the fact it appeared to be about 60C - which you should expect in the middle of the desert - the real discomfort of the day came from witnessing two things.

One was a sickening all-in brawl in the main street where a drunk black guy pulled a branch off a tree and started laying into a woman, the backdrop for which was the string of airconditioned tourist shops selling dot paintings, woven baskets and skeleton art from the Tiwi Islands, where cashed-up tourists from the US and Europe chatted amiably with the predominantly white owners and staff, before shelling out for their own little slice of our indigenous heritage to brighten up the wall of their apartment on the Upper East Side, or in Cologne or Berlin.

Sure, some of these stores are owned by Aboriginal Australians, some of them work with co-ops, and the money is often channelled back to indigenous communities.

But a lot of it just seems to be the crassest form of commercialism, where affluent people can buy into an idealised fantasy.

The real story, sadly enough, was happening away from the airconditioning, the $19.95 clapping sticks and the compact disc of ethereal music inspired by Kakadu, lying smashed on the footpath to be tip-toed around as you headed back to the resort at the end of a hard day hitting the credit card.

Article source: The Australian | THE PUNCH: David Penberthy | July 11, 2009

Ban considered on climbing Ayers Rock / Uluru

A proposed ban on climbing Uluru in Central Australia has sparked debate between tourists, traditional owners and political leaders.

A draft management plan for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park was released today, recommending a ban for cultural and environmental reasons.

The plan could come into effect within 18 months, but must first go through a consultation process and be signed off by Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett.

The Northern Territory's Tourism Minister, Chris Burns, says the Territory Government does not back the proposal.

"We have never supported the full closure of the climb at Uluru and that remains our position," he said.

But a traditional owner of Uluru, Vince Forrester, says he is is relieved a ban on climbing the iconic rock is one step closer to becoming a reality.

He says the rock is sacred to the local Aboriginal people and traditional owners have wanted the climb closed since the park was handed back to them in 1985.

"You can't go climb on top of the Vatican, you can't go climb on top of the Buddhist temples and so on and so forth," he said.

"Obviously you have to respect our religious attachment to the land too, so we're saying please do not climb Uluru - we've said it in all languages."

Mr Forrester says tourism operators should not be concerned about the closure.

"The visitors will get more information by walking around the base of Uluru and getting told the stories which Aboriginal people are available to do," he said.

Mixed response
The 346-metre high rock is visited by about 350,000 people a year, about half of whom are from overseas. More than 100,000 people climb the rock against the wishes of the traditional owners.

More than 35 deaths have been recorded on the climb, which can be steep, slippery and extremely hot.

The draft management plan, which is open to public comment for the next two months, notes that recent surveys show 98 per cent of people would not be put off visiting the area if they were not allowed to climb the rock.

But members of the public writing to ABC News Online have had a mixed reaction to the proposed climbing ban.

"This is a secular country. Dictating access to a popular tourist destination based on religious beliefs is unacceptable," wrote one, called Jim.

"By all means close the rock to climbers in adverse weather conditions, but to permanently close it would a denial of the rights of all Australians," wrote Saint Mike.

"The decision to climb or not to climb should remain with the individual, not the park management (white or black)."

"I understand the opposition to people climbing it. But at this point, it is a pilgrimage to travel to Uluru and climb it. I suggest that it is as important to Australia in general as it is to the traditional owners, and that should be considered," said another, Si.

"It is not as if anyone built it. It was always there. Climb on it if you want. It is like saying you can't swim in Sydney harbour or walk around the Grand Canyon," wrote Ron Rat.

But others were more supportive of the ban.

"About time. We would be horrified if people were allowed to climb all over our churches or sacred sites," wrote Lilly.

"I think a ban would be great. We should all respect others' cultural and sacred areas," agreed Jenny.

"I have climbed the rock, but would never attempt it again out of respect for the owners," said one person, going by the nickname The Owl.

"When I view it now, it is similar, in a spiritual sense, to a church or mosque. Walking around the base is the most respectful method of experiencing the monolith.

"Land rights is not about legal ownership, it's a link with Mother Earth and our appreciation of the land. We can all enjoy it now, without possible desecration."

Most of those who had already visited the rock said they had not climbed it, or if they had, they said they would not do so again.

"I have just visited this magnificent region - both Kata Tjuta and Uluru. I loved it! I did not climb Uluru nor did I wish to - it is far more beautiful and mystical from a distance," wrote Anne-Marie.

"I've been there, and the walk around the rock is rewarding, probably just as rewarding as the climb up," agreed another.

"Our family has recently visited Uluru and gained an appreciation of this wonderful icon," wrote John.

"We were delighted to take the walk around the rock and gain some understanding as to why 'the rock' would have such cultural significance to the traditional owners.

"Uluru is far more impressive than I ever imagined. It is an experience every Australian should have and not climbing the rock is part of the experience."

But some who were planning to visit the national park said they would not be deterred from climbing the rock.

"I am a student in a rural area and I am expecting to go to Uluru next year - I want to be able to experience what other people have been allowed to! Nature is beautiful, let us see its beauty!" wrote a student.

"I would love to climb this spectacular part of our country. I would like my children to see the view from the top," wrote Barrie.

Two people said if the ban was imposed, they would not visit the national park. | 9th July 2009

Rudd urged to veto Uluru climbing ban | 9th July 2009

Australia considers ban on tourists climbing Ayers Rock 09th July 2009

Hundreds of thousands of tourists make their way to the top every year, sending home millions of photos of the stunning view.

But the days of climbing Ayers Rock, or Uluru as it is now known, could be about to come to an end.

The Australian government wants to ban tourists from clambering up the 1,141ft sandstone monolith to protect it from environmental damage and out of respect to its Aboriginal owners, who consider the rock sacred.

They are also concerned for the safety of the 100,000 people who take on the daunting challenge each year.

Britons make up a large proportion of the annual 350,000 tourists who travel to central Australia to stare in awe at the 550million-year-old towering rock.

Reaching the top can be a demanding experience, with at least 35 deaths - mainly from heart attacks - in the 25 years up to 2000.

But if the park authorities responsible for the icon have their way, climbing could be banned within 18 months. The proposal sparked heated debate among tourism groups, politicians and Aborigines when it was made public yesterday.

Chris Burns, tourism minister for the Northern Territory that is home to the rock, is opposed to a ban. But a spokesman for the traditional Aboriginal owners, Vince Forrester, said he was 'relieved' that it was now one step closer to becoming a reality.

'The rock and the ground around it is sacred to the local Aboriginal people and traditional owners have wanted the climb closed since the land was handed back to them in 1985,' he said.

'You can't go and climb on top of the Vatican, you can't go and climb on top of the Buddhist temples and so on and so forth.

'Obviously you have to respect our religious attachment to the land, too, so we're saying please do not climb Uluru - we've said it in all languages.'

He said tourists would still be able to get information from walking around the rock's five-mile circumference and listening to stories Aborigines have to tell about it.

They believe many parts of the rock, including its waterholes, cliff faces and caves, were shaped by giant creatures who lived in a mythical period they refer to as their Dreamtime.

In the shallow caves at the base of the rock are ancient paintings and carvings.

Among Uluru's attractions are the many colours it takes on, from fiery reds and crimsons to pink and purples depending on the time of day or the weather.

Uluru means 'little pebble' or 'meeting place' in local Aboriginal languages. | 9th July 2009

Uluru debate: to climb or not to climb? | 9th July 2009

The federal Opposition says Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should veto the plan to ban climbing on Uluru in Central Australia.

The ban is recommended in the latest draft plan for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

Parks Australia says environmental damage and the risks to climbers are worrying traditional owners.

But Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt says banning climbers is unacceptable, as people come from all over the world to enjoy the site.

He says people come from all over the world to climb the rock.

"Give people education. This is not just a local treasure but it's a national treasure and an international treasure," he said.

"Give them the cultural information, let them make up their own mind as to how best to honour Uluru and the surrounding area."

Mr Hunt says the Coalition invested $20 million in improving Uluru for tourists and supporting Indigenous employment.

He says this will be destroyed under the plan, and not all traditional owners agree with the proposed closure.

"Some want to, some don't. And what I'm seeing here is [Environment Minister] Peter Garrett running his agenda, closing the climb, turning his back on Indigenous people, turning his back on Indigenous jobs, and turning his back on a future people in towns such as Mutitjulu," he said. | 9th July 2009

The views in these articles are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Treaty Republic.