Everyone in Australia knows about Uluru, the mammoth red rock in the heart of Australia, sacred to Indigenous Australian culture and tradition, as well as they know about its closure last month.
As of 26 October 2019, Uluru has been closed to the public and visitors are no longer permitted to climb it. The chains which aided in the steep 348 metre climb have been removed, and hefty fines have been introduced for anyone who still attempts the dangerous climb.
There was more than one reason behind the closure.
First, climbing the rock was plainly disrespectful to its traditional owners, the Anangu, and dismissive of the deep cultural significance of the site to Indigenous culture, law and history.
Second, the climb is significantly dangerous. In the time that tourists have been climbing Uluru, there have been 37 deaths reported as a result of the treacherous climb.
Finally, tourists were increasingly causing damage to the landscape and integrity of the landmark. Littering, vandalism, defecation and frequent treading of the land over a large number of years have led to significant environmental damage to the area.
The date of the closure is significant for its own reasons – on 26 October 1985, Uluru was the backdrop of ceremony to transfer custodianship back to its traditional owners. This was one of the most significant steps forward in the Aboriginal land-rights movement.
The handing back of Uluru was representative of a growing awareness and recognition of traditional Indigenous law and culture.
At the time, the Anangu people signed a lease to Australian Parks and Wildlife Service for 99 years, which secured ongoing public access to the cultural icon and a flow of funds to the local community.
Australian Geographic noted in 2013 that, although the 348 metre climb to the peak of Uluru was unrestricted and undertaken by millions of visitors, the Anangu had requested that visitors choose not to participate in the climb for cultural reasons – “under traditional law, the right to climb is restricted to senior men initiated into their culture”.
For more information about the closure of the Uluru climb, have a look at this ABC News article.
You can also visit the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy website for fact sheets about the cultural and natural history of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, including the handback of the land to its traditional owners.