Uluru Rock: What made Australia shut it down?

Marion Fernandez

Uluru Rock is a landmark in Australia, a massive sandstone formation situated in the Northern Territory of central Australia. The rock is 2,831 feet high and has been a prime hiking spot for over a century. Recently, however, the Australian government said they would be shutting down the opportunity to climb the rock formation in 2019. But why?

The History

Uluru, the sacred rock of the Anangu Aboriginal people, is a huge tourist draw

The rock was named Uluru by the traditional landowners of the area, the Anangu. The rock has been there for literally millions of years, developing its layers through the sands of time. Humans are believed to have settled in the area about 10,000 years ago. There are several legends about the rock from serpent wars to lizard women, showing that the rock has been an integral part of the local cultures for countless generations.

More Recently

Europeans found the rock in the 1870s and began the area’s tourist industry. The European settlers renamed the rock Ayers rock, honoring the Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers. The name was changed back to Uluru later when the Australian government began to pay more attention to the welfare of the Aboriginal people of Australia. The Aboriginal welfare policy was used to promote more tourism to the area, and a national park was founded.

Eventually, the land was given back to the native people on the condition that the government would lease it from them for 99 years. One of the terms of the agreement was that the climbing on top of Uluru Rock would be stopped.

Climbing the Rock

Climbing Uluru, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia – Author: Kgbo – CC BY-SA 4.0

The area is considered sacred by the Aboriginal people, but that has not been respected by the Australian government. They had requested that park visitors not climb the rock and restrict photography for cultural reasons, but the rock was still climbed, and tourist behavior was disrespectful. The thought was that climbing was being banned due to danger concerns over how safe it is to climb the rock, but that was not the core of the request for banning. There have been reports of people performing stripteases, playing golf, and other acts that do not respect the rock as had been agreed, proving that tourists cannot climb the rock on an honor system.

Additionally, due to traditional rituals that are still performed on the rock, some areas have been listed as off-limits and photography have been prohibited. The concern is that since only one gender or the other is allowed to see the rituals in place, photos of the area should not be circulating around, putting the sanctity of the ritual at risk.

The Future

Disrespectful acts conducted by inconsiderate tourists has led to the ban of climbing on the rock

The question of whether tourists should be allowed to climb the rock was revisited again in 2017. On November 1, 2017, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park board held a vote which passed unanimously in favor of banning tourists from climbing the rock. Since the Aboriginal people did not want the rock climbed to begin with, it seems like the vote and result were overdue.

The ban will not take effect until October of 2019, so if you are still hoping to cross Uluru Rock off your bucket list, time is of the essence. That said, if you do wish to pay a visit to the rock and hike up it, you need to be respectful of the area and the people who live around the rock. Disrespect is what got it to this point, to begin with and there is no need to make a bigger problem than there already is. Instead of climbing the rock, you can still enjoy the beauty of it from the bottom as well as the park itself.

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