Here's Why Aboriginal People Don't Want You To Climb Uluru
Traditional custodians of Uluru want the controversial climbing path shut.
Chris Jackson / Getty Images
David Gray / Reuters
As the mid-morning sun illuminates the lush red sheen of Uluru – the sandstone monolith in Australia’s Northern Territory encased by a never-ending vista of red dirt dotted with low lying shrubs – a faint white line becomes visible, zig-zagging down the eastern end of the rock.
Standing at the undulating base of the rock directly in front of a sign requesting visitors not to climb, 20-year-old Matteo from Belgium looks up and surveys the top. Hiking boots on, Matteo says he’s excited to tackle the steep climb, “I have always wanted to visit the Australian desert, especially this place. For me, coming from Europe, it is a magical, fantasy place,” he says.
Asked why he would defy the wishes of the Anangu, Matteo says pragmatically, “I don’t think I am being disrespectful. I find the native culture very beautiful. But it seems to be me that not climbing the rock is just an old superstition.”
Uluru is a deeply spiritual and sacred place for the Anangu people, the traditional owners of the land. For them every crevice, cave and feature of the rock has a meaning.
The Anangu call the white lines that snake up toward the summit “Minga”, which is Pitjantjatjara for ants. The lines are not a spiritual site for the Anangu. Minga refers to the tourists who climb to the summit of Uluru via this path everyday. Over the years their footprints have gradually turned the steep climbing track from a red ochre into a faint white line.
The Anangu, who have lived in the shadow on Uluru for thousands of years, are now based in the nearby Aboriginal community of Mutitjulu. They say that climbing the rock causes them deep cultural offence and sadness for almost two decades.
25-year-old Keshia Randall, whose family are traditional caretakers of Uluru, is disturbed by the number of climbers.
Keshia Randall. Supplied.
“I find it disrespectful, I’m frustrated that the national park isn’t shutting it down, they think that it’s the main attraction and tourists just want to come here to climb a big rock.”
Debate around closing the climb has raged since 1985, when the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park was handed back to the traditional owners by the then Labor-Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Shortly after the land was handed back to the Commonwealth Government on a 99-year-lease.
The majority of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta management board is made up of traditional owners, but despite this the climb remains open. Miss Randall, who previously worked for Parks Australia, believes that non-Indigenous management are deceiving Anangu board members into keeping the climb open.
“I think they (park management) are convincing those on the board that if the climb closes, the tourist money will stop,” she says. Mutitjulu, a community where poverty is rife, relies heavily on royalties from the national park entrance fee.
Sign at the base of Uluru. Supplied.
The Anangu only climb Uluru for cultural reasons, including initiation. They say it’s not just the climbing that is causing problems. Human waste and urine left by climbers at the top are poisoning the water holes that pockmark the sandstone and are important sources of water for native animals. Miss Randall said that after swimming in the waterholes at the base of Uluru her daughter had medical problems.
“It’s disgusting, she is essentially swimming in someones faeces and gets sick, that shouldn’t happen, it’s her birthright to be at that place,” she says.
In 2006 a report by the Australian National University, found that Japanese tourists were most likely to make the climb and that almost half of the tour operators around Uluru offered the climb, but rarely advertised.