After years of anticipation, Anangu Traditional Owners are celebrating the close of the Uluru climb.

The weather appeared to align with Traditional Owners on the final day the sacred site was open to be climbed as the site was opened three hours late due to strong winds.

Park regulations require rangers to close the climb in events of heavy rain, heat or wind – with the wind threshold being between 25 and 30km/h.

After some delay, the climb was opened at 10am and the enormous line winding throughout the site was permitted to climb.

Since officially announcing the rock’s closure in 2017, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park has seen a huge influx of tourists – especially in the final weeks of the climb’s availability to the public.

The mass arrival of tourists has garnered reports of illegal camping on private property and the dumping of rubbish in public places and on protected land – causing what Traditional Owners have fought against all these years, the disrespect of an historically sacred site and the protected lands that surround it.


Numbers dwindling for years

Despite the perceived outrage around the climb’s closure, interest in climbing Australia’s second largest rock has actually fallen drastically since the 1990s.

As of 2015 just 16 percent of Uluru’s annual visitors climbed the rock, whereas in the 1990s approximately three quarters of visitors tackled the climb.

There are now also over 100 different tours and experiences visitors to the National Park can undertake.

In 2010, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park’s board came to the agreement that three major conditions would have to be met before Uluru would be closed:

  • Less than 20 percent of visitors were climbing the rock
  • New visitor experiences were successfully established in the area
  • Cultural and natural experiences were the key reasons travellers visit the park.

With all three goals being met, the Park announced the closure of Uluru in 2017 and gave a two-year timeframe before the UNESCO World Heritage Site would no longer be climbable.


Celebrating sovereignty

The significance of the official close date, October 26, is two-fold. Not only is it the end of the climbing of a sacred Anangu site, it marks the day Traditional Owners were handed back the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park by the Federal Government in 1985.

Coming near and far from remote communities across the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia, hundreds of Anangu Traditional Owners will gather Sunday at sunset to mark the official closure of the climb.

Joined by the Central Land Council (CLC), Traditional Owners will celebrate the closure as well as the community projects and cultural experiences that have been developed and funded over the years.

“We will be dancing because enough people are finally accepting and respecting our point of view and we can all be proud of this,” said CLC Chair and Traditional Owner Sammy Wilson.

“Now we can start a new chapter in the history of our country and welcome the world to experience it through our eyes.”

CLC CEO Joe Martin-Jard said the handback of Uluru is a historic moment as Traditional Owners have asserted their cultural authority and sovereignty over their homelands.

“For more than three decades, Anangu went along with joint management even though there were limited benefits and they put up with pressure to let tourists climb over their sacred sites,” Mr Martin-Jard said.


Using the rent for good

Each year since 2005, approximately two thirds of the rent paid by the Commonwealth to Anangu Traditional Owners has been invested into planning and developing community projects.

This has equated to over $14 million funnelled into over 100 community-driven projects traversing education, culture and health initiatives in remote communities of the cross-border region where Traditional Owners live.

As well as funding churches, stores and pools, the initiatives have created employment for locals in construction, maintenance, cultural tutoring and youth work.

The projects are often put into play in partnership with local or regional Aboriginal organisations and CLC’s Aboriginal rangers.

Mr Martin-Jard said CLC and Traditional Owners are looking forward to a brighter future for the Park.

“[This is] an act of self-determination that is every bit as momentous as their decision in 2005 to use their share of the park’s gate money to drive their own community development priorities,” Mr Martin-Jard said.

Looking forward, Mr Wilson said Traditional Owners are seeking more support to develop and run tourism experiences that educate and encourage tourists to open their minds and hearts.

“You never know whether the little boy or the little girl you are taking on your tour and teaching about your culture may grow up to be the leader of the country one day,” Mr Wilson said.

By Hannah Cross