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Jul 9, 2009

Climbing Uluru is like clambering up the War Memorial

I'd like to climb up the side of the Australian War Memorial because I suspect the view over Lake Burley Griffin is sensational.


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Today’s news that Environment Minister Peter Garrett is considering banning the climbing of Uluru will be celebrated throughout black Australia. But if the views of many on Canberra talkback radio this morning is anything to go by, it won’t be celebrated in the suburbs of white Australia.

The proposal to close the climb is part of a new draft plan for the management of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. One of the arguments advanced against the idea on Canberra talkback was that the rock is in Australia, so it should be accessible to all Australians. Sure. And I should be able to spend a lazy afternoon downing a carton of beer on the lawns of Kirribilli House whenever I want. Only problem is, we have a little thing called “property law”.

Uluru is owned by a group of Aboriginal people and has been since the hand-back in 1985. The traditional owners ask people — via a sign at the base of the rock — not to climb it. Then they leave it open to visitors to do the right thing. The majority don’t.

If you go onto someone’s land and they ask not to do something, and you do it anyway, generally speaking you’re not welcome back. But in the case of Uluru, tens of thousands of tourists every year ignore a request from the landowners, but can come back whenever they like. It’s a situation not replicated anywhere else in the nation. No other property owner’s rights and wishes are treated with such disdain.

Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt also hit the airwaves this morning, arguing that the proposed ban was unacceptable as people come from all over the world to enjoy the site.

“Give people education. This is not just a local treasure but it’s a national treasure and an international treasure,” Hunt said.

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

People don’t climb the rock to honour it. They climb it because it’s there, because lots of other people are doing it, and because there’s the promise of a great view of… flat desert scrub as far as the eye can see.

Which brings me to the Australian War Memorial. It’s a tourist icon (a bigger one than Uluru, in fact). It’s also a place of great spiritual significance. And I’d like to climb up the side of it because I suspect the view over Lake Burley Griffin is sensational. It would be my way of “honouring” the ANZACS. Give me the cultural information, Greg. And a rope.

Chris Graham is editor of the National Indigenous Times.


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22 thoughts on “Climbing Uluru is like clambering up the War Memorial

  1. Shane Maloney

    A few weeks ago I took a tour bus day trip from Alice Springs to Uluru. The driver asked the 40-odd tourists if any of us intended to climb the rock. About half put hands up. He then handed out a brochure detailing the dangers, health risks, past fatalities and medivac costs. The flyer also stated that the resident aborigines preferred that people not climb the rock as this was contrary to their religious beliefs but that people were free to climb the rock if they so desired. The driver also communicated this information verbally in a pleasant informative manner. He also pointed out that those making the climb would miss out on the escorted tour of the base of the rock which included geological, historical and indigenous information.

    After we had digested this information, we were again asked how many of us planned to make the climb. This time, only about eight people put their hands up.

    The eight who did climb included a family with three extremely tubby children. They wanted to climb they said ‘to say they had done it’. At least two of the others quite explicitly stated they were climbing to assert their right to do so. Their implication was quite clear that this was a way of asserting themselves against aboriginal claims of sacredness.

    Based on recent personal observation, my reading of much of the blog and talkback objection to a ban on climbing is based on a similar need to trample on something symbolic of aboriginal claims.

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