Climbing Uluru:

Jim Ivins writes: Re. “Climbing Uluru is like clambering up the War Memorial” (yesterday, item 10). Ask any potential visitor from the UK to list three things “Oz” is famous for and chances are “Ayer’s Rock” (as it’s still more commonly known in Blighty) will get a mention, along with the Sydney Opera House and either the kangaroo or the koala. The great sandstone monolith is an Australian icon and a major draw card for British tourists judging by how frequently it appears in glossy holiday brochures.

Inevitably these brochures gloss over (sorry) one or two details about seeing the thing for real: the slightly scary stopover in Alice Springs (among other things, the five-and-a-half-hour coach trip each way; the reality of the exorbitantly priced “resort” accommodation (tin shacks, from memory); the flies (the resort sold individual fly nets, and literally everyone was buying); and finally the park entry fee.

At long last, you pull on a pair of walking boots before climbing aboard another coach to be driven out to watch the sunset at the “rock”. And there, after months of anticipation, the penny finally drops. This is a sacred site? But I don’t remember reading that in the brochures. Oh, and there’s a sign over there that asks you (very nicely) to keep off.

Meanwhile, nearby, hundreds of people are milling around trying to drink sparkling wine through their fly nets, while hundreds more trample up and down the side of the monolith. And why not? Hell, there’s even a rope to help you tackle the really steep bit at the start of the climb.

But there’s also that bloody sign (and those damned flies). Faced with this absurd scene (I can recall more tranquil and less crowded journeys on the London underground) my wife-to-be and I quickly decided not to climb. In fact, we didn’t even bother to take a photograph as the sun went down, because by then we’d come to see the whole, hideous tourist trap for what it is: a money making exercise on an international scale.

And a sacred one at that.

Welcome to Australia, mate!

Shirley Colless writes: Why do some people insist on climbing Uluru? Because it’s there?

Back in 1979 I visited St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, late in the afternoon. The church is open to people, it has a gift shop in its nave, near the entrance porch, etc., because the cathedral has to raise money to maintain the building, then the faithful were gathering for a communion service in the sanctuary.I would like to have taken Holy Communion but I had to get back to enjoy a meal out with my relatives, but was I appalled to see that a Church official had to, as it were, prevent pig-ignorant tourists from wandering into a roped off area and taking video cam/digital photographs of the Communion Service.

So, when I do visit Uluru, I will respect the wishes of the custodians of the historical and religious significance of this incredible site to restrict the site from the depredations of more pig-ignorant tourists. If people cannot visit a country or a site and not respect it then inevitably either it will lose its significance under an onslaught of commercialisation or it will be closed off.

Uluru should not be seen as an outback alternative to the Big Banana, the Big Prawn or any other Big Thing dreamed up by the tourist industry.

Peter Wotton writes: I don’t know about climbing all over the War Memorial in Canberra but there certainly are lots of people inside it. And on my last visit to St Paul’s Cathedral in London, there were people of all religions and nationalities climbing over that religious icon, including many going almost all the way over the top!

The Uighurs:

David Long writes: Re. “Crikey clarifier: who are the Uighurs and why are they protesting?” (Yesterday, item 4). In seeking to chart a course through the confused thicket of the Uighur community’s status in China, Dr Marika Vicziany makes a howler, and gets a little muddle-headed.

She says “the Han language is known as Mandarin in the West”. Not so.

There is no such thing as “the Han language” in China. There is the language that Han Chinese speak, but that could easily be Guangdonghua (Cantonese) in Hong Kong, Macau, Guangdong Province and the basis of most of the world’s “Chinatowns”. Or it could be Min, the Fujian province-derived (based around the Min River) dialects spoken in Taiwan and the “nanyang” (southern oceans), meaning the overseas Chinese communities of S-E Asia. Or Wu, or Shanghainese of the Shanghai environs, or Chiu Chow, based on Shantou in Sthn China, and spoken widely through Indo-China and Thailand.

And so on, et al, ad nauseum — there are literally scores, if not hundreds of dialects spoken by Han Chinese. Mandarin is but one of them. Standard Mandarin was designated after Mao’s 1949 revolution as the politically-correct putonghua — or “common speech” — and is the official language of the People’s Republic of China.

Uighur cities such as Urumqi and Kashgar have huge introduced populations of Han Chinese, but not all of them are native Mandarin-speakers.

Dr Vicziany overlooked a critical and defining fact — that Xinjiang is expressed as “New Frontier” in China. Words are important in China and Xinjiang — or “Ice Jecen” in the Manchu tongue of faraway North-East China — is a revealing term given to the region by the Manchus’ Qing Dynasty, and one underlined and extended by the communists after their post-revolution ‘invasion’ to secure the region under Beijing’s control.

To the Uighurs, the Han-led government in Beijing is just as foreign as the Han-led Koumintang and Manchu aristocrats before it.

SBS, the Ashes and the Tour de France:

Terry Slevin writes: Re. Ashes 09. Having already contributed to blistering email exchanges on the quality of the “host team” for the SBS Ashes broadcast and of course the impassioned appeals for logic from the deranged Australian team selectors (“…has Hauritz EVER taken five wickets — anywhere?) — I write slightly belatedly to celebrate the start of Ashes season.

But my joy was heightened on the first nights viewing of the BBC broadcast when a between balls crowd shot reminded me I was watching art, not crass commercialism.

Siddle to Pietersen — back foot defensive to the covers.

Cut to shot of two 20 something jacket, Lords tie and Panama wearing England supporters. Each of the bespectacled on screen boys sporting a gormless looking dial only a mother could love. One with an eye on the centre square, the other permanently looking for the next rain cloud. Archetypal upper class twits. The shot was held by the director — silence from the commentary box – until Siddle was again close to delivery stride.

Another gentle defensive stroke. No comment.

Cut to shot of a generously proportioned, red bearded Aussie. Garish yellow one day cricket shirt, alone, half a beer in plastic cup, his head graced by a bright yellow curly wig over the top of his green and gold peak cap. Again — silence before returning to the battle in the middle.

Poetry on screen.

Stereotypes depicted — not exploited. We all smile quietly. I couldn’t help but think — in the same point on day one in Brisbane, Channel Nine would give us the least clothed young women available and a knowing grunt from the boys in the box.

Roll on BBC — roll on the Ashes and three cheers for SBS — the three stooges Marto, Mo and Stewie notwithstanding.

Now — back to work and honest — I’ll get more sleep tonight…

Johanna Botman writes: You guys talk about the contempt for TV viewers — how’s this for SBS? Those who wanted to watch the TDF on Thursday 9 July at 9.30pm were treated to an “apology for the break in transmission” but were still allowed to see the advertisements! What? Was everyone watching the cricket on the other station?

Give us a break. Some of do care about wanting to watch some cycling. That was abysmal.

Sweet sweet idiom:

Jim Hart writes: Re. “The politics and health consequences of taxing sin” (yesterday, item 17). Your sugar-buster David Gillespie appears to have been reading from the KRudd Book of Dinkum Idiom when he writes “Susan isn’t on her John Malone”.

Last I heard it was Pat not John, and there was no need to add the surname since it was understood and anyway it rather spoils the rhetorical effect, such as it is.

If there was a John in the family he was probably off somewhere shaking the sauce bottle with his mate Kevin.

Michael Jackson:

Debora Campbell writes: Can someone explain why the lead story on ABC Melbourne’s 7pm news on Wednesday was Michael Jackson’s funeral? Was there nothing in the world more important?

Also why is the ABC spent our 8 cents a day on a live broadcast of his funeral on Wednesday morning 4am…?

Who cares?

First Dog:

John Taylor writes: Re. “First Dog on the Moon” (yesterday, item 5). I know I’m stupid but can someone explain yesterday’s First Dog to me? I may send this e-mail to you every day for the rest of my life.

Climate change:

Tamas Calderwood writes: Re. “Where’s the urgency: G8 gridlock on climate change?” (Yesterday, item 13). Andrew Glikson says “The yawning chasm between climate projections, including the likelihood of tipping points and human inertia, is only widening”.

Well yes, I suppose us lazy humans are being rather global warming inert. Maybe it’s a result of the yawning chasm between those climate projections and the actual temperature.

The UAH satellite record still shows no increase — June 2009 was 0.001C above the 30 year average and a simple linear regression on the data since this time in 2000 shows a -0.04C cooling trend.

I just find it so damn hard to rouse from my lethargic global-warming-slacker ways when there is no actual warming.

Anyway, yawn, be sure to wake me for the apocalypse when the temperature starts rising.