The proper way: no climbing
Thirty four years ago, on 26 October 1985, Uluru was handed back to the Anangu peoples, the Traditional Custodians. On that day, the Governor-General, Sir Ninian Stephen, ceremonially handed over title for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to the Anangu peoples.
Now, 34 years later, Uluru will no longer be able to be climbed. The Anangu peoples have for a long time, decades even, asked visitors not to climb this sacred place. Now, that has come to be.
It is believed the first European explorer to climb Uluru was an Englishman, William Christie Gosse, in 1873. However, as there are no specific records for this, the first climb actually recorded climb was in 1936, with the introduction of tourism to the region.
Since the 1950s when records were first kept, there have been a total of 37 fatalities on the treacherous climb. The most recent fatality was on 4 July 2018, when a 76 year old Japanese tourist collapsed when he was attempting to ascend one of the steepest parts of the climb. There hadn’t been a death on the Uluru climb before this since 2010, when a 54-year old Victorian man collapsed while attempting to reach the top.
In 1966, after two fatalities occurred in 1964, a chain was installed along a portion of the climb, without consultation or consent from the Traditional Owners. The chain was upgraded and ultimately completed in 1976. What will happen with the chain, posts and landmark cairn installed on top of Uluru after the closure of the climb is yet to be determined.
The First People of the area are the Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people, the traditional landowners of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. In their language, they call themselves Anangu. The landscape of the region is closely related to a series of stories from their heritage. What can be told in public about these stories can be found here.
On the website of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the Anangu people have said this about climbing Uluru:
We Anangu have a responsibility to teach and safeguard visitors to our land. The climb can be dangerous. Too many people have died while attempting to climb Uluru. Many others have been injured while climbing. We feel great sadness when a person dies or is hurt on our land. We worry about you and we worry about your family. Our traditional law teaches us the proper way to behave.
And they offer these words, from Kunmanara, a traditional owner:
“That’s a really important sacred thing that you are climbing… You shouldn’t climb. It’s not the real thing about this place. And maybe that makes you a bit sad. But anyway that’s what we have to say. We are obliged by Tjukurpa to say. And all the tourists will brighten up and say, ‘Oh I see. This is the right way. This is the thing that’s right. This is the proper way: no climbing’.”
(Tjukurpa is the traditional law, stories and spirituality of the Anangu).
Rev. Dr John Squires is currently undertaking an Intentional Interim Ministry with Queanbeyan Uniting Church.
This reflection originally appeared on his blog, An Informed Faith.
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