People Power Could Signal the End of Uluru Tourist Climb

The tourist climb to the top of Australia’s most famous ancient site, Uluru, could be closed following the approval of a new management plan for the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Uluu-Kata Tjua National Park. However the final decision to close the controversial climb will not be made until one of the following three conditions is met.

  1. The number of people climbing the ancient icon drops from the current 38% to less than 20%
  2. The climb is no longer the major reason visitors travel to Uluru
  3. A range of new experiences are in place for visitors.

It could therefore take years for local Aboriginal people the ancestral guardians of Uluru to get their wish and see the climb closed to the public. Even when the decision is finally made, tourism operators have been promised at least 18 months warning prior to the actual closure.

The Waiting Game

Aboriginal activists and environmental campaigners had hoped the new management plan would include a clear directive to close the climb. The local Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara (or Aangu) people consider Uluru to be a sacred site because it links them to their ancestors and to the story of the Dreamtime. Indigenous Australians have lived near Uluru for more than 40,000 years.

It was hoped that Environment Minister Peter Garratt former Midnight Oil frontman and outspoken campaigner on Aboriginal issues would rule in favour of the ban, but his boss, the Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, was outspoken in his opposition to it.

Meeting the Criteria

Of the three conditions, it could be argued that the third to provide alternative experiences for visitors has already been met. A new viewing platform opened in October to give visitors an ‘elevated’ view of the rock without having to climb it. At the time, Tourism Australia released a statement saying “the new viewing platform will offer an alternative for visitors who want more than a base view”. The $20m (10m) platform caters for 3,000 visitors, and is supported by a scenic road around the rock, plus a new coach area and car park. Local indigenous-run companies already offer guided walks and cultural excursions in the national park.

There is also evidence to suggest the second condition that climbing Uluru is not the principal reason people visit Australia’s Red Centre was met years ago. Studies in 2003, 2004 and again in 2006 by the Australian National University geographer Richard Baker found that as many as 98% of those interviewed said they would have still visited Uluru had climbing been banned.

However it’s the compliance of the first condition that is most likely to eventually signal the end of the Uluru climb because it is this condition that is most quantifiable. If people aren’t climbing, the decision is a no-brainer and the problem quietly goes away. So, over to you

There are a number of Facebook groups aimed at raising awareness of the issue and encouraging people not to climb. The most popular one has more than 3,500 members.