Thursday, 9 July 2009
Climbing Uluru (Ayers Rock)
There's a debate going on in Australia at the moment about whether to ban people from climbing Uluru (or Ayers Rock as it is sometimes known). It mirrors a recent debate that took place in my family when I was back home!
I'm not normally one for banning things but in this case I think the benefits in terms of respecting traditional culture and helping Australia move forward from its tainted history of exploitation of indigenous people, far outweigh the costs of reducing people's freedom to do something that is really not that big a deal.
Here's a well balanced article on the debate from the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Original here
"A proposed ban on climbing Uluru in Central Australia has sparked debate between tourists, traditional owners and political leaders.
A draft management plan for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park was released today, recommending a ban for cultural and environmental reasons.
The plan could come into effect within 18 months, but must first go through a consultation process and be signed off by Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett.
The Northern Territory's Tourism Minister, Chris Burns, says the Territory Government does not back the proposal.
"We have never supported the full closure of the climb at Uluru and that remains our position," he said.
But a traditional owner of Uluru, Vince Forrester, says he is is relieved a ban on climbing the iconic rock is one step closer to becoming a reality.
He says the rock is sacred to the local Aboriginal people and traditional owners have wanted the climb closed since the park was handed back to them in 1985.
"You can't go climb on top of the Vatican, you can't go climb on top of the Buddhist temples and so on and so forth," he said.
"Obviously you have to respect our religious attachment to the land too, so we're saying please do not climb Uluru - we've said it in all languages."
Mr Forrester says tourism operators should not be concerned about the closure.
"The visitors will get more information by walking around the base of Uluru and getting told the stories which Aboriginal people are available to do," he said.
The 346-metre high rock is visited by about 350,000 people a year, about half of whom are from overseas. More than 100,000 people climb the rock against the wishes of the traditional owners.
More than 35 deaths have been recorded on the climb, which can be steep, slippery and extremely hot.
The draft management plan, which is open to public comment for the next two months, notes that recent surveys show 98 per cent of people would not be put off visiting the area if they were not allowed to climb the rock.
But members of the public writing to ABC News Online have had a mixed reaction to the proposed climbing ban.
"This is a secular country. Dictating access to a popular tourist destination based on religious beliefs is unacceptable," wrote one, called Jim.
"By all means close the rock to climbers in adverse weather conditions, but to permanently close it would a denial of the rights of all Australians," wrote Saint Mike.
"The decision to climb or not to climb should remain with the individual, not the park management (white or black)."
"I understand the opposition to people climbing it. But at this point, it is a pilgrimage to travel to Uluru and climb it. I suggest that it is as important to Australia in general as it is to the traditional owners, and that should be considered," said another, Si.
"It is not as if anyone built it. It was always there. Climb on it if you want. It is like saying you can't swim in Sydney harbour or walk around the Grand Canyon," wrote Ron Rat.
But others were more supportive of the ban.
"About time. We would be horrified if people were allowed to climb all over our churches or sacred sites," wrote Lilly.
"I think a ban would be great. We should all respect others' cultural and sacred areas," agreed Jenny.
"I have climbed the rock, but would never attempt it again out of respect for the owners," said one person, going by the nickname The Owl.
"When I view it now, it is similar, in a spiritual sense, to a church or mosque. Walking around the base is the most respectful method of experiencing the monolith.
"Land rights is not about legal ownership, it's a link with Mother Earth and our appreciation of the land. We can all enjoy it now, without possible desecration."
Most of those who had already visited the rock said they had not climbed it, or if they had, they said they would not do so again.
"I have just visited this magnificent region - both Kata Tjuta and Uluru. I loved it! I did not climb Uluru nor did I wish to - it is far more beautiful and mystical from a distance," wrote Anne-Marie.
"I've been there, and the walk around the rock is rewarding, probably just as rewarding as the climb up," agreed another.
"Our family has recently visited Uluru and gained an appreciation of this wonderful icon," wrote John.
"We were delighted to take the walk around the rock and gain some understanding as to why 'the rock' would have such cultural significance to the traditional owners.
"Uluru is far more impressive than I ever imagined. It is an experience every Australian should have and not climbing the rock is part of the experience."
But some who were planning to visit the national park said they would not be deterred from climbing the rock.
"I am a student in a rural area and I am expecting to go to Uluru next year - I want to be able to experience what other people have been allowed to! Nature is beautiful, let us see its beauty!" wrote a student.
"I would love to climb this spectacular part of our country. I would like my children to see the view from the top," wrote Barrie.
Two people said if the ban was imposed, they would not visit the national park."