Controversy - tourists to climb Uluru


Northern Territory chief minister Adam Giles is promoting the tourist climb of Uluru amongst Anangu people, who are the traditional custodians of the monolith. According to Giles, an official Uluru climb could rival the Eiffel Tower as a tourist attraction and also compared it to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Uluru is a very spiritual and sacred place for the Anangu people. Even though tourists are not currently forbidden from climbing Uluru, Anangu people have asked them to stay off site out of respect. However, in spite of this fact, thousands of visitors, most of them Australian, make the trek each year.
Debate around closing the climb has raged since 1985, when Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park was handed back to the traditional owners by the then-prime minister Bob Hawke. Subsequently, the government secured a 99-year-lease on the land. Most of the members of the Uluru-Kaya Tjuta management board are traditional owners, yet the climb remains open.
The Anagu, who have lived by Uluru for thousands of years, are now based in the nearby Aboriginal community of Mutitjulu. They have said that people climbing the rock has caused them deep cultural offence and sadness.
Meanwhile, Giles says a sanctioned climb would be consistent with the government's Indigenous economic empowerment strategy. “It would see a great opportunity for local Anangu to participate in lucrative business and create much needed local jobs,” he said.
“Uluru rises 348m above the plane and more than 860m above sea level. It is higher than the Eiffel Tower and a whole lot more beautiful. That is why 300,000 or more tourists travel to Uluru each year, many of them wanting to climb if they knew that it was condoned by the local Aboriginal people.”
“There are plenty of examples worldwide of culturally sensitive sites and tourism experiences combining successfully for example: the temple Angkor Wat in Cambodia; the Taj Mahal in India and the Macu Picchu in Peru all coming close to mind,” he said.
Giles said he recently visited Uluru with legendary Australian golfer Greg Norman and both of them could see benefits in allowing people to climb.
“Just prior to that visit to Uluru [with Norman] I was in Sydney, coincidentally watching people climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge,” Giles told the NT parliament. “More than three million people from over 100 countries have climbed the bridge since the climb was opened in 1998. The experience has been voted as one of the world's most spectacular and exhilarating.” Giles said that while he is aware that the Sydney Harbour Bridge does not hold the cultural or spiritual significance of Uluru, it may be time to create an officially sanctioned climb.
Senator Peris said the plan is disrespectful to the wishes of traditional owners. “Comparing the Eiffel Tower to Uluru is simply ridiculous,” she said. “Uluru is one of the most culturally and spiritually significant places in Australia. It's not just a place to with a nice view. It's much more than that.” “Uluru's value comes from its cultural significance and the spiritual connection the Anangu people have to the area. That's not something to be messed with for the sake of a political point. Keshia Randall, whose family are traditional caretakers of Uluru, said that climbing Uluru is disrespectful. “I'm frustrated that the national park isn't shutting it down, they think that it's the main attraction and tourists just want to come here to climb a big rock. I think they (park management) are convincing those on the board that if the climb closes, the tourist money will stop.”
Peris says any decision should be made by the Anangu people, not politicians. “We want Uluru to be in pristine condition, 50 or 100 years from now, which is one reason traditional owners ask that tourists don't climb it, to preserve its beauty.”
In the meantime, Facebook and Twitter users have attached Chief Minister's views; and tour guides reject claims visitor numbers would drop if climb was banned.
A Federal Government manage plan for Uluru in 2010 said the climb will be permanently closed when adequate new visitor experiences were established, the proportion of visitors falls below 20 per cent, or when the cultural and natural experiences at Uluru are the critical factors when visitors decide to go there.
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