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February 27th 2018 print

Marc Hendrickx

The Taking of Ayers Rock

Australian backpackers wore its embroidered likeness on their sleeves, Ayers Rock being a symbol of the nation in which all can rejoice regardless of colour, creed and ethnic heritage. Then a modern, exquisitely sensitive philosophy took charge and Uluru was declared for one race only

ayers rockIn 1998 I started a job as a geologist for the Northern Territory Geological Survey. Work required travel to some of the remotest pasts of central Australia including parts of the Tanami desert only accessible by helicopter. Coming from the lush green forests of the east coast the desolated red centre makes for a stunning contrast, a visual feast that leaves a lasting impression that stays in your mind forever.
The impact of first glimpsing Ayers Rock/Uluru is similarly memorable. I first saw this great red rock driving down the Lasseter Highway from Alice Springs to meet Matt Golombek, Science Director of the Mars Pathfinder Mission, shortly after starting in Alice Springs. Matt was on a tour of central Australia as part of a series of educational lectures on the epic Pathfinder Mission. It seems Central Australia and Mars have a few things in common. My job along with a colleague, was to act as Matt’s guides on a whirlwind tour of Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon, Gosses Bluff (a spectacular meteor impact crater) and the eons old West MacDonnell Ranges.
After meeting Matt at the Ayers Rock airport, “fresh” off the plane from Los Angeles via Sydney (a mere 20 hours or so of flying time) we almost literally threw him in the back of a Toyota LandCruiser and headed out for a four-hour trek around Kata Tjuta. These conglomerate domes are arguably even more impressive than Uluru. The walk at the Valley of the Winds  is a must do for any visitor. We stayed overnight at the Yulara Resort. The facilities were quite rustic in comparison with accommodation now available, though I think Longitude 131 would have been well beyond our budget.
Early the next day we drove down to the base of the climb and headed up. Matt’s endurance after the long flight and the long hike the previous day was amazing. The three of us enjoyed the camaraderie and physical exertion of the climb and soaked in the glorious scenery from the summit along with hundreds of other tourists ranging in age from under seven to over 70 who walked up with us. Despite its reputation the climb is achievable by most people of average fitness with a sense of adventure and determination. The views along the way and at the top are extraordinary and essential in understanding the regional geology, geomorphology and the “Rock’s” influence on human culture. For me it was the highlight of our tour and my experience here underlines why I feel the climb is integral to a visit to Uluru and why it should be kept open for future generations to enjoy.
The climb has been a mainstay of visiting Uluru since tourists first started coming to the “Rock” in 1950s, but sadly the utter pleasure of doing the climb, experienced by millions of visitors, may soon be taken away by Parks Australia, who have announced the climb will be banned from October 26, 2019.
When they were returned ownership of the Rock in 1983 the Traditional Owners promised “business as usual” when it came to tourism.  Imposing restrictions on some sacred sites, but the climb would continue. Prior to the handover Paddy Uluru, a traditional owner is reported as saying the “physical act of climbing was of no cultural interest”. It seems Parks Australia have broken the promises of Traditional Owners. I am at a loss as to where the new found desire to stop visitors doing something that is of no cultural interest, is safe and brings so much pleasure has come from. Based on the comments and opinions of past Traditional Owners I don’t think it has come from the Owners themselves, but it’s something that has been imposed upon them by outsiders acting in their own interests.
Closing the climb has been an aim of the current management plan of the Park. If you are expecting to go there to climb, don’t be surprised to find a closed sign at the base. It’s no wonder, as the overly zealous, arbitrary administrative protocols included in the management plan have seen the climb closed for about 80% of the time since their introduction.
Parks Australia have used the reduction in the numbers climbing to argue the climb is no longer of interest to visitors. This is bogus for on the odd occasion it is actually open, many people still partake in this wonderful personal journey despite the alarmist and politically correct signage posted at the base. The numbers shouldn’t matter: if you want to climb it, you should be free to to do so. It is safe for responsible people who follow the marked path and does not hurt anyone.
Since the early 2000s annual visitor numbers to the Park have reduced by about 100,000. I believe that the administrator’s aggressive approach in discouraging the climb and making people feel guilty for doing it, is largely responsible. Given the absolute importance of tourism to the local economy (there is nothing else) one can’t help form the view that management is shooting itself in the foot, as the decision to ban the climb will only result in less people going resulting in further damage to a fragile economy.
The costs of going to Uluru are ridiculously high as it is, and if I were looking at a trip with the very real prospect of not being able to enjoy the same sense of wonder that so many others have enjoyed, I’d be looking elsewhere.
While the opportunities to climb are increasingly limited and the prospect of a ban is in force, spending more time in the West MacDonnell Ranges or in other parts of Australia where you won’t be made to feel guilty for enjoying nature would be a better option.
Marc Hendrickx has a blog, The Right to Climb Ayers Rock

Comments [21]

  1. Tony Tea says:

    It is certainly no shock that climbing the rock wasn’t an issue, but now is an issue. I would have liked to climb the rock, but have no burning desire to do so, and nor do I have any interest in going to the rock if I’m not allowed to climb it. That would be like going to Disneyland purely to stand in queues.

  2. David Archibald says:

    They have closed the climb for the same reason that Mt Kosciusko was closed to cars – because they can and they want to yank the chain of the lumpen proletariat. It is the same reason that the specs of what is allowed in whipper snippers was changed.

    • pgang says:

      Yes, it is happening in national parks all over Australia – access is becoming more difficult, vehicle tracks are being closed, etc.

      For once we agree on something!

    • Doubting Thomas says:

      Blimey, Jody, you hang out in the strangest places. :-)

      Projection much.

      • Jody says:

        It shows the depth and extent the Left will go to in disowning its own immersion in the politics of PC. I put all this down to the excellent work of Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, the Weinstein brothers and many others who are now rising up!!

    • Eeyore says:

      A Hungarian Lefty who doesn’t like political correctness being lambasted is behind the closing of Ayers Rock?

      • Jody says:

        The disease of political correctness has allowed what has happened with the aboriginal people in general and Ayers Rock in particular. Absolutely.

        • Eeyore says:

          Ahhh, really glad I asked. I had actually taken the comment from the reverse perspective. I should know better.

          • Jody says:

            Jordan Peterson often posts these kinds of articles on his Twitter feed, which I read about 3 times a day. My son also sends me things when he locates them. Rob, you might be interested to know that my son recently met up with 2 erstwhile school friends; both card-carrying members of the Labor Party (but decent men from good families). My son sent a couple of Jordan Peterson’s lecture to them and they were absolutely gobsmacked because they found their traditional Christian values and common-sense life advice absolutely compelling. We forget that there’s a very conservative rump in the Labor Party which has largely been abandoned as it has on the right of politics. Jordan is across both demographics.

  3. Andrew Campbell says:

    I achieved a life-long dream of going to Uluru last year; and was immensely disappointed that we weren’t permitted to climb. It was just too windy that day, they said. That was despite an early morning calm that would have given a safe window to climb of 3 or so hours.

    I couldn’t help but compare the experience with climbing Ireland’s sacred mountain, Croag Patrick a few years ago. The famous saint, it is said, fasted up the mountain for 40 days. Nearly twice as high as Ayers Rock , Croag Patrick is so rocky and so windy and so wet the day we were there that we had often had to resort to hands and knees, and at times could do no more than hold on for dear life until a gust passed. We spent some time contemplating how difficult it would be to get help if we strained an ankle. And yet there were no restrictions and no warnings but for leaving enough time to get back.

    Thank God for the Emerald Isle and it’s robust inhabitants. Are they tougher over there? Certainly there’s less of the nanny state. And give me their open sense of the sacred. They willingly share their sacred spaces; as I learn, from Marcs article, that the ‘traditional owners’ once did until infected by political correctness, east coast do gooders and the aboriginal industry.

    Andrew Campbell

  4. padraic says:

    I climbed it in the late 1990s, along with little old Japanese ladies, an older Austrian man with a heart condition and many others . It was very enjoyable when we reached the top – the view was spectacular and being winter there was an icy wind blowing off the desert. Many of the park management types are unrealistic greenies looking for someone to boss around to augment their self-esteem. Some years back I took my boys bush walking in one of the alpine national parks and at one point we saw a small beautiful bush grove off the track we were on and it was well grassed because of a spring at its top end. There was a sign put up saying no trespassing because of the delicate nature of the plant ecology. But they had not counted on wild pigs who are unable to read English and the grass was all churned up along with the delicate plant life. The same mob who wrote the sign would not allow anyone (even professionals) to go into the park to shoot out the wild pigs who were a menace also to adjacent farmers.

  5. Julie says:

    Well I am going there in June and I am climbing it no matter what they say. Can they stop me? Will I be breaking the law?

  6. pgang says:

    My Grandma did the big trip up to ‘The Alice’ from Adelaide in the 1970′s. It was just about the most exciting time of her life, and I think she made it about halfway up the rock. Of course in those days it was still very much an adventure.

  7. MarcH says:

    Thanks for comments. Note Mt Warning in northern NSW and St Mary’s Peak in the Flinders Ranges are also on the short list to be banned to satisfy religious demands of locals. If you have a moment write your local MP to see if they are prepared to stand up to this nonsense, before every natural knob and knoll ends up being fenced off from the great unwashed.

  8. Bran Dee says:

    You have justifiably sounded the call to action Marc. Tourists must have the right to climb the rock just as they can climb to the roof of London’s St Pauls cathedral.

    My wife and I climbed the rock in 1995 and she being slightly hypsophobic kept her head down and was quickest to the summit. After the long road journey and hours of being seated the opportunity to exert oneself in climbing was good for body and soul. May the walk never be closed.

  9. Egil says:

    Yep, did the climb in 1986, while waiting for Halley’s Comet to put on the night time show.
    And enjoyed a chilled stubby at the top, to nobody’s protest.
    These days, since it it still allowed to climb it;
    I recommend Mt Coolum!
    It is supposed to be second, after Ayer’s Rock/Uluru, in geological terms, in Australia.
    The views from the top, after the 22-30-40? minutes climb, are spectacular,
    and include hinterland, coast, ocean and our beloved Clive Palmer’s closed resort/golf course.
    Make an effort and do it while it is still allowed and you are still fit.

    • MarcH says:

      Agree Mt Coolum’s a great walk. The view of the T-Rex in the golf course a nice addition to the scenery. Not sure if its still there though.
      Another good one include the walks around the granite national parks (Girraween NP) on the QLD/NSW border near Stanthorpe.

  10. padraic says:

    Another good one that is still available is the walk at the Dorrigo park, east of Armidale, NSW. Advise to spray top of walking shoes with Mortein or similar before setting out. That keeps the leeches away who latch on to your shoes when you stop to admire the views and then move onto your legs.

    • MarcH says:

      Is that the Apsley Falls? Wonderful short walk around the crest! Of course you used to be able to walk stairs to the pools at the bottom. But these were not maintained some time ago and you can no longer get down (easily). What irritates is the closure of these sites or things you can do in them.