QED

The Rock and a Hard Place

As geologist Marc Hendrickx has pointed out in his long, impressive but eventually unsuccessful campaign against the ban, the cultural traditions the National Park board relies upon are a very recent invention.

In articles in Quadrant and the national press, Hendrickx has pointed out that members of the Mutitjulu community endorsed the climb as far back as living memory extends. In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, they guided anthropologist Charles Mountford to the summit. Mountford recounted their creation myths in his 1965 book Ayers Rock, Its People, Their Beliefs and Their Art.

Hendrickx also points to the Lutheran layman, Lou Borgelt, who in 1946 climbed to the top with the help of two local Aboriginal guides Tiger Tjalkalyirri and Mitjenkeri Mick. A five-minute extract of Borgelt’s film of himself and his guides on the summit has been uploaded to YouTube and can be watched below.

In a note to Quadrant, Hendrickx writes,

The mainstream media’s overall response and reluctance to chase answers about historical facts about the climb and challenge Park authorities on the contradictions and inconsistencies has been disappointing to say the least, though I was not surprised that they took a position on it.

What “position” the media takes as tourist numbers see a likely decline, jobs are lost and the Rock’s heights off limits remains to be seen but a report in the Weekend Australian (October 26) suggests little basis for optimism:

Aboriginal entrepreneurs who want to fill the tourism gap left by closing the Uluru climb say they are being thwarted by red tape and urgent ministerial intervention is needed for their businesses to survive­ and others to develop.

The world-famous climb closed on Friday amid claims by authorities that there were plenty of other activities to sustain tourism numbers­, which have boomed as the climbing ban approached.

Should those “other activities” fail to attract visitors, expect to see a vicious circle take effect as flights are cancelled for want of passengers and fares increase as a consequence, meaning even fewer visitors and tourist dollars.

Despite the optimistic noises of those who pushed for the climbing ban, there is little reason to believe this won’t end badly.

10 comments
  • Lawrie Ayres

    I hope it does end badly if for no other reason than to tell the aborigines we are fed up with their claims to natural features. If instead of a rock it had been the equivalent of a Mayan temple or Angkor Wat then I would have sympathy for the custodians. What next? Port Phillip Bay or Sydney Heads? My fear is that the soft headed in the government will subsidise the locals to make up for their loss of income.

  • ianl

    The only consolation I have for this deliberate cordoning of hard geological outcrop into stone-age superstition is that it has already been properly photographed, mapped, modelled and fitted into the larger geological database.
    So the hard knowledge is preserved, even if now not to be examined first-hand.
    Kakadu National Park is “protected” even from aerial exploration as various airborne sensing equipment is required to be turned off as aircraft fly over. Presumably geoscientific knowledge is too dangerous even to collect.

  • Ian MacDougall

    Before public events begin these days, it is becoming customary to ‘pay respect to the traditional owners’, the (insert identity of Aboriginal ‘traditional owners’ here.) But it is well to remember that the original ‘traditional owners’ of every bit of Australia were probably the Tasmanians. They were named as such by the first European arrivals, but during the last 110,000 years or so, this continent must have been wall-to-wall with them; particularly in the periods when rainforest was more extensive than today. Because the Tasmanians were a ‘negroid’ people by the early anthropological accounts, and of more diminuitive stature.
    Consequentially, whenever this honouring of traditional owners ritual has to be gone through, I always think of them.
    And I dare say that the first member of the species Homo sapiens to stand on top of what is today known as Uluru was one of their mob.
    They were followed in by the ancestors of the Murrayan Aborigines, who were shorter and stockier than the last ones in, who were the taller and more slender Carpentarians.
    And I doubt that many of them went quietly and did as they were told as the new arrivals moved in.

  • DG

    I find this move to restrict the movement of Australians over part of their own land for ‘tribal’ reasons very concerning. We now, in a very small way admitedly, cannot stand on part of our own land because of a tribal religion. Tribalism is the antithesis of a modern liberal culture, it is regressive at best, destructive at worst and eliminates our liberties arbitrarily.
    Moreover, if (some) aboriginies have a religious desire to not walk on the spirit-rock, that’s up to them, but to impose that on everyone with government force (and I think of s.116 of the constitution) is a blot on our history and polity.

  • johnhenry

    My hero (one of) Dr Johnson, once said (and I paraphrase): There are many places in the world worth seeing, but there are few places worth going to see.

    Never been to Australia. I consider it a fine country without having been. If I had a reason, other spending money as an ignorant tourist, I would look forward to going there.

  • Jon Reinertsen

    The things which disproves the whole charade are the Gnamma holes on the rock. Made by generations of native people hammering the soft stone to create water storage.

  • wayne.cooper

    In about 1974 I had a conversation with Ian Hassell, who held the “world record” for running up and down Ayres Rock. Hassell told me that it took him about twice as long to run down the rock as it took to run up it, due to fear of losing his footing and tumbling to an ignominious death. Apparently the rock run was a regular thing in the ’60s and ’70s. Hassell was a smallish man, likely less than 5′ in the old money, which he thought assisted his record setting run, because his stride was naturally short and that made it more compatible with running up a steep slope.

  • mags of Queensland

    Why is it that every opportunity that aboriginal people have to create wealth for themselves is thwarted by those who perpetuate the victim ideology? Apparently the people behind this farce are not even the “traditional” owners. Ayers Rock will turn out to be another fizzer like the hotels at the site, where they couldn’t even get enough local aboriginal workers to run it. Nose – face.

  • Tricone

    “Ian MacDougall – 26th October 2019

    Before public events begin these days, it is becoming customary to ‘pay respect to the traditional owners’, the (insert identity of Aboriginal ‘traditional owners’ here.)”

    And who would dare challenge whoever’s identity is inserted there, (often on nothing more than assertion and hearsay)? The fear of ostracism seems greater than ever in the age of social media.

  • Rob Brighton

    The Ularu National Park was leased to the Australian Parks and Wildlife Service for 99 years, ensuring continued funds to the local community.

    So, in essence, they get money and dont have to do all of that pesky taking care of tourists.

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