Why it is the right time to close the Uluru climb

Uluru from the air. Photo: Wikipedia

The news this week that the traditional owners of Uluru are closing the climb up the ancient monolith has unsurprisingly been greeted with a lot of criticism and disappointment, but is the right decision.

David Ross, the director of the Central Land Council, described the decision as “righting a historic wrong”.

“This decision has been a very long time coming and our thoughts are with the elders who have longed for this day but are no longer with us to celebrate it,” Mr Ross said.

The decision to close was a long time coming. Senior traditional owner and leader Sammy Wilson said the sacred rock was “not a theme park like Disneyland” and his Anangu people felt as if they had a “gun to their heads” to keep the rock open.

The arguments were that tourism would suffer if they did, and in the past that might have been true.

I visited Uluru once, back in 2002, and I have to admit I climbed the rock.

I saw the signs around put up by traditional owners asking people to respect their culture and not to climb, but for better or worse I ignored it.

The view was certainly astonishing from the top but on the way down I realised there was another reason they wanted the climb closed – it was bloody dangerous.

You are working against gravity and the ropes disappear while you are still an unsafe distance above the ground, leaving you carefully picking your steps and hoping a sudden gust of wind doesn’t upset your balance. I was never so glad to be on the ground. Thirty people have died in recent decades, a fact which deeply distresses the site’s traditional owners.

The number of climbers has halved in recent years from 40 to 20% as more people (myself included) understand the deep spiritual significance of the rock.

It is equivalent to abseiling inside a cathedral without permission and it is right it will be closed.

It certainly won’t stop people enjoying this truly awe-inspiring godly place.

The decision to close the climb is good news from Uluru, unlike the rejection of the Uluru Statement by the Malcolm Turnbull government without any consultation or discussion. They should hang their heads in shame.

My North West Star editorial, Saturday November 4, 2017.

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