Uluru closed to climbers after vote of national park board

Uluru closed to climbers

The board of the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park voted to close the climb to the summit of the rock in 2019 unanimously. Vision courtesy: ABC News.

Uluru will be closed to climbers after the board of the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park voted to close the climb to the summit of the rock.

The unanimous decision to close Uluru to climbers was described as "righting a historic wrong" by David Ross, the director of the Central Land Council.

"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.

Mr Ross said the board agreed to delay the date of the climb's actual closure for another two years.

Uluru's management had been urged to close the rock permanently to climbers, with senior traditional owner and leader Sammy Wilson saying the sacred rock was "not a theme park like Disneyland".

Mr Wilson, who is also chairman of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board of Management, said it was time to close the rock to climbers.

For years the Anangu, the local Indigenous owners, felt as if they had a "gun to our heads" to keep the rock open, he told the board.

"Please don't hold us to ransom," he said.

The 12-member board that manages the park, which includes eight Indigenous representatives, voted on Wednesday to close the climb permanently, while keeping the park open to tourists.


Under the current agreement, the board may vote on whether to close the rock to climbers when fewer than 20 per cent of all visitors climb, a threshold that has now been passed.

A decade ago, 38 per cent of visitors climbed, and recent figures provided to Fairfax Media indicated that about 20 per cent climbed.

Because of the unreliability of motion sensors used to count the number of climbers, a new and independent analysis was commissioned from statisticians at Griffith University.

It estimated that only 16 per cent of visitors climb, said a spokeswoman for Parks Australia, who added that the experts took into account the days that the climb was closed because of wind and when it was considered dangerous to climb.

"Some people, in tourism and government for example, might have been saying we need to keep it open but it's not their law that lies in this land," Mr Wilson said.

"It is an extremely important place, not a theme park like Disneyland.

"If I travel to another country and there is a sacred site, an area of restricted access, I don't enter or climb it, I respect it. It is the same here for Anangu. We welcome tourists here. We are not stopping tourism, just this activity.

"After much discussion, we've decided it's time," he said.

Mr Wilson said the government needed to respect what he was saying about Aboriginal culture in the same way it expected Indigenous people to abide by its laws.

"It doesn't work with money," he said. "Money is transient, it comes and goes like the wind."

Mr Wilson stressed that the park would still welcome tourists.

"This decision is for both Anangu and non-Anangu together to feel proud about; to realise, of course it's the right thing to close the 'playground'. The land has law and culture. We welcome tourists here. Closing the climb is not something to feel upset about but a cause for celebration," he said.

Mr Ross said he doubted visitors would miss the climb if tourism plans for areas surrounding the national park received assistance.

"There is so much else besides that in the culture here," Mr Wilson said. "If we have the right support to take tourists outside [the park] it will benefit everyone.

"We have a lot to offer in this country. So instead of tourists feeling disappointed ... they can experience the homelands with Anangu and really enjoy the fact that they learnt so much more about culture."

The Parks spokeswoman said the park was nearly always fully occupied, and she believed that the closure of the rock to climbers would be welcomed by some overseas tour operators.

This article 'Righting a historic wrong': Uluru closed to climbers was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.