It’s about six months until government agency Parks Australia locks the gate on one of the most iconic experiences of the natural world: the climb up Uluru/Ayers Rock.
Conservative Party leader Cory Bernardi has started a petition against the closure saying, "Uluru belongs to 'all Australians'" and he wants it reopened as, "it'll be one of the great wonders of the world for tourists".
An article in today's The Australian says the ban on climbing will put an end to a 30,000-year-old tradition and will endanger the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park’s World Heritage listing, as the awe-inspiring summit views listed in the 1987 nomination will no longer be accessible.
The ban follows a decades-long campaign by Parks Australia, which handles the commonwealth’s national parks, to simplify management of the park and reduce its risks. This has involved locking visitors out of many places that previously were open, maligning the climb and ignoring its rich history.
Tens of thousands of years of climbing culture involving Aborigines and visitors alike have been denied, and the public has been misled about the dangers of climbing and the proportion of visitors who do indeed want to climb.
Tragically, opposition to the climb risks the loss of Anangu stories about summit features documented over decades from numerous local sources by anthropologist Charles Mountford (1890-1976). It is a travesty that Parks Australia in its 34 years in charge has done so little to catalogue the wonderful history of the climb and present it to the public.
Its advice to government lacks balance and disrespects past owners who climbed and who supported visitors climbing.
Parks Australia claims 37 people have died on the rock. There is corroborated evidence for only 18 deaths — six from falls and 12 from natural causes (mainly heart attacks).
Most of the deaths cited by Parks Australia occurred in the resort and are not directly related to climbing.
There have been only two deaths of climbers this century, in 2010 and last year.
The average risk to responsible climbers is the same as that posed by flying between Sydney and Uluru, or driving between there and Alice Springs. Overly conservative rules about when it’s safe to climb keep it closed about 80 per cent of the time meaning most visitors seldom have the chance to climb.
When the climb is open from sunrise to sunset, Parks Australia’s figures show on average 44 per cent of visitors choose to climb; its claim that the figure is less than 20 per cent is fiction.
There is still time to save the climb.
Senator Bernardi told Steve Price on Sydney radio station 2GB, he doesn't think the climb should be closed.
To read Geologist Marc Hendrickx's piece, click here.
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