CANBERRA — Australia’s Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park board has voted unanimously to ban climbing the iconic Uluru, the world’s largest rock.
The historic decision was announced by the board, which is made up of eight indigenous traditional land owners and three representatives from National Parks on 2 November 2017.
Climbing the rock, which is considered sacred by the local Anangu people and many indigenous tribes, will be outlawed from Oct. 2019 onwards.
Visitors to Uluru, which is also known as Ayers Rock, have been advised that Aboriginal people preferred they did not climb the rock for decades, but were still allowed to make the trek if they wished.
Sammy Wilson, chairman of the board and traditional owner of the site, said in his speech to the board that the site had deep cultural significance.
“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,” Wilson said Wednesday.
“It is an extremely important place, not a playground or theme park like Disneyland. This decision is for both Anangu and non-Anangu together to feel proud about; to realize, of course it’s the right thing to close the ‘playground’.”
The ban on climbing will begin on Oct. 26, 2019, marking 34 years since the ownership of the site was returned to its traditional owners.
Climbing of the rock, which is located more than 1,500 km. north of Adelaide in Central Australia, began in the 1930s, but a fence was not built until 1966.
There have been at least 36 deaths of people climbing the site since the 1950s and 74 rescues of people requiring medical attention between 2002 and 2009 alone.
In 2015, about 16.2 percent of visitors climbed Uluru, down from 38 percent in 2010, according to Parks Australia data.
Under current rules, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park board could only vote to close the rock to climbers when less than 20 percent of visitors were making the ascent.
David Ross, 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,” Ross told Fairfax Media recently.
The decision to ban climbing comes after decades of Indigenous Australians being offended by the behavior of those who chose to climb it.
As the ban on climbing was announced, three tourists who were rescued after straying from the defined climbing path in 2016 faced an Alice Springs court where their case was adjourned.
In his speech, Wilson said that the Anangu people had felt pressured to keep the climbing track open for decades.
“Over the years, Anangu have felt a sense of intimidation, as if someone is holding a gun to our heads to keep it open,” he said.
“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.” (Matt Goss/Xinhua)