Episode 226 – Uluru, Venezuela and China
In this episode, we are joined by Archer to discuss climbing Uluru, Venezuela and Chinese influence in Australian Universities.
An ethical consistency test
Dear listener. We have a little test on your ethical positions.
Does religious nonsense annoy you? Are you sick of undeserved respect demanded by religious leaders for their superstitious beliefs? Should religious leaders be able to tell the rest of us how to behave and what to do? Should we change our conduct in order to avoid offending an Arch-Bishop?
Do you think that as a mark of respect to Indigenous spiritual sensibilities, climbing Uluru should be banned?
Do you sense any conflict in your answers?
Ahh maybe you resolved the conflict due to ownership issues? If so, please listen to our Indigenous special episode #213.
No more climbing at Uluru.
What are the reasons?
I posted on Facebook:
It seems to me there are four reasons commonly given as to why climbing Uluru should be banned, namely:
- Climbing Uluru is disrespectful to the spiritual beliefs of the local Indigenous people.
2. The local indigenous people are owners or custodians and as “owners” they can decide if people can climb it.
3. It is too dangerous.
4. The best view is at ground level looking at the rock
After reviewing the Facebook comments I’d add:
- Environmental reasons which include damage to the rock and rubbish and human waste
- Aesthetic reasons (prompted by John Perkins suggestion of a chairlift)
Uluru’s land title was handed back to its traditional owners in 1985, but was immediately leased to the Australian federal government to be jointly managed as a national park for 99 years.
Formal requests for tourists not to climb first arose in the 1991 park management plan. The current Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park management plan states that the climb will be “permanently closed when the proportion of visitors climbing falls below 20 per cent.
The Fist was there in 1985 at the ceremony. I can’t recall any requests to not climb the rock.
Did previous generations care?
There is evidence that blanket Aboriginal objection to climbing the rock is relatively recent.
From Marc Hendrickx writing in Quadrant (a conservative magazine)
In 1973, as part of land rights discussions, the federal government recognised Paddy Uluru as the legitimate, principal owner of Uluru. Paddy Uluru was a fully initiated Anangu man familiar with all the local laws and customs. His views about tourists climbing the Rock were summed up in an interview with Erwin Chlanda of the Alice Springs News which quotes him saying, “if tourists are stupid enough to climb the Rock, they’re welcome to it” and “the physical act of climbing was of no cultural interest”.
Paddy Uluru’s feelings towards the climb were also documented by Derek Roff, the ranger of the park between 1968 and 1985 and close friend of Paddy. In interviews for a Northern Territory Oral History Project in 1997, Roff (now deceased) stated that the issue of tourists climbing never arose, and recounted that Paddy Uluru would tell of climbing the Rock himself.
Another elder, senior Anangu man and owner of the Rock, Tiger Tjalkalyirri, acted as an early tourist guide and climbing partner to early visitors to Ayers Rock. His name appears at least twice on the early climbing logbook at the summit cairn. He assisted Cliff Thomson in 1946 and Arthur Groom in 1947. There is footage of Tiger on top of the Rock splashing in depressions filled with water. Clearly he did not have an issue climbing or showing tourists around his Rock.
Formal requests for tourists not to climb first arose in the 1991 park management plan following the involvement and influence of university anthropologists and sociologists with the local community. Paddy Uluru had died in 1979 and custody of the Rock had passed to others.
Clearly current claims that “Anangu never climb” are false and the highly sacred nature of the climbing route is a very recent invention. The cultural-heritage significance of the climb to both Anangu and millions of non-Aboriginal visitors is something that deserves to be celebrated and maintained, not discouraged or banned.
Is it dangerous?
Parks Australia unfairly describes the climb as dangerous. Arthur Groom described the climb in 1947 as “nothing else but a strenuous and spectacular uphill walk”. This was before the installation of the chain and the summit route markers. Only two people have died in the act of climbing on the Rock this century, both likely from heart failure probably triggered by lack of acclimatisation to the weather conditions. The death rate since 2000, given approximately 5,500,000 visitors and two deaths is 0.11 deaths per annum, or 0.36 deaths per million visitors. In contrast there are about twelve deaths per annum at the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Given 4.5 million people visit the Grand Canyon each year this equates to about 2.6 deaths per million visitors, a rate seven times higher than that at Uluru. The reported deaths at Uluru fall into the lower range for adventure tourism activities, and should not be a reason to ban climbing.
The prospect of a ban, and the long-term management of the climb by the park board since 1991, raise significant legal issues not yet addressed by Parks Australia or the federal government. One issue involves the application of federal anti-discrimination laws. These laws protect Australians against unfair discrimination on the grounds of culture, race, gender and age. Given the traditional owners will not be banned from accessing the summit via the current climbing route, or other means, a ban on everyone but a few elderly Aboriginal men appears to breach the Age Discrimination Act 2004, the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. The first person prevented from climbing after the ban is introduced in 2019 would seem to have a legitimate discrimination case to take to the Human Rights Commission.
The other legal issue involves the current lease agreement between Parks Australia and the Uluru–Kata Tjuta Land Trust. Section 17 of the lease includes a covenant that requires Parks Australia to preserve, manage and maintain “the flora, fauna, cultural heritage, and natural environment of the Park … according to the best comparable management practices for National Parks anywhere in the world”. Clearly the climb is an important and long-standing cultural tradition of both traditional owners and non-Aboriginal visitors, and under the lease agreement must be “preserved, managed and maintained”. However, since the 1991 management plan Parks Australia and the board of management have actively discouraged climbing, making millions of visitors feel guilty for simply enjoying nature, and denying the right to climb to millions through overly restrictive access protocols.
Discouragement of climbing is encapsulated in Parks Australia’s claims that “Anangu never climb” which, based on the evidence above, is demonstrably false. Discouraging this important cultural-heritage activity is counter to requirements in the lease. Discouraging climbing has substantially reduced the viability of the park to the tune of about 70,000 visitors per annum over the last ten years, compared to the previous ten years. Given an average of about $1000 per person, this comes at a cost to the Northern Territory economy of at least $70 million per annum.
Based on the facts, the ban on climbing is morally wrong, likely illegal and probably breaches the current lease agreement. It prevents millions from practising their cultural heritage. It cannot be supported on the basis of Aboriginal law, or for safety reasons. The ban is absolutely, undeniably wrong!
In my 41 years in The Centre I’ve climbed The Rock perhaps seven times, and been in that national park probably 300 times …
Over the years I encountered vastly different opinions about climbing The Rock.
To me the most significant came from the most senior of all custodians, the late Paddy Uluru, decades ago. I was talking with him alongside the monolith.
He said, words to the effect: If you are stupid enough to climb it, go for it. He surely wouldn’t. He said there is not much water up there, if any; hardly any plants and no game.
But he would never tell me the full story about The Rock, he said, only a few basic parts of it. It’s the story that is sacred and secret, not the landform.
Less than 20% of visitors want to climb?
… Those who argue that only 20% of visitors now ascending the climb, and therefore closing it is OK. That’s a cynical Furphy: The decline is largely caused by temporary closures imposed by the people who have the most to gain from it – park staff. They often draw a long bow on safety issues, or at times cite reasons with no links to safety … The numbers are perhaps also down because people who want to climb have given up, recognising the chances of being allowed to climb are slim. They just don’t go to the Uluru park. The climb was closed for parts 229 days of the 273 days between January 1 and September 30 this year. That’s 84% of the days.
John Perkins argues for geological significance
In the Cultural Centre at Uluru (there is no Visitor Centre), there is a wealth of information provided on the Aboriginal cultural and religious aspects of the Rock. It is said that according to the Anangu religion, every cave and crevice in the Rock can provide moral guidance. There is also some information available on the geological origins of the Rock, but these are qualified by the comment that “the Aboriginal people have an alternative explanation”. The impression given is that the Aboriginal mythological explanations have equal, or even superior validity to scientific ones.
The effect of the emphasis on culture and religion is to neglect the geological significance of the site. In fact, the Rock is the remnant of layers of eroded granite, 2.5 km thick, laid down about 500 million years ago. The layers which now form the Rock were tilted from horizontal to vertical about 300 million years ago, during the Alice Springs Orogeny. The Rock, the world’s biggest monolith, penetrates possibly six kilometres into the ground. There is surely nothing else in the world like that. The Rock has global geological significance.
There is a Fact Sheet on the geology at the Cultural Centre at Uluru (one of twenty-one Fact Sheets). There is also some mention of geology in the video display. But information on the geology is limited.
It is not stated whether the layers of the rock, that we now see as vertical, increase in age from east to west, or west to east, as we move across the Rock. Moreover, there is no attempt to explain or graphically represent, how a rock 6 km long and 2.5 km high, came to be rotated by 90 degrees. The Aboriginal mythology is interesting, but surely not as relevant and interesting as this.
Australia is the oldest continent on earth. Mountains have been eroded to dust and gravel, then re-formed into rock, which has then itself been eroded and exposed. The time scale is mind-boggling. This is Ayers Rock. It is the science of the Rock that makes it truly awe-inspiring.
What about the Glasshouse Mountains?
SUNSHINE Coast indigenous elders want to ban people climbing their sacred mountains but fear their cries will fall on deaf ears despite the groundbreaking Uluru closure.
Senior elder of the Jinibara people Ken Murphy has been fighting with the Queensland Government for more than two decades to stop climbing of Mt Beerwah in the Glass House Mountains.
The Jinibara people were granted native title determination in 2012.
Mr Murphy says requests to protect Mt Beerwah from the physical harm and desecration caused by climbers has fallen on deaf ears.
To the Jinibara people, Mt Beerwah is the mother of all the Glass House Mountains.
Some of the stories regarding the mountain are only passed down through from elder to elder and cannot be put in print but Mr Murphy said it held cultural significance over all others.
“It’s the mother mountain. It is a sacred site. It’s where the birthing places were, that’s the main thing, not for people to climb and take videos up,” Mr Murphy said.
Kabi Kabi elder Les Muckan whose family are the traditional owners of Mt Coolum said his father told him stories of how sacred it was.
He was unwilling to share that knowledge as he doesn’t think they’re acknowledged or recognised by the daily climbers.
“I look at it, if people don’t acknowledge or recognise them now, what will it take?” Mr Muckan said.
“A lot of people shy away from sharing their stories because the mountain is not protected.”
Much like Uluru, Mr Muckan said a main concern with the mountain was the safety of it.
At least seven people have been rescued from the walking track so far this year.
So which reasons stack up?
I’d say #5 is the best and probably sufficient.