As I told you last week, I recently spent a weekend in the Northern Territory exploring Alice Springs and above all, the Kata Tjuta National Park and Uluru. The following anecdote/reflection or whatever you want to call it is taken from that trip.
We were around 25 tourists on a bus leaving Alice Springs in the cold dark morning hours, arriving five hours later at that amazing red rock in the middle of the desert that the Aboriginals call Uluru. The rock has been a sacred place for the Anangu people for over ten thousand years; every crack and fissure is connected to a legend of what is said to have happened there. In the 1870s the white settlers found the amazing landmark, but luckily it was not until 60 years later that the first tourists arrived. In the mid 1960s the Indigenous community that had practiced their customs at Uluru stopped doing so since they felt that the “feeling” was gone due to all the tourists.
Kata Tjuta is still a sacred place used for Aboriginal ceremonies and when that is about to happen, the road to the hills is closed and tourists have to watch it from a distance. In 1985 the Australian government gave Uluru back to the local Pitjantjatjara Aborigines and made a deal with them to lease the rights to the park for 99 years. Part of the deal was also the controversial theme of this blog post. The Aborigines were promised that the tourists would not be allowed to climb the rock. However, before the climb will close the number of tourists who want to do it has to be less than 20%, plus, the national park team also has to come up with another activity that will occupy the visitors instead. Besides, the climb is difficult and dangerous, leading 800 meters up a steep path. If you fall, no one will catch which has lead to the death of around 50 people since the sixties. Because of the path crossing over a sacred Dreamtime track, there is a sign at the bottom of Uluru that says “the climb is not prohibited, but we prefer that, as a guest on Aṉangu land, you will choose to respect our law and culture by not climbing”.
As I was sitting on the bus on my way to Uluru, my very knowledgeable and experienced guide Hugh, who had spent eight years living next to a group of Aborigines outside of Darwin, took his time to tell us of Uluru. He told us some of the stories that the Anangu people believe in; he explained how the bit we can see is only a tiny corner of a giant sandstone lying underground, and he informed us that we couldn’t take pictures at certain points around the rock. He also made it clear that climbing was not recommended. That it was dangerous and difficult and scary, and that the Anangu people did not want people to do it, how it was extremely disrespectful to a people and a race that has already suffered from a lot of encroachment by foreigners. After his speech the bus was quite. I sat still and thought about the time, around 150 years ago, when the Europeans came to the great country of Australia and killed and rampaged and ruined and trampled all over the Indigenous people.
Apparently I was the only one on the bus with these thoughts of contemplation. Because when Hugh with a sigh wanted to know who, despite everything, felt the need to climb Uluru, five people raised their hands. And a little bit of my faith in humanity was destroyed.