Tourists will finally be banned from climbing Uluru from 2019, however many tourism operators have been execrising a no-climbing rule for decades.
The decision was finalised yesterday and announced by the Traditional Owners of Uluru.
According to SBS News, Chairman and Senior Traditional Owner Sammy Wilson said the decision came after extensive consultation.
“Over the years Anangu have felt a sense of intimidation, as if someone is holding a gun to our heads to keep it open. Please don’t hold us to ransom,” he said in an address to the board today.
“More recently people have come together to focus on it again and it was decided to take it to a broader group of Anangu. They declared it should be closed. This is a sacred place restricted by law.”
“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. It is an extremely important place, not a theme park like Disneyland,” he added.
The official ban will be implemented 26 October 2019, a date that marks 34 years to the day since the original hand back to its traditional owners, the Anangu people.
So why has it taken the government so long to catch up? And how will this change itineraries in the future.
To understand the magnitude of this decision and how it will impact tourism operators’ handling of the First Peoples’ land going forward, TW sat down with Brett Mitchell, Intrepid Group’s Regional Director for Australia and New Zealand.
In 1998, Intrepid’s sister company Adventure Tours Australia (ATA) was the first small group tour company to advise travllers against climbing the sacred site.
TW: Why has ATA taken a strong view on this since 1998?
Brett Mitchell: We have always been working closely with Indigenous communities ever since we started running trips in Australia and are very aware of the cultural significance of Uluru for the local Indigenous communities- we wanted to respect that and teach travellers the same respect.
TW: What did it take the government to finally hear the First Peoples’ pleas?
BM: The fact is, it should not have taken this long and in that way, where Governments are failing it is up to businesses to stand up and do the right thing- especially in tourism.
TW: Why has it taken so long?
BM: It’s been an educational piece over many years and slowly but surely, the message has been heard.
TW: The law won’t be implemented until 2019, what can tourist companies do to ensure no climbing before then?
BM: Education is key and companies need to make travellers aware of the cultural significance of the area for the local indigenous communities.
We have had situations where travellers want to climb as they weren’t aware of how sacred the site is- once they were made aware they would change their mind.
TW: How seriously do tourists take the sign at the bottom of Uluru?
BM: In our experience, independent travellers generally don’t- they see the gate open and think it’s fine to climb up. It’s only when they visit the cultural centre or speak to a guide face to face that it puts it into context.
Guides, knowledge and local interaction is so important to convey the significance of the culture and the history of the area.
TW: What are you doing?
BM: We have in-house training for all of our guides and consult with Indigenous authorities and communities on best practice. As a business we have also embarked on developing our own reconciliation action plan. In the lead up to a vote on the constitution on Indigenous rights, we feel it is very important for businesses to play their part in educating the broader public around some of the issues currently impacting the First Peoples.
TW: How important is it to take indigenous territory and beliefs into account when organising tourism?
BM: It’s absolutely paramount. Responsible travel means respecting the local area, peoples and culture – we apply this philosophy and values across all of Intrepid Group’s trips- Australia is no different. It is so important to help preserve and promote this incredible ancient culture.
TW: How can tourism companies do more to ensure the First People are respected when conducting trips?
BM: Tourism companies should be providing opportunities for Indigenous communities to share their cultures. Travelling is a great privilege and we have a responsibility to leave an area better than we found it and learn from those that live there.
Companies need to be operating in a responsible manner and incorporating principles of sustainable tourism and development into the way they do business and operate.
TW: What landmarks do you think will be next?
BM: We are really optimistic that recognition and cultural significance of Indigenous regions and landmarks will only become more prominent in the future. The Purnululu National Park in the East Kimberley is a great example of this and hopefully more areas and landmarks will follow in the not too distant future.